Northern Economist 2.0

Friday, 26 October 2018

Municipal Election Analysis 2018: Thunder Bay At-Large Race

The results of the October 22nd municipal election in Thunder Bay also saw the election of five At-Large Councilors from a rather large pool of 26 candidates.  There are three new At-Large councilors though given two are former councilors (Giertuga and Bentz) there is really only one new face – Peng You.  Most of the actual change in the composition of Thunder Bay City council came at the ward level where there are four new faces (Aiello, Hamilton, Fraser and Oliver) out of the seven positions.  The new council in the end represents a significant amount of change that will contribute new ideas and approaches but not an overwhelming amount that might lead to a more bumpy ride.

To me this also suggests that dramatic change in council composition may be easier at the Ward level because name recognition is much more important in the At-Large races given the large number of candidates – especially this time around.  In many respects, the race for an At-Large seat is really a race for five mini-mayor positions as once elected they can claim to speak for the entire city whereas ward councilors can be seen as representing specific ward interests.  Every voter gets to vote for five making the total number of votes greater than the actual number of voters creating different dynamics than a ward election.

Figure 1 presents the ranked total ballots for each of the At-Large candidates and they range from a maximum of 20,346 votes for Peng You to a low of 973 votes for Frank Wazinski.  After the two leading candidates - Peng and Aldo - there is a drop off to the next three with not that many votes separating them – Giertuga at 11,718, Johnson at 11,692 and Bentz at 11074 – and then another drop to 8,807 with Larry Hebert.  Thus, given this particularly large pool of candidates, the critical number of votes to win was just over 11,000 or just under 7 percent of the total votes cast (172,523) for At-Large candidates.  This perhaps explains why so many choose to run for Councilor At Large – given that there are five votes per elector – one can win a seat on council with a relatively low percentage of the total votes cast.  Ward races on the other hand seem to have stiffer competition and a larger share of the total is required to win.


Figures 2 to 4 plot some rather dizzying figures of the distribution of the vote for the paper ballots, online telephone ballots and total ballots and they generally parallel each other pretty closely.  Unlike the mayor's race which I examined in my last post, there was no major difference between online and paper ballots among the front runners.  Peng You essentially captured about 12 percent of the total ballots cast which in the end does not seem like a particularly strong mandate.  On the other hand, perhaps the better point of comparison is the number of votes cast for Mayor which provides a more accurate estimate of the number of voters participating.  Of the 41,108 individuals who cast a ballot for mayor, one can argue that 20,346 of them cast a ballot for Peng You or nearly 50 percent of voters.  




Interpreted this way, Peng’s accomplishment is quite astounding because if one looks at the race for mayor, the winner only captured 34 percent of votes cast.  In the same manner, the next highest At-Large candidate – Councilor Ruberto at 14,745 – captures nearly 36 percent of the voters –also slightly better than the mayor’s performance.  Of course, what is also of note is that if one takes the number of votes for mayor – 41,108 – and multiplies by the number of votes you are allowed to cast At-Large, you get at pool of At-Large votes equal to 205,540.  However, the total number of votes cast At-Large was only 172,523 – about 16 percent less meaning that some chose to vote for fewer than five At-Large candidates.

In the end, these results are interesting because they suggest that at least two of the At-Large winners may be more popular than the mayor which all but ensures they may want to consider a run for mayor the next time around.  However, that is four years away and a lot can happen during four years that can erode your political capital. It is always risky to be more popular than the boss and standing out can also make you more of a political target.  Still, one cannot deny that the stand out feature of this year’s At-Large race was the victory of newcomer Peng You given the energy of his campaign and the size of his win.  I suppose local sentiments may be best summarized borrowing from the words of the immortal Alexandre Dumas – it was All for Peng and Peng for All!