Almost 60 per cent of voters in Birmingham are unaware there will be a referendum over whether the city should be governed by an elected mayor.
A new opinion poll has also revealed that 54 per cent of those asked will vote ‘‘Yes’’ for a directly elected city leader in the referendum on May 3, with 23 per cent against and the rest undecided.
The results mean that both the Yes and No campaigns and politicians will need to step up their efforts as polling day approaches.
The Populus poll, carried out for BBC Radio WM, found that 59 per cent of residents were unaware of the referendum. But that number rises to 84 per cent among the 18-24 age group, suggesting that political issues are failing to resonate with young voters.
Conservative James Hutchings, who co-chairs the Vote No To A Power Freak campaign, said: “People are incredibly ill informed about it. It is not a subject they’ve been engaged with or are interested in.”
'Yes' campaign spokeswoman Julia Higginbottom said: “I thought it would be much higher. Our straw polls and vox pops suggest 80 per cent are unaware.
“The Government has driven this referendum but is failing its own policy by not getting information out. This is huge opportunity to decide what kind of Birmingham we want to see.”
The results of the poll are released on the day BBC Radio WM hosts a debate on the mayoral issue on Friday at 7pm.
Populus asked 500 people, representing a cross-section of the population, a series of questions about the referendum, including whether people were aware of it.
Low turnouts in referendums are not unusual. Last year the national Alternative Vote referendum attracted a turnout on 39.8 per cent and a poll on granting more powers to the Welsh Assembly attracted just 35 per cent of voters.
More recently a mayoral referendum in Salford in January saw just 18.1 per cent vote.
Ten UK cities, including Birmingham and Coventry will poll voters on May 3 over whether they should have an elected mayor. Liverpool and Leicester have already decided to switch to mayoral systems without a referendum.
Business lobby group the Birmingham Chamber of Commerce, which is in favour of a mayor for Birmingham, is urging its 3,000 member companies to spread the message to staff and clients.
Chief executive Jerry Blackett said: “The success of the ‘Yes’ campaign depends on its ability to engage real Brummies in the elected mayor debate.
‘‘With the referendum now just eight weeks away, the onus is on those of us who support the campaign for an elected mayor to make the case to Birmingham’s citizens.”
But once informed of the people’s poll three-quarters said they would go out and vote, offering some comfort to the campaigners.
BBC WM 95.6 presenter Paul Franks will host a mayoral debate live in Birmingham from 7pm-8pm on March 9.
On the panel will be Sir Peter Soulsby, who was elected as city mayor for Leicester last year; a former contestant on the Apprentice, Jo Cameron; the chief executive of Birmingham Chamber of Commerce, Jerry Blackett; City Councillor James Hutchings; and Mike Barnes, who led the “Democracy For Stoke” campaign in 2008 when the people of Stoke-on-Trent voted to get rid of the elected mayor and return to a council leader and cabinet system.
THE POPULUS BBC RADIO WM SURVEY
Q.1 People in Birmingham will be voting in May in a referendum to decide whether the city should have a mayor who is directly elected by the people, or whether the city should continue to be led by a council leader who is chosen by elected councillors. Did you know that this referendum is happening?
Yes – 203 – 41%
No – 297 – 59%
Q.2 Do you think Birmingham should have a directly elected mayor, or not?
Yes – 270 – 54%
No – 116 – 23%
Don’t Know – 113 – 23%
Q.3 Will you be voting in the referendum in May?
Yes – 368 – 74%
No – 89 – 18%
Don’t Know – 43 – 9%