Did young voters put Heidi Wills and Judy Nicastro on the Seattle City Council? Ask your grandma.
WHILE OUR NEW pit bulls Heidi and Judy have been busy tearing up City Hall for a couple of months, we now know who voted them onto the Seattle City Council. Was it younger voters attracted by the Capitol Hill pub-crawling, renters'-rights fighter, 34-year-old Judy Nicastro? How about those active Gen-X enviros turning out in droves to combat sprawl, fund transit, and install one of their own, 31-year-old Heidi Wills, in power? Fugettaboutit.
Old people put Heidi and Judy into office. Baby boomers did their part as well.
In November 1999, 181,944 Seattleites, 51 percent of the city's registered voters, turned out. After each election, King County Records and Elections goes through a big old computer database and enters by hand the name of each individual who actually cast a ballot. (Who you voted for is kept private, however.) Labels and Lists, a Bellevue-based political research firm, obtains this public information on a computer disc and cross references it with lists of their own.
Bruce Willsie, Labels and Lists' president, explains that his company has collected personal data on each one of us through a variety of public and private sources. While he's not forthcoming about where he gets his info or how much he knows about us, he does offer a benign example: When you fill out a magazine subscription, you might provide your age.
By combining the lists of voters and the demographic information at his disposal, Willsie is able to paint a picture of the electorate. In the most recent election, Willsie knows the ages of 153,011 of the people who voted. Of those, 18- to 24-year-olds made up a whopping 2,503, or 1.6 percent. In contrast, 49,227 voters over 60, some 32 percent of the ID'd voters, cast their ballots. Gen-Xers didn't show up much—only 17,604, or 11 percent of Willsie's total. The single largest group of Willsie's voters were baby boomers: 52,379, or 34 percent of his total.
"It's pretty much the same demographic, election after election," observes Willsie. "Young voters are not very reliable voters."
Willsie believes that all the candidates' efforts to alter the voter demographic are pretty much in vain. "The results that occur [from voter turnout drives] are more imagined than real."
That's why a bright, youthful, energetic political junkie like Washington Conservation Voters' Sarah Jaynes doesn't focus her efforts on young voters. "Judy Nicastro's pub-crawl campaign was all the rage [in the media], but it doesn't reach a lot of voters. I would never target [young people]." Jaynes explains, "A great demographic for us is women between 50 and 65." (Willsie's numbers also show Seattle women consistently vote more than men, by 3 to 4 percentage points.)
That doesn't mean youthfulness doesn't enter the electoral equation. UW Communications prof David Domke observes, "'Change and new ideas are better'—that's deep in the American psyche. Youthful energy attracts a lot of people, not just younger voters.