Ward Imbalance Underrepresents Less Affluent Residents

While much of the commentary over Hamilton's ward representation focuses on the urban/suburban split, the more glaring imbalance is in representation by income.

By John Neary
Published April 20, 2012

this article has been updated

Much of the recent commentary on the large differences in population between Hamilton wards - or, to put it differently, the large differences in voter representation - has once again focused on the "urban vs. suburban/rural" narrative.

This focus is a shame for several reasons, the first of which is that these divides aren't as clear as we often think.

Is Ward 13 (Dundas) "suburban"? It's called the "Valley Town", not the "Valley Suburb".

Is Ward 1 "urban" (Strathcona and Kirkendall) or suburban (West Hamilton to the Ancaster border)?

How about Ward 7, which stretches from the mountain brow all the way past Rymal Road?

More importantly, however, this narrative is unhelpful because it distracts from how the current ward system underrepresents our poorest and most vulnerable citizens.

Here's a graph of City Council representation per resident versus average resident income in dollars.

Chart: City Council Representation per Resident by Income
Chart: City Council Representation per Resident by Income

The y-axis on this graph is scaled so that the line of best fit (not shown) has an intercept of 1. The slope of the graph is 1/61,333. The interpretation, in plain English, is that if a (fictitious) ward whose residents have no income would have a certain level of representation on City Council, then a ward whose residents earned $61,333 would tend to have twice the representation per capita, a ward whose residents earned $122,666 would tend to have three times the representation, and so on. (The r-squared value is 0.25, for those who care.)

In other words, you get one vote for Council just for being alive, and another vote for each sixty thousand dollars you (and your neighbours) earn.

While it may be true that "no destiny-altering votes have taken place because of imbalances in our ward representation" during the current term of council, the HSR fare increase in 2010 split almost exactly on rich-poor lines, with the representatives of 200,000 people (plus then-mayor Fred Eisenberger) prevailing over the representatives of 290,000 people.

Rules that systematically ignore the voices of less affluent residents have no place in the twenty-first century. Hell, they had no place in the twentieth century. It is long, long overdue - but not too late - to insist upon equal representation for all Hamiltonians on our city council.

Update: The chart has been updated to include a trendline.

John Neary lives in Beasley Neighbourhood and practices general internal medicine at St. Joseph's Healthcare Hamilton. He would like Hamilton to develop an urban environment that creates less gainful employment for his profession.


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By mystoneycreek (registered) - website | Posted April 20, 2012 at 08:24:24

While it may be true that "no destiny-altering votes have taken place because of imbalances in our ward representation" during the current term of council,

To clarify, I was referring to the fact that Wards 7 & 8 have not suffered in any critical project decision-making vote that, for the sake of argument, might have turned out differently had there been an additional ward on 'the Mountain'. (Correct me if I'm wrong.) I was not addressing anything outside of that, especially as I agree with what John has said here.

(And I'm obliged to note that The Hamiltonian has received a response from Councillors Whitehead and Duvall: It seems that Councillors that represent the two most populated wards in the city, we have spent a lot of time meeting and speaking with residents of our wards in the last several years. And at no time did anyone come forward and stated that we need more politicians, need to spend more money and that the current governance structure is not effective.

Comment edited by mystoneycreek on 2012-04-20 08:26:15

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By jason (registered) | Posted April 20, 2012 at 09:17:15

Funny how some people like to wax poetic about the need for more engagement at election time from less affluent voters, but then resist simple changes like this that seek to put them on a balanced playing field. It reminds me of the loud refrains of 'nobody will be allowed to drive a car anymore!' anytime it's suggested that pedestrians actually have a sidewalk to walk on, or bikes get the odd, disconnected bike lane next to 4 lanes of traffic.

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By bean counter (anonymous) | Posted April 20, 2012 at 11:06:23

Could you please post the data you used to create the graph? Thanks.

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By neary (anonymous) | Posted April 20, 2012 at 13:23:52 in reply to Comment 76082

They're in my prior article linked above. X axis is income per capita. Y axis is the reciprocal of population, multiplied by a scaling factor of about 68,000 (to make the y-intercept equal to 1).

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By -Hammer- (registered) | Posted April 20, 2012 at 11:14:34

Terry Whitehead irritates me more and more and I sincerely hope he gets ousted next election. Just shuffle Ward 14 into more of 12 and then 12 into 11 and 8, and then 11 into 6,7 and 8.

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By Borrelli (registered) | Posted April 20, 2012 at 11:15:31

Great post, John. Thanks for sharing, and highlighting the class dimensions of this issue.

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By jasper (anonymous) | Posted April 20, 2012 at 12:55:21

The graph is a bit confusing to me. Seems to me if you have to interpret a graph then it's not doing its job. Would it make sense to plot a line showing the mean between the wards? Then you might see the extremely important observation graphically: 'In other words, you get one vote for Council just for being alive, and another vote for each sixty thousand dollars you (and your neighbours) earn'

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By neary (anonymous) | Posted April 20, 2012 at 13:25:52 in reply to Comment 76086

I'll try to add the line of best fit later today and send it Ryan to update the article. No access to a real computer at present.

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By calculator (anonymous) | Posted April 20, 2012 at 13:25:33

Some might say the first question to ask statistically is if there is a significant correlation shown in these data. If R2 is 0.25 then the correlation (r) is 0.5
With 13 degrees of freedom the critical value for p=0.05 is 0.55 If we can agree that this is a reasonable value for p then we should reject the hypothesis that the relationship is significant.
There is 1 ward with a quite high Representation value (>4). If we were to reject that ward as an outlier then I imagine things would be much less impressive. To determine the reasonableness of doing this it would be very nice to have the raw data so that we could measure its distribution.

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By Borrelli (registered) | Posted April 20, 2012 at 15:20:38 in reply to Comment 76089

With so few data points, the leverage exerted from that single outlier is pretty huge. If you excluded it, I agree, the regression line would be almost flat.

Even without the raw data, you can see that the remaining data points (excluding the outlier) hover between 1 and 2.8ish. I calculated 2.1 as a rough estimate of the mean based on estimates of the points on the graph.

Again, using rough estimates of where those points lie, I calculated a standard deviation of 0.3, which means the outlier with a score of 4 would be more than 6 s.d.'s from the mean (a pretty good reason to exclude).

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By just asking (anonymous) | Posted April 20, 2012 at 15:17:05

The poor are ignored because they have no political power and are off the radar as target audiences during our so called "democratic" election process.

Will changing ward boundaries,really change anything?

The emphasis should be on organizing, building solidarity amongst community members, to infrom the masses about why the structure will live under is not accountable or transparent, a system that rolls over so many of our fellow human beings in the name of profits.

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By bean counter (anonymous) | Posted April 21, 2012 at 03:02:22

A slightly different take on the issue that yields some interesting data:
Below are some stats of the different wards sorted by household income.

ward income residents voters residents per voter
2 41307 37815 19424 1.946818369
3 45481 39910 23670 1.6861005492
4 51879 35635 23721 1.5022553855
5 57429 38965 25755 1.5129101145
1 63662 30080 20767 1.4484518708
6 63963 40645 28266 1.4379466497
7 67749 58395 40571 1.4393285845
9 76151 26695 19235 1.3878346764
8 78043 48400 34259 1.412767448
10 83741 24975 19350 1.2906976744
11 86334 25900 24655 1.0504968566
13 90585 24695 18439 1.3392808721
14 93633 15920 12147 1.3106116737
15 106619 25490 18609 1.3697673169
12 126715 31040 24449 1.269581578
totals: 504560 353317

While there is a reasonable correlation between average household income and total residents in the ward (R=0.5 when fit to a power function) it is of course the case that all the residents in a ward will not be eligible voters. Looking up the number of eligible voters in each ward from the 2010 election results available here:
gives the number in the chart above labeled as "voters". Running a regression on average household income vs number of eligible voters in each ward yields a very low correlation (R=0.2 when fit to a power function).
As can be seen in the rightmost column the lower income wards have more residents per voter than the higher income wards.
So, it seems to me that the evidence found thus far does not show that the influence of an individuals vote is significantly diluted by virtue of the fact that they happen to reside in a low income ward.
The problem might arise in the future however should some sort of change result in a larger percentage of low income ward residents becoming eligible voters.

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By Undustrial (registered) - website | Posted April 21, 2012 at 23:28:56 in reply to Comment 76104

So you don't see the fact that a larger portion of the population in these wards aren't legally allowed to vote as a sign that they see less political representation on a per-person basis?

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By bean counter (anonymous) | Posted April 22, 2012 at 01:32:27 in reply to Comment 76114

Well, if someone is not eligible to vote then they are not represented but redrawing the ward boundaries is not going to make them eligible to vote.
They may be under 18, not citizens, or for whatever reason just not have their name on the voters list. None of these factors is dependent on ward size or location as far as I can see, or am I missing something?

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By Undustrial (registered) - website | Posted April 22, 2012 at 22:31:10 in reply to Comment 76115

The fact that wards with more voters:representatives also have larger proportions of the population ineligable to vote seems especially relevant here. It suggests that lower incomes correlate well with both. Either way it leads to less representation.

The registered voters in low-income wards see problems with larger amounts of ineligable voters for the same reason wealthy voters from poorer wards suffer. Having neighbours who are politically neglected will affect the neighbourhood as a whole

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By Bean counter (anonymous) | Posted April 23, 2012 at 02:48:29 in reply to Comment 76127

One is not going to get an exact match of data here because the information regarding voters is from the 2011 election results, and the other data are from the 2006 census, and obviously there will have been changes during that 5 year period. That said, in 2011 there were 353,317 eligible voters in the city. The census data, available here:
shows the city had 105,750 residents who were Canadian citizens, but would have been ineligible to vote because they were under the age of 18, and a further 30,065 (all ages) who were ineligible because they were not citizens. Adding these to the eligible voters gives a total of 489,132 which accounts for 97% of the total population of 504,560.

This does leave 15,428 ineligible voters unaccounted for but the census shows that 12,664 residents had lived in Hamilton for less than 1 year. It often takes some time after moving to a new city before ones name finds it's way on to the voters list. I think an argument could be made that in advance of an election a media campaign reminding new residents to register and arranging things to make that process easy could be worthwhile.

Given that the data is from 2 data sets collected 5 years apart I think that's a pretty complete explanation of who the ineligible voters are.

If we accept the ideas that the right to vote is a prerogative of being a citizen, and that parents can be generally relied upon to reflect both their own interests and the interests of their children at election time, and that, as I have tried to show, there is not a significant correlation between average income in a ward and the number of eligible voters in that ward then it seems to me that the case for realigning ward bounderies based on income has still not been shown

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By ScreamingViking (registered) | Posted April 22, 2012 at 13:45:50 in reply to Comment 76115

No, but it may allow them to be better represented. A councillor represents ALL residents of their ward, whether they vote, are ineligible to vote, or choose not to vote at all.

What's missing from this analysis is the count of ineligible voters.

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By Fred Street (anonymous) | Posted April 21, 2012 at 17:05:14 in reply to Comment 76104

If I remember my Hamilton demography correctly, families tend to be more common the further you get from King and James, which might account for some of the residents-per-voter fluctuation. That and the trickle-out of residents in wards 1-5 since amalgamation will distort the picture somewhat.

Interesting that 7 and 8, which usually have the highest voter turnout, seem to be actually less civically engaged per elector than wards like 2 and 3, which usually take silver and gold for worst voter turnout relative to electorate population.

On balance, though, the push for more equitable distribution of ward power will probably impact the mid-mountain wards more than any others (eg. make four or five wards from wards 6-8). The old city had a polar 5:5 balance of upper-to-lower city that kept interests fairly balanced. Now, it's more like a 5:10 balance.

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By WRCU2 (registered) - website | Posted April 21, 2012 at 12:16:34

Hello again Dr. John,

While much of the commentary over Hamilton's ward representation focuses on the urban/suburban split, the more glaring imbalance is in representation by income.

Since we all know that 1% holds/controls 40% of the world's wealth, IT is safe to assume that that minority must also exert an equivalent political influence. Under that assumption, redrawing ward boundaries will not make as much of a difference as would simply, making ourselves rich. In other words, money talks and bullspit walks.

Canada's Gini coefficient = 0.317 - A Grade C among 17 peer countries and 35th in the world.
Hamilton's Gini coefficient = 0.424, for Burlington, it's 0.334.
Queen St. S./King St. W./James St./Hunter St. W. = 0.712

What does the Gini coefficient mean?

The Gini coefficient (named after the Italian statistician Corrado Gini) is the most commonly used measure of income inequality. It calculates the extent to which the distribution of income among individuals within a country deviates from a perfectly equal distribution. A Gini coefficient of 0 represents perfect equality (that is, every person in the society has the same amount of income); a Gini coefficient of 100 represents perfect inequality (that is, one person has all the income and the rest of the society has none).

In terms of distribution, the report finds a worsening situation with regard to wealth inequality. By quintiles, the largest gains in net worth accrue to the top quintile (up 43% from 1999) and things scale down from there; the bottom quintile had a 70% decline in net worth. In the supplementary tables, it is notable that there are now over one million households with over a million dollars in net worth. These households, 8.2% of families, hold 46.5% of the total net worth. Overall, the top 20% had 69.2% of total net worth, while the bottom 20% had 2.4% and the bottom 60% had 10.8%.

But go ahead and try as you may to feel as though you have an equal say. In the end, the wards of big money will almost always hold sway.

Comment edited by WRCU2 on 2012-04-21 12:38:03

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By new way of looking at things (anonymous) | Posted April 22, 2012 at 05:59:19

Comments with a score below -5 are hidden by default.

You can change or disable this comment score threshold by registering an RTH user account.

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By DavidColacci (registered) | Posted April 22, 2012 at 20:47:06 in reply to Comment 76116

I never thought I would read such a remark on this website. Further marginalization of people is counter productive on all fronts.

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By new way of looking at things (anonymous) | Posted April 26, 2012 at 00:30:21 in reply to Comment 76126

how is this marginalization? If you do not contribute to the pot why should you get to decide how to spend it? It is way to easy to spend other peoples money. that's one of the biggest problems that we face in our society. It is very easy to say you should buy this or you need to do this with your property. if you want something bought or funded then come up with the money and do it. Don't like the fact that the church is being torn down then come up with the millions it takes to rehab the church because the congregation, the owners cannot. if you cannot fund it then shut up and let the owners do what they have to do to survive and keep on going. you want better transit then come up with the money and fund it. pretty easy isn't it? Detroit did just that. they wanted LRT and got funding from the private sector for most of the money. That is the way it should be. easy peasy.

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By seancb (registered) - website | Posted April 26, 2012 at 21:00:25 in reply to Comment 76251

The market will reach a natural equilibrium and everything will turn out fine!

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By new? (anonymous) | Posted April 22, 2012 at 11:27:09 in reply to Comment 76116

Is this really a new way of looking at things? The rich already have more political power than the poor. And you think it's working so well that we should make it official?

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By Question (anonymous) | Posted April 24, 2012 at 08:16:33

Let me ask: Is Dr. John asking greater representation for people who vote the least in any election? Look at the stats, some of our poorest wards, turn out the least when they cast ballots. If that's the case, the few wealthier in the poorer areas are the ones who make the choices on who gets elected. Increase representation for these wards and the richest in the poorest areas will have the power to elect more people. How does that help the marginalized?

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By Answer (anonymous) | Posted April 24, 2012 at 13:55:21 in reply to Comment 76179

Those who are elected are still bound to represent their entire Ward, and the City as a whole. I think we also have some work to do on that front, and ward boundary reform is a good first step. We need to make sure all constituents have relatively equal access to their representative. 1:60:000 vs. 1:20,000 is just too much of a disparity.

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