Hamilton voters have been asked and for a third time they have answered emphatically: put fluoride in our drinking water.
Just two weeks before local body election ballots close, a new Waikato Times poll, out today, has found voters overwhelmingly support fluoridation.
The survey, conducted over a three-day period this week, shows 59 per cent support the reintroduction of the chemical – the same percentage as a Versus Research poll in June.
Some 26 per cent supported keeping city water supplies fluoride-free, a two-percentage-point increase.
Two per cent of those questioned refused to answer this week’s poll, while 13 per cent were unsure where they stood on the debate. There were 400 people polled with a margin of error of +/- 4.9 per cent.
The results indicate mayor Julie Hardaker and her council, if re-elected will almost certainly have to backtrack on their June decision to remove fluoride from water supplies.
The three leading mayoral candidates – Julie Hardaker, Dave Macpherson and Ewan Wilson – have all indicated they will vote according to the outcome of a fluoride referendum question appearing on local body ballot papers if they are re-elected.
“We went through a thorough process, everyone agreed with that,” Ms Hardaker said. “We are now having a referendum, and that will determine it.”
Mr Macpherson backed the fluoride tribunal’s opposition to fluoride but said he would follow the will of the voting public.
“Whatever the referendum result is, unless it is a statistical tie, I’ll be supporting it,” he said.
“If it is within the 1 per cent margin of error, or whatever it is, then I would regard it as a free vote.”
Mr Wilson said the poll result was great news for “good oral health in Hamilton”.
“Furthermore, I feel that the Waikato Times poll vindicates the 2500 Hamilton citizens who signed the petition calling for a referendum.
“It supports the premise that those who consume the water should have a say as to what goes into the water.”
The poll is also a graphic illustration of how disconnected Ms Hardaker is from her constituents, he said.
In a 2006 referendum, 70 per cent of voters wanted fluoride retained in the city’s water supplies.
The new poll results have been welcomed by the Waikato District Health Board.
“It’s very important that if people have strong feelings about having fluoride in the water then they actually should vote,” communications director Mary Anne Gill told the Times.
While the poll results were “heartening” she was concerned that favourable result for fluoride in the non-binding referendum would be ignored by the incoming council.
“With non-binding referendums, we’re in the hands of the new council and councillors and we’d like to think they’ve got a very clear signal from the community that they want to continue with water fluoridation.”
West ward candidate and anti-fluoride campaigner Roger Stratford said he would oppose a referendum outcome in favour of fluoride in the drinking water if he was elected to council.
In August, Mr Stratford told Waikato University chemistry experts to keep science out of the fluoride debate and when asked if he would follow public opinion he said, “no, I would not”.
Council has scheduled a meeting for Monday to debate both sides of the issue but Waikato DHB boss Craig Climo said he would not allow his staff to be subjected to personal attacks by anti-fluoridationists.
Mr Stratford has earlier said he would speak at the meeting and expected more support for the anti-fluoride sector before the polls closed in two weeks.
“I’m still hopeful that the anti-fluoride people can win the referendum despite the results of the poll.”