Was it the anticipated wave of millennial voters that sent a new generation of candidates to victory in the Charlotte primaries?
More likely, it was their parents – and grandparents.
Voters under 25 made up just 2 percent of those who took part in the primaries, according to the Mecklenburg County elections board. Those under 40 comprised less than 18 percent.
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That means voters over 40 cast 82 percent of the ballots. In fact, one out of three was 65 or over.
Those older voters helped nominate four millennials, candidates 34 or younger.
Some activists expected this was the year millennials would become a force in local politics.
After all, the largest single segment of Charlotte residents are between 25-29, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. And one national site pegged Charlotte as the nation’s top destination for millennial net migration in 2015.
Larken Egleston, 34, expected millennial support in his District 1 council campaign. Then he started knocking on doors.
“We realized we were going to have a lot of support from older voters,” he says. “There was enough of that evidence to show me that I wasn’t going to have to rely on some sort of historic wave of young voters coming out in a municipal primary.”
Egleston, who faces no Republican opposition, beat veteran incumbent Patsy Kinsey, 76.
Andrew Fede, 33, organized a pair of election forums for millennials, even rousing the ire of one 56-year-old incumbent who wasn’t invited.
“My whole campaign was about getting millennials out to vote and getting millennials to run for office instead of just complaining about politics,” says Fede.
At South End’s Sycamore Brewing Thursday night, candidates mingled with young people at an event designed to spark millennial interest in the election. Autumn Alston, 27, said she believes local elections can have a bigger impact than national ones.
“I don’t think a lot of young people get that,” she said.
Jane France said she thinks a lot of young people also have a mistaken notion about voting.
“They feel like it’s going to be inconvenient,” said France, 34. “They think it’s going to take a long time. If more people realize how convenient it really is … a lot more people would vote.”
Amy Chiou, who organized Thursday’s event, tries to get millennials involved. The executive director of a nonprofit that helps social entrepreneurs, she says a lot of millennials have “coverage exhaustion” from a steady barrage of political headlines.
“They’re kind of worn out on politics,” says Chiou, 34, “And it’s easier to turn it all off.”
According to the Pew Research Center, while the number of millennial voters grew in 2016, they turned out at a lower rate than older generations of voters.
In Charlotte, primary voters under 40 were dramatically under-represented given their registration numbers. Those over 40, on the other hand, were over-represented. Seniors 65 and over, for example, turned out at twice the rate their registration numbers would suggest.
“There should be no surprise,” says Michael Bitzer, a Catawba College political scientist. “For these kind of low-interest elections, older voters tend to have disproportionate weight. Older voters have higher turnout rates just because they’re more engaged … Younger voters don’t tend to see direct impacts of decision-making by the government.”
Stephanie Przezdecki, 28, fully intended to vote in the primary. But didn’t.
“I don’t have a good excuse, it’s embarrassing,” says Przezdecki, who works in marketing. A lot of millennials, she adds, either aren’t fully invested in the community or don’t feel the primary matters.
Not the lowest turnout
The age breakdowns are just some of the numbers that paint a portrait of primary voters who ousted a sitting mayor in Democrat Jennifer Roberts and upset two veteran city council incumbents.
▪ Voter turnout – just 7.97 percent – was actually the third-highest of the last 10 city primaries.
▪ Women made up 60 percent of the electorate in the Democratic primary, the more contested of the two.
▪ The largest single group of voters? Black women. They cast 30 percent of the Democratic votes. White women cast 24.7 percent.
▪ One of every four Democratic voters wasn’t a Democrat but unaffiliated.
▪ Black voters made up two-thirds of the Democrats who voted in the primary and half of all Democratic primary voters.
Fede contends that millennials were involved, if not by voting by making donations, working in campaigns and actually running. He expects them to turn out at a higher rate in November.
Republican Parker Cains, a 32-year-old candidate running for city council at-large, mingled with fellow millennials at Sycamore Brewing on Thursday. He’s optimistic that eventually, they’ll become more reliable voters.
“I think we’re going to see a lot more millennial voters in the next two cycles,” he said, referring to 2018 and 2020. “It’s just an age thing.”
Staff writer Gavin Off contributed.
Millennials in Charlotte
Millennials have the numbers to make an impact on Charlotte politics.
▪ The largest single age segment of Charlotte residents is 25-29. They make up 9 percent of the city’s population, according to U.S. Census Bureau.
▪ There are 209,000 residents aged 20-34. That’s nearly 25 percent of Charlotte’s population.
▪ More than half the people who live uptown in zip code 28202 are millennials.
▪ In 2015 Charlotte was the top destination for millennial net migration in 2015, according to SmartAsset, a national mortgage site.