Metro Vancouver Transit Referendum: “No” side holds the advantage, but this campaign is 10 weeks long

Metro Vancouver Transit Referendum: “No” side holds the advantage, but this campaign is 10 weeks long

New poll shows TransLink is a big liability for the “Yes” campaign.

March 16, 2015 – As ballots begin to arrive in Metro Vancouver mailboxes this week, a comprehensive poll from the Angus Reid Institute shows the “No” side with the early advantage.

Many respondents acknowledge traffic woes and are alive to how the region’s transportation system will absorb a growing population. In spite of this, the “Yes” side’s campaign looks to be weighed down with larger and continuing public concerns about TransLink and the potential for the proposed new tax money to be wasted.

Key Findings:

  • The “No” side enjoys a two-to-one lead over the “Yes” side (61% to 27%)
  • “No” is a sentiment widespread across Metro Vancouver. The contest is more competitive among City of Vancouver residents, younger people, those with a university education and frequent transit riders.
  • Half of voters say they will send their ballot back as soon as they receive it; “No” voters are more likely to be firm in their choice
  • Distrust of TransLink is a major factor for those inclined towards voting “No”: by six-in-ten respondents overall, by three-quarters of “No” voters and even by half of “Yes” voters.
Angus Reid Institute

Angus Reid Institute

More Key Findings:

  • Other resonant arguments rated as persuasive by six-in-ten of all respondents, including a large number of those inclined to the “Yes” side include:
  • Too much of the new money raised through a sales tax increase will be wasted
  • Transit proposals could be funded from existing taxes
  • The “Yes” side’s most persuasive argument is that the region’s burgeoning population will mean new transportation needs: this has pull for 55 per cent of all residents, including nine-in-ten “Yes” voters and four-in-ten “No” voters.
  • Metro Vancouver residents are hardly convinced a “Yes” vote would mean a big improvement to their current traffic woes. Six-in-ten overall say they expect their own personal traffic situation will be “about the same” five to ten years down the road. “Yes” voters are inclined to anticipate a “Yes” win would bring improvement (six-in-ten do). “No” voters are not at all convinced.

How the vote looks as ballots arrive:

Those surveyed by the Angus Reid Institute were presented with the ballot question:

“Do you support a new 0.5% Metro Vancouver Congestion Improvement Tax to be dedicated to the Mayors’ Transportation and Transit plan?”

At this point, a total of 61 per cent of those polled said they are leaning towards “No”, with two-in-five (39%) saying “definitely “No”, and 22 per cent “probably “No”.

Compare this with three-in-ten (27%) currently leaning towards “Yes”. Of this group: 10 per cent say “definitely “Yes” and 16 per cent “probably “Yes”. 12 per cent say they aren’t sure.

Looking across different population groups:

  • The “No” side looks to be strongest in suburban areas* (particularly Surrey, Richmond/Delta and the North Shore), and among voters over 35 years of age.
  • The contest is more competitive – though still leaning “No” – among residents of Vancouver*, those under 35 and among the university-educated.
  • Of note: frequent transit users are actually split on the proposal, while three-quarters of non-riders are currently leaning towards “No”.

*This poll was conducted region-wide across Metro Vancouver, and is representative of the region’s population distribution across the various constituent municipalities. The survey results were examined across by region and municipality and, other than those noted here in the case of the overall “Yes”-”No” vote, there are no noteworthy consistent differences in the sub-regional results. Therefore, no other such results are reported.

Some key vote diagnostics

Voter turnout will be a major factor in this mail-in vote. This Angus Reid Institute poll finds the “Yes” and “No” sides equally likely to say they will actually vote (roughly half in each case).

There are two key diagnostic points to trouble “Yes” organizers as they push for traction:

  • Not only do half of Metro Vancouver respondents surveyed describe themselves as “firmly decided”, this figure is higher among those leaning “No” than “Yes” (51% vs. 36%).
  • Half of eligible voters say they intend to mail in their ballot “as soon as they get it”. Even though the final votes won’t begin to be counted until the end of May, many voters intend to effectively shorten the campaign for their vote by casting their ballot at the earliest opportunity.

TransLink a big problem for the “Yes” side

Much of the “No” side’s early advantage can be attributed to public distrust of TransLink, Metro Vancouver’s regional transportation authority.

  • Those surveyed were asked to select from a list of a half dozen possible reasons for leaning towards voting “No” (or invited to write in their own). Six-in-ten (61%) chose: “TransLink cannot be trusted with the extra funds that will be raised from this tax”. Another four-in-ten (43%) said they simply don’t want an additional tax.
  • Among the relative persuasiveness of key arguments either side might advance, the one carrying most weight is: “TransLink needs to be overhauled before any big proposals go forward”. Two-thirds (65%) of Metro Vancouver residents find this a persuasive statement, including three-quarters (73%) of those leaning “No” and half (48%) of those leaning “Yes”.
  • A separate survey question asking people for their overall views of TransLink found two-thirds (64%) expressing an overall negative view of the agency. Two-in-five (39%) said their overall opinion is “very negative, TransLink is very broken and needs a complete overhaul”. Only one-in-ten (12%) of the Metro Vancouver residents surveyed had a positive view of TransLink, including only one-in-three (30%) “Yes” supporters and almost none (4%) of those leaning to the “No” side. Views of TransLink are negative among frequent transit riders (55% of those who ride once a week or more expressed a negative view of the agency).

Angus Reid Institute

Other motivations for “No”

The Angus Reid Institute polled the “pull” of other main arguments in favour of the “No” side:

  • Six-in-ten (59%) of those surveyed found this argument persuasive: “too much of the money will be wasted”, including roughly two-in-three (70%) “No” supporters and roughly one-in-three (34%) “Yes” supporters.
  • The perspective that “these improvements are a good idea, but they should be funded out of existing taxes” emerged as an equally resonant argument. (59% overall considered this compelling, including 69% of “No” supporters and 37% of “Yes” supporters).
  • Perceptions around fairness also resonate: “The entire province funds transportation projects in other regions, it’s not fair for people in Metro Vancouver to have an extra tax” was one that held sway with half (49%) of respondents overall, including 57 per cent of “No” voters and one-third (32%) of “Yes” voters.

And on the “Yes” side

The Angus Reid Institute survey also assessed the persuasiveness of five key arguments that have or may be advanced by the “Yes” side:

  • The “Yes” side’s most persuasive argument is, “The region’s population is going to grow by a million people in the next decade, our transportation system needs to be ready”. A majority of 55 per cent of those surveyed described this as a very persuasive argument, including almost all (89%) “Yes” supporters and a good percentage of those leaning “No” as well (38%).
  • Arguments about traffic also resonate with four-in-ten (41%) of all residents surveyed described this as persuasive, “Traffic is so bad in Metro Vancouver, it is obvious we need a special tax for improvements”.

“Yes” supporters were also asked to select from a list of a half dozen reasons they are leaning that way, or provide their own responses.

The one selected most often (50% of “Yes” supporters) is the view that “public transit needs improvement”. This is a particularly compelling reason for “Yes” supporters who are frequent transit riders (68% of them). Other important motivations for voting “Yes” include: concerns about traffic congestion (32%), Vancouver’s future needs (28%), and fears that costs will only increase with delay (27%).

Angus Reid Institute

Traffic woes acknowledged

Angus Reid Institute

This Angus Reid Institute survey also looked at the region’s perceived “traffic pain”. Overall, traffic is a pain for many Metro Vancouver residents, but a “Yes” vote isn’t seen as a panacea for these woes.

  • Ten per cent of Metro Vancouver residents surveyed say their traffic pain is “very painful; every day is a struggle”. Nearly half (45%) say, “it’s bad 2-3 times per week, but otherwise okay”. The remaining 45 per cent say they “find getting around to be painless”. Those inclined towards voting “No” are somewhat more likely to say they are personally free of traffic pain (49% versus 37% of “Yes” supporters)
  • A significant portion of people in Metro Vancouver say their personal traffic situation is more painful compared to five years ago. Two-in-five (38%) took this view, while 16 per cent said they think traffic has become less painful. Nearly half (45%) said it is more or less the same.
    • “Yes” voters say their traffic woes have become more painful by a margin of five-to-one (52% vs.14%). Among “No” voters, this margin is two-to-one (33% more painful versus 17% less).

Angus Reid Institute

  • 61 per cent say they expect no change in traffic pain if the “yes” side wins; most “Yes” supporters (57%) do expect improvement, but most of those on the “No” side do not.

Angus Reid Institute

  • Almost identically, in the case of a “No” win, six-in-ten (59%) expect traffic to be essentially the same. Two-in-five (37%) are braced for more traffic pain in the future, including three-quarters of “Yes” supporters but only one-in-five of those inclined to vote “No”.

Angus Reid Institute

Metro residents are paying attention

Metro Vancouver residents who are leaning “Yes” and leaning “No”, are paying attention to this plebiscite: three-in-four of those surveyed said they are following it. Specifically, almost one-in-three (29%) said they have “read/saw stories about it and discussed it with friends and family” and another four-in-ten (43%) said they “saw a story or two, and had the odd conversation about it”.

Click here for full report including tables and methodology

Click here for Questionnaire used in this survey

Image Credit: Ted McGrath/Flickr

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