The York University Institute for Social Research released a study today by professors Fred Cutler (UBC) and Patrick Fournier (Université de Montréal) entitled, "Why Ontarians Said No To MMP." A report on the study was printed in the Globe & Mail today.
The study confirms that two elements of the Citizens' Assembly's Mixed Member Proportional proposal proved to be unpopular with Ontarians: "...increasing the number of members in the legislature by 22 was not well received. Ontarians who believed this was a good idea were clearly outnumbered. More important, there were the infamous party lists - the biggest weapon in the anti-MMP arsenal. A majority thought giving control over the composition of those lists to parties was a bad thing. Only 16 per cent liked the idea."
But the study also indicates Ontarians would've been prepared to support the MMP proposal in sufficient numbers if they had had more information about it and how the proposal was created:
"[The] Citizens' Assembly...was...unfamiliar to the public. Voters tend to be skeptical of referendum proposals from politicians, so the assembly might have provided much-needed grassroots legitimacy. But only if voters knew that its members were ordinary people.
"Few discovered that. The media paid little attention to the assembly and often described it as "set up by the government" - a half-truth that did nothing to dispel voters' assumption that the proposal was coming from the usual political suspects. At the start of the campaign, half said they knew nothing about the assembly and, amazingly, there was no gain in awareness over the campaign.
"So, knowledge about MMP and the Citizens' Assembly pushed voters toward the new system. Could referendum support have reached the 60 per cent threshold if voters had been fully informed about both? We can simulate the outcome if all citizens had known: (1) that MMP would give voters two votes, elect some members whose names never appear on a ballot, produce proportional outcomes with more parties and infrequent majorities; and (2) that assembly members "were ordinary Ontarians," "had an equal chance of being chosen," "represented all parts of Ontario," "became experts on electoral systems," and that "most members wanted what's best for all Ontarians" (rather than themselves).
"Under these conditions, our data indicate the result would have been 63 per cent for MMP and 37 per cent for the existing system - exactly the mirror image of the actual outcome.
"This is probably heartening, and yet disappointing, for electoral reformers. And perhaps opponents should show more relief than smugness."
Clearly, the decision by the McGuinty government to bury public information about the Citizens' Assembly, including its final report, was instrumental in defeating MMP.