Bayou City

Study Finds That Mostly Older Voters Helped Elect Mayor Turner, Other Mayors

Mayor Turner after winning the mayor's race.
Mayor Turner after winning the mayor's race. Michael Barajas
Sure, Mayor Sylvester Turner is a mayor for all the people of Houston — but really, it was all the senior citizens who elected him.

According to a new study by Portland State University, which looked at voter participation in the mayoral elections of the 30 largest cities, the voices of Millennials are rather embarrassingly drowned out at the polls by those of people over 65. Despite the fact that local politics and policies are likely bound to affect citizens' daily lives the most, young people seem to really not give a damn.

In Houston specifically, the researchers found that just 6.6 percent of registered voters between the ages of 18 and 34 actually turned out to vote for mayor, compared to 42.9 percent of registered voters over the age of 65. And despite the fact that the median age of adults in Houston is 41, the median age of voters is 61. According to the study, that discrepancy translates to elderly voters having 22 times the amount of electoral clout than Millennials.

In other words: Elderly people run this joint.

This turnout trend continued, to varying extents, in cities across Texas and the nation, as the niche magazine Governing reported yesterday. In Dallas, just 1.7 percent of registered Millennial voters turned out, compared to 17.7 percent of the 65-plus crowd. In Austin: 7.8 percent to 29.7. And San Antonio: 3.7 percent to 31.

Delaney Catlettstout, director of external affairs within the University of Houston's student government system, said the idea that “you must vote because it's your civic duty” simply doesn't seem to resonate with young voters the way it has in the past with older generations.

Part of the problem, she said, is that young people seem more plugged into what's happening on the national stage — what President-elect Donald Trump tweeted today, or what speech President Barack Obama gave today — that they are often aren't informed about local politics ahead of local elections. The Houston Equal Rights Ordinance's being on the ballot this year helped Millennial turnout—“as little as it was,” Catlettstout said. But in order to catch up to older voters, she said, student government groups need to be persistent about helping students register to vote and also getting creative with ways to encourage them to show up at the polls.

For example, she pointed to UH-Downtown's “Walk 2 Vote” event, in which bands, entertainers and state and local politicians joined dozens of students in a march to the polls.

“Having strong events that will get Millennials to get engaged is really important if we want to see our numbers go up,” she said. “Because people who are over 65, they've voted a lot before — they know how important local politics are, and they've seen it. They grew up in that age where voting is your duty. The Millennial generation, they may give a lot of time to these campaigns [for issues they care about] and understand these are important, but they don't always get out to vote.”

In other words, they are apparently OK with grandma and grandpa calling the shots — at least for now.
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Meagan Flynn is a staff writer at the Houston Press who, despite covering criminal justice and other political squabbles in Harris County, drinks only one small cup of coffee per day.
Contact: Meagan Flynn