It’s been a contentious issue in some communities. But the merits of fluoridating city water hadn’t been debated vigorously in Lethbridge.

But when local residents were being prompted to look into it, a new poll reports, they likely became more supportive.

A small majority – 53.7 per cent – now wants Lethbridge to continue adding the element to the city’s tap water, according to a new survey from the Citizen Society Research Lab at Lethbridge College. That’s up from 53.1 per cent last year and 48.7 per cent in 2011.

The fluoridation question was raised here in 2011 and became a side issue in last fall’s civic election. But its opponents haven’t made their case very effectively, it seems.

“If the anti-fluoridation campaign is having any impact on public opinion, it appears that it is alienating some residents who previously agreed with their positions,” says political scientist Faron Ellis.

It’s “driving some residents towards supporting the city’s fluoridation policies.”

Earlier polls conducted by the research lab showed similar results for anti-abortion activists locally. After their visually graphic demonstrations got public attention in Lethbridge, support for the pro-choice alternative increased.

Part of what the anti-fluoride group has done, Ellis notes, is solidify support for the addition of fluoride as a means of reducing tooth cavities.

While support for continuing its use has increased, the number of people calling for the city to discontinue it has dropped from 42.6 per cent in 2011 to 33.6 per cent today.

“Three years ago the difference was only six per cent.” points out Ellis, political science instructor at Lethbridge College.

Now it’s closer to 20 per cent.

“After a rigorous debate and a lot of lively rhetoric by way of the very active anti-fluoridation campaign, support has grown and opposition has weakened.”

Ellis says a demographic breakdown of those responding to the random telephone survey shows support for fluoridation is strongest among seniors, upper-income citizens and those with higher levels of education. It’s lowest among younger people and those with lower levels of income and education.

Levels of support for fluoridation were similar in all parts of the city, he adds.

“We now have a clear majority in support of the current policies of adding fluoride,” Ellis concludes.

“The anti-fluoride folks made this a very visible debate, and they seem to be losing.”