Voters in British Columbia are still inclined to vote in favour of extinguishing the harmonized sales tax (HST), but views on this issue have changed dramatically over the past year, a new Angus Reid Public Opinion poll has found.
In the online survey of a representative provincial sample of 805 adult British Columbians, 56 per cent of decided voters and leaners would vote Yes in the mail-in referendum on the future of the HST that will take place in June and July, while 44 per cent would vote No.
The animosity towards the HST comes primarily from women (64%), respondents aged 18-to-34 (62%), and respondents living in households with an annual income below $50,000 (59%). Metro Vancouver voters are divided, but the Yes side is clearly ahead in Vancouver Island, the Interior and the North.
One year ago, four-in-five decided voters (82%) said they wanted to vote to scrap the HST, and only 18 per cent were ready to cast a ballot in order to keep the new tax. Now, the two sides are separated by only 12 points.
A Yes win in the referendum would extinguish the HST and reinstate the provincial sales tax (PST) in conjunction with the goods and services tax (GST). If the No is victorious, the provincial government has vowed to reduce the HST by one percentage point in July 2012 and then by another point in July 2014, effectively cutting the tax from 12 to 10 per cent.
The survey shows that a sizeable proportion of respondents are not entirely sure about what is actually at stake in the referendum. Across the province, 17 per cent of respondents—and 19 per cent of people who are ready to vote Yes—mistakenly believe that, if the Yes side wins the referendum, BC will lower the HST to 10% by 2014.
Also, 33 per cent of British Columbians—and 27 per cent of those who intend to vote No—believe that, if the No side wins the referendum, the HST will remain exactly as it is.
Effect of the HST
Across the province, 59 per cent of respondents say they have not put off a major purchase on account of the HST. However, 24 per cent have postponed a purchase of over $500 (such as a new television), 22 per cent have postponed a purchase of over $5,000 (such as a new car), 22 per cent have postponed a trip or a holiday, and 16 per cent have postponed work with a contractor (painting, roofing, renovations).
Overall, 58 per cent of British Columbians prefer paying taxes on their consumption, while 42 per cent would rather pay taxes on their income. Respondents who voted for the BC Liberals in the last provincial election are more likely to prefer paying taxes on consumption (66%), while a majority of NDP voters in 2009 (56%) would rather pay taxes on their income.
More than half of British Columbians think small business owners (63%) and economists and academics (61%) are “very credible” or “moderately credible” when they discuss the HST. Two-in-five respondents (40%) find Premier and BC Liberals leader Christy Clark credible, and 35 per cent feel the same way about New Democratic Party (NDP) and Official Opposition leader Adrian Dix. The highest ranked personality is Fight HST Leader and former BC Premier Bill Vander Zalm at 47 per cent.
For BC Liberal voters, the most credible person in this debate is Clark (66%), while NDP voters select Dix (65%) and Vander Zalm (also 65%) as the most reliable people to talk about the HST.
As the referendum is about to get underway, British Columbians are more divided on the future of the HST than ever before. A year ago, decided voters were supporting the demise of the HST by a 4-to-1 margin. Now, the Yes side is ahead by eight percentage points.
The level of credibility for the two main party leaders is high among their respective supporters, and both BC Liberal voters and NDP voters tend to see small business owners, economists and academics as good sources on the HST file. Vander Zalm, one of the original architects of the anti-HST movement, is more trusted by NDP voters than BC Liberal voters.
It must also be outlined that some people are still confused about what they are voting for, and what the referendum will actually mean for the tax system in the province. The survey shows that some Yes voters appear to believe that they are actually endorsing the new version of the HST that was presented by the current government, and that some No voters think there will be no changes to the tax if their side wins the referendum. This misunderstanding could definitely affect the final outcome.
Mario Canseco, Vice President, Angus Reid Public Opinion
+877 730 3570
Methodology: From June 1 to June 2, 2011, Angus Reid Public Opinion conducted an online survey among 805 randomly selected British Columbia adults who are Angus Reid Forum panellists. The margin of error—which measures sampling variability—is +/- 3.5%. The results have been statistically weighted according to the most current education, age, gender and region Census data to ensure a sample representative of the entire adult population of British Columbia. Discrepancies in or between totals are due to rounding.