Same Old Story on Young Voters

Under The Hood

BY JACOB OGLES SRQ DAILY SATURDAY PERSPECTIVES EDITION SATURDAY MAR 25, 2017

In a “shock” finding I’ve found after so many election cycles the surprise is long gone, there were once again more voters older than age 90 participating in the Sarasota city elections than there were voters under 30. Best I can say about this election cycle is at least the two numbers were close, were a total 237 of these super senior voters turning out compared to 236 in the younger set. But considering the under-30 set included 6,167 eligible voters compared to the 1,047 in the over-90 crew, this seems cold comfort to those who want to see young professionals seize any level of ownership on the functions of City Hall.

While preparing for the next installment of Where The Votes Are, a precinct-by-precinct study of the March 14 city elections scheduled for Tuesday morning at SRQ’s Pineapple Avenue headquarters, the numbers show that despite significant efforts in the region to engage Millennials, the arena of local politics offers few signs of success. Perhaps an overload of Washington news makes it hard to turn one’s attention on City Hall. Or it could be the long-held conventional wisdom that young voters don’t care about the region’s future because they plan to move somewhere else soon, while those voters with fewer days in front of them at least plan to spend them all here.

But then this defies everything we get told ad nauseam about this new generation of voters. In a recent interview for SRQ Magazine, outgoing Leadership Florida president Wendy Walker noted Millennials today can choose where they want to live and find either a job in that are or a way to work from home; they don’t spend their lives chasing the next job the way most of their predecessors did. This is also supposed to be a generation more engaged in policy and public service. Multiple times this cycle, folks noted this election introduced voters to the first Millennial candidate running for city office in Sarasota, a young man named Mikael Sandstrom who ultimately garnered a mere 357 votes and a 7th-place finish in an eight-man field.

Then again, fuddy old Gen-Xers like myself didn’t participate in huge numbers. Less than 7 percent of 30-somethings and 10 percent of 40-somethings voted in the city election. In the media, we frequently hear complaints of how City Hall, even in this cultural metropolis, listens too closely to the whims of get-off-my-lawn retirees, but guess what? The voters between age 70 and 90 reliably show up at the polls.

And as I noted in a column before the election, the raw population numbers no longer naturally favor older voters. One thing we hear about Millennials that does bear out in registration numbers, this new generation of eligible voters is the largest in some time. City voters in their 20s now outnumber those in their 70s on the rolls, even if they get outnumbered 10-to-1 at the polls.

At a recent SB2 Rumble event held by SRQ Media at the Powel Crosley Estate, a debate squad argued that this region had failed young professionals. In their arguments, they used stats that show how low turnout has been in city elections for years as evidence pols neglected the issues young people cared most about. But I couldn’t help but see this as a cart-before-horse situation. Politicians by nature care most about the opinions of those who vote. Young people upset the city disregards their opinions on everything from noise restrictions to event planning to affordable housing would do far more good making their voice heard on Election Day than by staying home and complaining the morning after.

Jacob Ogles is contributing senior editor at SRQ Media Group. He will lead the Where The Votes Are precinct-by-precinct analysis of the March city election returns on the Gulf Coast. The event will be held Tuesday at SRQ’s headquarters at 331 S. Pineapple Avenue. Doors open at 7:45am, presentation at 8am.

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