Monday, May 14, 2007

Is 'young voter' an oxymoron?

I know some people hate hearing this, but it is worth understanding why tomorrow is going to be elderocracy at its ultimate. Hey, at least I am consistent. It is no secret that voting in Pittsburgh is dominated by older voters. Is it just some reflection of youth apathy? Maybe a little, but not really. It really is the perfect storm here to produce what is probably the oldest voting demographic in the nation.

Some cold facts. Here is something I had years ago which breaks out the age demographics of actual voters in the spring 2003 primary for Allegheny County.

Look at that some. Basically for every voter under age 30 (not under 20.. under Thirty) there are 8 voters age 60 and over. There were actually two voters over 80 for everyone under 30 who cast a ballot. That really is an amazing ratio. And this is for the county as a whole. There are parts of the county much older than the average. Can you imagine what this pie chart looks like there?

But why? First off is the obvious that the region and county in particular is older than average by large measure. We typically talk about the percentage of population age 65 being 17-18% here compared to 12% or so across the country. But compared to younger areas it is a bigger difference. If you look just within the voting age population it is an even larger discrepancy between our demographics and elsewhere.

So what? Well, for lots of obvious reasons younger voters don't make it to the polls as much as older voters, especially for primaries or special elections compared to general elections. An approximation of voter participation (votes cast divided by voting age population) came out for that race. The vertical axis is a percentage:

So we have far more elderly to begin with.. and then on top of that the ones we do have vote about 7 times more often than younger voters. But the thing is, even that is not the full answer. One of the things driving this is that our local population is far more likely to have been here a long time than most other regions. There is a factoid people like to come up with every now and then that ranks regions or cities by the percentage of people who have lived in their current household for 30 or more years.. Pittsburgh always comes out on top of that ranking. Why does that matter? If you have been living in the same location for decades you are that much more likely to have registered to vote at some point. That statistic is almost by definition being driven by older voters. It is also why I am pretty sure our voter demographics are older than some of the places in Florida that are similarly old' as we are. When your elderly population is made up of snowbirds or recent movers I bet the proportion who have actually registered to vote in Florida is much lower than the percentage of elderly here who are registered and make it out to vote.

So consider you are looking for voters.. especially now that it's after the date you can register. Pull an average younger person from the population and that person is far more likely to have moved within the recent past. So even if its a politically active voter, they will also have to have re-registered in their current place of residence to vote. Many of course go to their previous residence to vote but the prevalence of that has to be a lot smaller than for others. Add all that up.. and if you come up with a calculated 'value' per voter of finding and convincing them to vote for you.. the ratio for those over 60 vs those under 30 approaches an order of magnitude. Not many elections outside of Pittsburgh can say anything like that extreme. Thus supervoters have even older age demographics than the averages above show.

What does it all mean? Maybe not as much as it seems. I am not so convinced that older voters are unwilling to vote for younger candidates... but it does mean that you can't just focus on young persons' issues. Ignore them at your peril. I think the bigger issue is that our demographics are what the nation will look like in coming decades. Extrapolating from our voting patterns will give a peak what national voting patterns are going to look like. Worth some thought.


Blogger Adam said...

Fascinating (as always). What really caught my attention here is the second graph: am I reading this right? Only 40% of people in their 70's voted in that 2003 primary? In other words 6 out of 10 of our most reliable group stayed home? Wow. I'd be curious to see what happens in a federal election year. (I've often wondered if turnout would go up for local elections if they were on the same cycle as the federal elections.) But it looks as though everyone is slacking off in their civic duties.

Monday, May 14, 2007 8:25:00 PM  
Blogger C. Briem said...

hmm. you have me thinking on that a bit. Remember I said that is participation not turnout. Participation has to be lower than turnout by definition. though not as much for older groups as young. and this was for a primary which has lower turnout for everyone compared to general elections.

Consider that the AC elections manager says he predicts a 30% turnout for dems and 25% turnout for republicans this election:

so if say 70-80% of age-eligible voters (a quick guess) are actually registered, that means he is predicting an 21-24% voter participation for dems, 17-20% for reps. So even 40% would be relatively high. Another benchmark: the highly contested 2001 mayoral primary had better than average turnout but still only 67K votes cast in a city of 334K people (~270K voting age)..

but for turnout in general elections I think younger elderly (65-75 or so) peak out at over 75% turnout.

Monday, May 14, 2007 11:00:00 PM  

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