Younger Voters Stepped Up in the 2017 Primary, and Outsider Candidates Won


Back in March, we wondered whether there was going to be a 'Trump Bump' in the 2017 municipal primaries. There had been a ton of buzz around local political engagement brought on by the 2016 Presidential election outcome, but it wasn't yet clear if that was just going to translate into a lot of rallies, or if people were going to be more motivated to vote. 

The District Attorney and Controller primaries seemed like a good early test case of whether that energy would be sustained, or if it would burn off pretty quickly. We now have our answer: turnout jumped for all age groups, and most of all for younger voters.

This week the Commissioners' office certified the official election results and released a demographic comparison of the 2013 and 2017 electorates. 

Millennial voters saw the biggest jump by far. Turnout for 18 to 34-year-olds increased by 279 percent between 2013 and 2017, and this group increased their share of the electorate from 10% to 19% over that period--a 90% increase. Nineteen percent isn't ideal, and is still below millennials' share of the city's population. The 18 to 34 cohort makes up 29% of Philly's population, as of the 2015 American Community Survey, although that includes about 4% foreign-born individuals who can't necessarily vote. 

But it's still a huge jump in vote share compared to 2013, and it seems to have been an important factor in the success of candidates like Larry Krasner and Rebecca Rhynhart, who were able to win with low or non-existent Democratic Party support

While all other age groups saw an uptick in turnout, only the 35 to 49-year-old cohort also saw an increase in their vote share over 2013, and it was only a 17% increase. The 50 to 64 group saw a 17% decline in vote share, and the 65+ group saw a 19% drop compared to 2013. The higher young voter share seems to correlate with the weaker support for the traditional types of candidates favored by the Democratic Party machine.

Women voters also grew their share of the electorate from 41% in 2013 to 44% in 2017, while the share of male voters stayed the same at 31%. Since not everyone lists their gender on their voter registration forms, there's always a cohort of voters of unknown gender. That group's share of the vote decreased from 28% in 2013 to 25% in 2017. If we assume this group is likely to be roughly split between men and women, that would put women's share of the vote at 56.5% and men's at 43.5%. 

Those of us cheering on the trend of outsider candidates positively smoking traditional politicians would seem to have a lot to look forward to. 

One trend that jumps out from the demographic statistics is that propensity to vote increases with age, so as the current millennial cohort continues to age, they're likely to keep voting at higher rates. And there's little reason to believe they'll begin favoring the kinds of candidates that Bob Brady likes.

This matters because the current 18 to 34 set greatly outnumbers the 65+ cohort in terms of voter registration, but not turnout rates--not yet, at least.

There are 349,778 registered voters between the ages of 18 to 34, and only 186,910 who are 65 or older. But because the 65+ group turns out at a rate of 29%, and the 18 to 34's only turned out at a rate of 10%, the 65+ group saw 19,140 more voters go to the polls than the millennials.

If millennials voted at the same 29% rate as the 65+ group, they would have sent 101,435 voters to the polls--double the number of seniors who turned out in the 2017 primary. This group is truly a sleeping giant, and they have the numbers to run the table on local politics if they can figure out how to achieve turnout rates higher than 10% on a more consistent basis.

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  • Stanley Taraila
    commented 2017-06-10 12:12:38 -0400
    please have your editor review articles
    this one had so much data cited that it was impossible to grasp the point of the article
    a one paragraph would have been much clearer