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A voter places his HST referendum ballot into a collection box at a Elections BC Collection Centre in City Square Shopping Centre in Vancouver, Monday, July 18, 2011. (Rafal Gerszak for The Globe and Mail/Rafal Gerszak for The Globe and Mail)
A voter places his HST referendum ballot into a collection box at a Elections BC Collection Centre in City Square Shopping Centre in Vancouver, Monday, July 18, 2011. (Rafal Gerszak for The Globe and Mail/Rafal Gerszak for The Globe and Mail)

Pollsters pass on predicting HST vote Add to ...

With Friday marking the deadline to submit HST referendum ballots, and results not expected for several weeks, pollsters who are usually eager to predict how a vote will play out won't be venturing a guess this time around.

Variables like the confusing referendum question and cumbersome ballot process have persuaded a number of pollsters to watch this vote from the sidelines.

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"Because of the intricacies of the referendum, it's really hard to gauge how this is going to go," said Mario Canseco of Angus Reid Public Opinion.

The mail-in referendum will decide the fate of B.C.'s much-maligned harmonized sales tax. By ticking "no" on their ballots, voters show their support for keeping the HST. By marking "yes," voters indicate their preference for returning to the old GST/PST system.

Mr. Canseco said one major factor in Angus Reid's decision to sit this one out was a poll the company conducted a couple of months ago on voter intentions. He said that poll found one in five people planned to vote for something they didn't want because they didn't understand the question - those who favour getting rid of the HST thought they should vote no, while those who favour keeping it believed they should vote yes.

"We have a lot of confusion about the actual wording of the referendum question," he said. "We also have the difficulty of figuring out whether people will vote or not, or whether they did well in placing their envelopes where they were supposed to. There's so many intricacies. It's so convoluted."

To submit their vote, British Columbians had to fill out their referendum ballot and place it inside a provided secrecy envelope. The secrecy envelope was then put inside a certification envelope. Finally, the certification envelope had to be sealed within a mailing envelope.

Kyle Braid, of Ipsos Reid, said his company also won't predict the outcome of the referendum vote.

"Partially it's because the question's confusing, partially it's because this is a new kind of referendum process. And, to be honest, partially it's because it feels a little weird inserting a poll in the middle of a vote rather than before a vote actually happens, which is what we usually do in elections."

Mr. Braid said polls hinge on the ability to correctly predict who will participate in the process. He said pollsters are able to make adjustments in general elections because they have fairly high participation rates and a long history.

"But for something like this, being able to predict who's voted and who hasn't voted is not something I'm comfortable doing," he said.

An Elections BC spokesman said there's nothing in the HST Referendum Regulation that prevents companies from releasing polling data while the vote is going on. Polling firms are not permitted to release such data on the day of a provincial election, which is conducted under the Election Act.

Barb Justason, of Justason Market Intelligence, agreed with the rationale of her peers and did not offer a prediction on the vote. However, she did venture a guess on what the conversation of choice will be once the ballots are finally tabulated.

"If I have a prediction, it's not going to be yes or no," she said. "It's more along the lines that there's going to be a huge discussion about how to do this next time. I hope there's a big question around confusing questions."

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