The Seattle Times: Who’s got the most voting clout in Seattle mayoral elections? Not millennials.
Author: Daniel Beekman, The Seattle Times
Posted: July 24, 2017

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Read the original story in The Seattle Times.

Who votes for mayor in Seattle? Older people, according to a Portland State University study. The median age of voters in the city’s 2013 general election — when Ed Murray unseated incumbent Mike McGinn — was 50, nearly a decade older than the median age of all Seattle adults.

And 73 percent of registered voters 65 and older cast ballots, while only 35 percent of registered voters ages 18 to 34 and younger took part.

All told, voters 65 and older had seven times the clout of that younger group, according to the study, which looked at mayoral voting data for 50 cities, including the nation’s 30 largest.  

The disparity was even more pronounced in Seattle’s mayoral primary: Voters’ median age was 55, with fewer people casting ballots than in the general election.

Though people 18 to 34 years old accounted for 39 percent of the adult population, they made up just 15 percent of the primary electorate.

In contrast, people 65 and older were 18 percent of the population and 23 percent of the primary electorate.

The primary this year is Aug. 1, and voters must have ballots postmarked or placed in dropboxes by that date.

That older voters dominated Seattle’s 2013 elections is no huge surprise. Conventional wisdom says older people vote at higher rates for various reasons; they have more experience voting and more free time, for example.

“As much as younger citizens are transforming the cultural and economic lives of their cities, they’ve largely delegated political decisions to their grandparents,” said Phil Keisling, who worked on the study and who directs PSU’s Center for Public Service.

“And politicians aren’t dumb. They spend their time and attention focused on the voters who’ll come to the dance.”

Older voters had more clout than younger voters in every city studied. But there were characteristics that set Seattle apart.

Of the 50 cities in the study, Seattle’s 44 percent general-election turnout was topped only by Portland, Oregon.; Bradenton, Florida; part of Palm Beach County, Florida; and Louisville. And although older voters held sway over their younger counterparts in Seattle, they did so much less than in most other cities.

Only Portland clocked in with a lower median voter age and only six cities had older voters with less clout than those in Seattle.

Why do younger people participate more in Seattle than elsewhere?

“There’s a very strong tradition in Seattle of contested mayoral races,” Keisling said. “And we do think universal vote-by-mail makes a big difference in encouraging people to vote.”

When PSU researchers mapped turnout across Seattle’s voting precincts, they identified higher percentages in waterfront neighborhoods where Murray performed well and lower percentages in the city’s interior, where McGinn fared better.

Waterfront neighborhoods tend to be wealthier and whiter than other neighborhoods. They have more homes with views and their residents in 2013 gave more money, per person, to candidates seeking city office, according to a Sightline Institute study.