Wednesday, April 24, 2013

It will be different this time

A debate I get caught up in at this point in most all election cycles is over whether 'young people' are going to make a difference in the upcoming election. Whatever election it is at the time. The idea that 'this election' is different always pops up. The argument is that there is some big surge in youth registration or enthusiasm which will translate into voter turnout. It is rarely even remotely true. People have been getting mad at me ever since I once asked if Young Voter is an oxymoron?  With the possible exception of the overinterpreted 2008 general election, there has been little variation in the story for all local elections, and certainly not in any local primary in recent memory.

So will this election coming up prove the exception?  If so, the first place you would expect to see evidence is in new voter registrations.  Looking at the state's voter registration data, here is what I see for new Democratic party registrations by week since the beginning of the year. Note that the total number of registration is much higher than this time series, but the majority of new registrations are without party affiliation, likely because many new registrations happen as part of motor voter or other administrative procedures, not because someone is going out of their way to register to vote. But for Allegheny County the official counts right now are as follows:

Add it up if you like. Since January there have been a total of 2,996 new Democratic Party registrations in all of Allegheny County. That's it.  IF they were all in the city of Pittsburgh and IF all of them vote next month, the new registrations  will likely be 5-6%  of all votes expected to be cast in the upcoming mayoral race in the City of Pittsburgh. More likely half or less of all those new registrations are in the city proper and assuming a quarter of them show up to vote then new registrations add up to 3-400 votes, so back of the envelope let's say maybe 0.7% of all votes expected to be cast. Assume the new registrants vote heavily for one candidate over others... say 75-25. It means the impact on the result is maybe a 0.35% swing.

Maybe I am underestimating? The registration deadline was Monday. Possibly a few last minute new registrations will show up in the data and push those numbers higher, but by how much?


Blogger Bram Reichbaum said...

When we talk about young voters, we mean < 45.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013 9:16:00 PM  
Blogger C. Briem said...

In general I use 60 as a cutoff for young voters in Allegheny County.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013 10:02:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I am a bit surprised by this. I thought the Peduto campaign was registering lots of new voters.

Thursday, April 25, 2013 9:06:00 AM  
Anonymous BrianTH said...

I suppose it depends in part on how you define "lots". For all I know those count as pretty good new registration numbers in historic terms, but the point remains it is very hard for new registrants to make a big difference in any given election.

Of course this could be just one component of an overall strategy to change the composition of the electorate in favorable ways, but you would still have to have modest expectations for the net advantage you could possibly get from such a strategy. And given this is a primary, likely the largest component of such a strategy would actually be increasing turnout among your target groups.

Thursday, April 25, 2013 10:05:00 AM  
Anonymous MH said...

In general I use 60 as a cutoff for young voters in Allegheny County.

Pittsburgh is really great about making me not feel old. I'm not sure how the campaign is going, but the only people on my street with Wagner signs don't give candy at Halloween and had Romney signs in the fall.

Thursday, April 25, 2013 10:26:00 AM  
Anonymous Paz said...


Can you compare those numbers to other years, particularly to 2009? Wouldn't you suspect that registration would be down in a year following the presidential election?

Thursday, April 25, 2013 11:27:00 AM  
Blogger C. Briem said...

Mayoral primary is always right after a presidential election?

and while I don't have a cite, I suspect someone has studied this. I bet those who register for general election presidential races are likely to be the type that mostly participate in general elections more so than primary elections in the long run.

anyway... when I get time I'll do some comparative benchmarking.. Amazing how this argument recurs exactly as it does over and over again. (Pat... I'm talking to you)

no.. not Dowd.

Thursday, April 25, 2013 12:14:00 PM  
Anonymous Daniel J. said...

Expect this would represent a few hundred extra voters in the Universities relative to previous cycles. In the Towers and Soldier's and Sailors voting locations during the 2001, 2005, & 2009 general election (while school was in session, which it won't be for the Mayoral primary) there was 115, 165, 216 votes total.

Agree on this being a very small # relative to Democratic super voters that vote in every election. It would have to be a very close race in that population for young voters to have en effect.

Thursday, April 25, 2013 12:32:00 PM  
Blogger C. Briem said...

But this is a primary election coming up??

What were the vote counts in the 2005 and 2009 primary elections in 4-8 & 4-7? Yes, students are gone by the time a May primary comes around, I get it. But folks almost always extend the argument to say for sure there will be scads of absentee ballots are certain to come in from those two precincts.

Suffice it to say nobody ever follows up with me after the elections come around.

Thursday, April 25, 2013 5:29:00 PM  
Blogger C. Briem said...

and the last mayoral primary here happened just months after the historical 2008 general election where there was a palpable bump in voter turnout among all ages, but the youth turnout was talked about a bit more. Was there any difference in the 2009 primary here in Pittsburgh?

Thursday, April 25, 2013 5:31:00 PM  
Anonymous Daniel J. said...

Chris, 2010 was likely different... To give you an idea of the potential for student participation in off cycle elections, ~2,700 students at Pitt were registered in 2010 general through a student government run initiative. 1,368 ended up voting. Sierra Club also had a full time staffed position on the ground during that registration drive. Expect presidential years are similar with several campaign staff focused on student registrations. In another hurdle, in 2010 there was nowhere near the Dem registrations that City of Pittsburgh has from new student registrations with 40% Dem, 35% Independent registrations and 20% Republican.

From what I've seen there's only been a fraction of the effort for this years primary, without the buy-in from campus leaders. And, there's the additional hurdle of having to organize absentee ballots.

2009 general had 216 votes in 4,8 and 4,7 versus 3,730 in 2008. Don't have access to the primary #s from that year but expect they're similar.

Thursday, April 25, 2013 8:18:00 PM  
Blogger C. Briem said...

ballots in spring Democratic party primaries for 2009, 2010, 2011, and 2012 respectively:

Ward 4 - Dist 7: 81, 104, 62, 64
Ward 4 - Dist 8: 20, 30, 7, 28

For each the average # of registered voters hovers around 2,500 and 3,500 respectively.

Friday, April 26, 2013 10:43:00 AM  

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