Boomers vs. millennials: Whose voice is heard in LRT poll?

Forum Research says the poll is weighted. But Christopher Higgins, a geographer and spatial analyst, says Hamilton's baby boomers had an unfair say.
Concept art shows how the LRT system might look. (Metrolinx)

A Hamilton expert frequently cited in the LRT debate says a recent poll gauging public support relies too heavily on senior citizens, and not enough on younger residents who will have to live with the project for the next 50 years.

It's really clear to me that the boomers have spoken.- Christopher Higgins

Christopher Higgins, a quantitative geographer and spatial analyst with McMaster University's Institute of Transportation and Logistics, says the survey has a lack of respondents aged 18 to 34, which calls the results into question.

Nine councillors hired Forum Research to survey 3,324 Hamiltonians from March 30 to April 4. Of those, 131 were aged 18 to 34 and 1,391 were 65 and up. 

The pollster says the disparity stems from how they were contacted. Ninety-four per cent were reached on land lines, and just six per cent on cell phones.

"People aged 18 to 34 are harder to reach, so they are usually underrepresented in public opinion polls," said Forum president Lorne Bozinoff.

The poll is also weighted, he said, so that millennial voices are given more weight in the overall total, to account for that.

"This exact shortfall — the underrepresentation of millennials — is found in just about all surveys, but when the results are weighted, we get excellent predictive results."

Higgins argues that even with the weighting, the sample size for ages 18 to 34 is too small to get an accurate reading of the viewpoints of that age group. The smaller the sample, he said, the larger the margin of error.

This chart shows the age ranges surveyed.

One hundred and thirty one people, he said, isn't enough to speak for 115,000 Hamiltonians in that demographic.

"When I break it down by age group, it's really clear to me that the boomers have spoken," said Higgins, who co-authored the report The North American Light Rail Experience: Insights for Hamilton.

"The voice of the younger generation, those under 35, has really been lost in this discussion."

Hamilton Mayor Eisenberger and Waterloo councillors talk LRT in Hamilton. 1:19

But Bozinoff notes that the survey showed found people using cellphones are even less likely to be in favour of LRT. Among cellphone users, 34 per cent approved, 57 per cent disapproved and 10 per cent were undecided.

The survey also has more millennials opposing the project than supporting it. Of the respondents, 47 per cent disapprove of it.

The CBC interviewed George Murray of Prince Edward Island last year about him still having a rotary phone. Forum Research says the advent of cell phones make it harder to reach millennials, which was the case with Hamilton's recent LRT survey. (Laura Meader/CBC)

Higgins, however, calculates the margin of error on that sample as meaning that number of millennials disapproving could be anywhere from 38 to 56 per cent.

Hamiltonians aged 65 and up were more likely to oppose LRT, with 54 per cent saying they disapprove.

City councillors will debate LRT at a meeting Wednesday. They must approve the most recent plan — an update to a 2011 environmental assessment — and send it to the province for the project to proceed.

Poll results by the numbers

Dates of the phone poll: March 30 to April 4

Sample size: 3,324

Margin of error: +/- 1.7 per cent for the overall percentages.  That margin goes up ( it isn't specified in the poll tables) for any breakdowns: gender, age, location, income, etc.


  • How familiar are you with the LRT project? (Very familiar, somewhat, not very, not at all, unsure)
  • Do you approve or disapprove of this LRT project? (Approve, disapprove, undecided)
  • Should the city hold a referendum to consult voters prior to any final approval or disapproval of this project? (Yes, no, undecided)

Those who said they were very familiar with the project: 46 per cent.

Somewhat familiar: 36 per cent.

Not very: 13 per cent.

Not at all: 4 per cent.

Those very familiar with it were more likely to be 34 or younger (53 per cent), men (55 per cent), the most wealthy (59 per cent), and have a college/university degree (48 per cent) or post-graduate degree (48 per cent). They were also more likely (54 per cent) to live in the lower city.

People who disapproved of LRT tended to be 65 and up (54 per cent) and earn $20,000 to $60,000. Half had a college or university degree. Disapproval was most common for people living in Ancaster, Dundas and Flamborough.

People who approved tended to be aged 35 to 44 (47 per cent), and the most wealthy. They tended to have a post-graduate degree (45 per cent) and live in the lower city (43) or Stoney Creek/Glanbrook (42).

Respondents by age and gender: 

  • Aged 18 to 34: 131 people.
  • 35 to 44: 312.
  • 45 to 54: 598.
  • 55 to 64: 892.
  • 65+: 1,391.
  • Men: 1,615.
  • Women: 1,654.

Location of respondents:

  • Stoney Creek and Glanbrook: 785 people. (40 per cent said they were very familiar, 38 per cent somewhat familiar.)
  • Hamilton Mountain: 578. (45 per cent very familiar, 40 per cent somewhat familiar.)
  • Lower Hamilton and downtown: 1,008. (54 per cent very familiar, 34 somewhat familiar.)
  • Ancaster, Dundas, Flamborough: 953. (42 per cent very familiar, 35 per cent somewhat.)

Of respondents very familiar with the project, 59 per cent disapprove and 41 per cent approve. Of those who are not at all familiar, 68 per cent disapprove and 32 per cent approve. Of those who are somewhat familiar, it was an even split.

Councillors who participated:

  • Sam Merulla (Ward 4).
  • Tom Jackson (6). 
  • Donna Skelly (7).
  • Terry Whitehead (8).
  • Doug Conley (9).
  • Maria Pearson (10).
  • Arlene VanderBeek (13).
  • Robert Pasuta (14).
  • Judi Partridge (15). | @SamCraggsCBC


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