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Non-voters didn’t vote primarily because they felt none of the candidates deserved their vote, or they truly couldn’t decide. A large number 41% regret not voting—although results suggest that the outcome wouldn’t have been impacted even if they had.

Vancouver, BC– A series of post-election polls was conducted by Insights West in order to investigate reasons people didn’t vote, and to understand actual behaviours among those who did cast a ballot. Results show that reasons for not voting are complex and varied, and overall, greater voter participation likely wouldn’t have changed the election outcome. The study also shows that voter behaviour from our poll lines up with actual popular vote numbers.

According to the final counts by Elections BC, 1.8 million British Columbians voted in the most recent BC provincial election; this represents 58% of the 3.1 million eligible voters in the province. This is the same voter turnout as the 2005 election (58%), though higher than 2009 (51%) and 2001 (55%). Why did British Columbians not show up at the polling station?

In an effort to understand what is keeping potential voters away, we presented non-voters with a list of 11 possible reasons for not voting in the May 14 provincial election. Of that list of 11, the one reason that garners the greatest agreement is “none of the candidates deserved my vote” (44% agree, 26% strongly). This reason is particularly key to the middle-aged group of voters: 52% of those 35-54 agree compared to 39% of those younger and 40% of those older. A related reason “I couldn’t decide who to vote for” also receives a fairly significant minority agreeing (38%, 15% strongly). These two reasons suggest disenchantment with the existing slate of political candidates/parties was one of the key root causes many didn’t vote.

Still, there are several results that do point to a lack of engagement, including “don’t know enough about politics” (43%), “don’t care for politics/not interested” (38%), “my vote won’t change the outcome of the election or outcome of my riding” (35%), and “my vote won’t make a difference” (34%). Interestingly, a hypothesis that a feeling of some certainty that the NDP would win kept voters away does not hold true to much of an extent – only 18% agree with this statement, lowest of the 11 reasons presented.

“Voter apathy is often pointed to as a reason for poor voter turnout, but it seems that the situation is more complex than that,” says Steve Mossop, President of Insights West. “Front and centre, it appears that political candidates and parties as a whole are failing to impress potential voters to such a degree that some are not turning out to vote. In fact, not turning up to vote is arguably a vote in and of itself.”

Our results also suggest that if all eligible voters in British Columbia had turned out to the polls, the outcome likely would have been similar to what we saw on Election Day. Among the non-voters surveyed, the largest proportion (34%) would have voted Liberal if they had turned up for the last election. This is significantly higher than the 23% who would have voted NDP (16% would have voted Green Party, 8% independent, 7% BC Conservative and 12% didn’t know).

A large proportion of non-voters are unhappy with their choice not to vote on election day as a large number (41%) regret not voting (11% a lot, 29% a little). So what will encourage more British Columbians – especially those who wish they had voted this time – to turn out to the polls next time? Of the 5 ideas presented as part of our poll, the ability to vote online, thus making the experience as convenient as possible, received the highest support (80% agree, 56% strongly agree that it would have made them more likely to vote). Seemingly reflecting a lack of awareness of their options, a majority agree (66%, 31% strongly) that the ability to vote at a polling station other than their own would have encouraged them to vote. There is slightly greater support for a voting “carrot” (payment for voting, 49% agree) than a voting “stick” (fine for not voting, 27% agree).

As to how post-election polls compare to actual voting behaviour, Insights West finds the two are well aligned. According to Elections BC, the BC Liberals received 44.1% of the popular vote, NDP 39.7%, Green Party 8.1%, Conservative Party 4.8%, other parties 3.2%. This matches up reasonably well to post-election polling results among the 1,667 BC voters we polled, which found that 41% voted Liberal, 38% NDP, 6% conservative, 11% Green and 5% Independent. While Insights West didn’t poll in the final 10 days of the campaign, it does show that the discrepancy between other pollster’s results and the election outcome were due to the reasons we outlined in our previous release (21% of voters decided in the final 48 hrs. of the campaign who they were going to vote for).

About Insights West:

Insights West is a progressive, Western-based, full-service marketing research company. It exists to serve the market with insights-driven research solutions and interpretive analysis through leading-edge tools, normative databases, and senior-level expertise across a broad range of public and private sector organizations. Insights West is based in Vancouver and Calgary and has eight full-time and five part-time employees.

Results are based on online studies with Your Insights panel members conducted from May 15th to June 8, among 1,667 residents of BC aged 18+ who voted in the May 14, 2013 provincial election and 345 residents of BC aged 18+ who did not vote in the May 14, 2013 provincial election. is Insights West’s in-house access panel offering on-demand samples for both clients and research suppliers looking for Western Canadian populations. The data has been statistically weighted according to Canadian census figures for BC for age, gender, and region of BC. While statistical margins of error are arguably not applicable to online panels/online studies of this nature, we have assumed that the same margins of error apply as if it were a true unweighted random probability sample: the voter sample would therefore have a margin of error of +/- 2.4 percentage points, nineteen times out of twenty and the non-voter sample would have a margin of error of +/- 5.3 percentage points, nineteen times out of twenty. View the detailed data tabulations.

For further information, please contact:

Steve Mossop
President, Insights West

Photograph: BCNDP