First-past-the-post beats out proportional representation in latest BC electoral referendum

British Columbians have chosen to keep the status quo in the latest electoral reform referendum.

Following more than a month of voting, the current First-Past-The-Post (FPTP) system has beat out the Proportional Representation (PR) system by a wide margin of 61.3 per cent to 38.7 per cent.

Dr. Richard Johnston, a UBC political science professor, said he didn’t expect FPTP’s win to be “quite resounding,” but said he was not surprised by the result given PR’s previous failures at the ballot box.

In 2005, a referendum to shift to a single-transferable vote system carried over 57 per cent of the vote but failed to meet the threshold of 60 per cent.

A second referendum in 2009 failed dramatically when over 60 per cent of votes were cast against PR.

Johnston attributed the result partly to a “natural status quo bias” in referendum voting.

“You know what FPTP is. Proportional Representation hard to know so better the devil you know than the devil you don’t,” he said. “... Really, there’s a very powerful bias in politics generally toward systems that we understand or we think we understand.”

Johnston also noted that from the data he has seen, supporters of BC Greens and BC NDP were not “as resolutely in favour” of the change as the BC Liberal supporters’ opposition to it.

While the AMS didn’t endorse either campaign and stuck to raising awareness about the referendum, students groups like the UBC NDP and the UBC Young BC Liberals both canvassed for student support.

UBC NDP President Ranil Prasad wrote in a Ubyssey opinion letter that PR would benefit students since it would force politicians to adapt to a wider range of political voices, including youth.

“It’s true that younger voters are more supported of the change than older voters, although younger voters were not overwhelmingly or one-sidedly in favour,” said Johnston.

While the UBC NDP was “disappointed,” the club said it respects the result.

“We are happy with the campaign that we ran, especially noting that Vancouver - Point Grey had one of the highest votes in favour of PR,” the UBC NDP wrote to The Ubyssey.

At 52.89 per cent in favour of PR, the voting record of Vancouver Point Grey — UBC’s riding — puts it in the top 10 of pro-PR ridings. Vancouver-Mount Pleasant is at the top with 74.26 per cent.

The UBC BC Young Liberals club was not able to comment by press time.

When asked what this result means for younger voters, Johnston said that it’s unclear how successful future initiative of changing the voting system would be.

“So here’s the question: are people in your generation going to stay with this orientation as you become older or are you going to become more conservative?” he said.

“... If this is a cultural change that is likely to stick then a decade or two down the road, it might be an entirely different cultural backdrop to BC elections. But the facts are younger voters don’t turn out as much as older voters and they might become more conservative as they age.”

The UBC NDP is clear that it will continue its electoral reform advocacy effort.

“We will continue to advocate for PR on all three levels of government, especially as we move into the 2019 federal election,” reads the club’s message.