Younger people just don’t vote — that’s the conventional wisdom, anyway. And the stats back this up, historically. But we’ve seen a boost in turnout for voters under age 45 in recent elections in New Orleans. Will this trend continue into the upcoming local races this fall? With Millennials making up the largest generation in America, when will they decide to rule the ballot box? And what will that mean for the candidates, who are hoping to craft a message that appeals to the people who are actually going to show up to vote?
In the last two presidential elections, voters under forty-five years old made up a respectable 45 percent of the vote in New Orleans – holding firm at that level even with higher turnout overall in 2016. After the 2016 presidential election, the numbers began to move in an upward direction. In the Senate runoff election between David Vitter and Foster Campbell, under-45 turnout jumped 2 percent compared to the runoff just two years earlier, between Mary Landrieu and Bill Cassidy. And in the special judicial race held in March of this year, there was a 6 percent jump in under-45 turnout compared to the last special judicial election, back in 2013. Districts A, B, and D saw the most dramatic leaps, with under-45 turnout rising by 7 percent or more.
YOUNGER VOTERS’ GAINING MOST GROUND IN COUNCIL DISTRICTS A & B
Among registered voters in the city, 49 percent are under 45 years old – within striking distance of a majority. Younger registrants do hold a majority in Districts A and B, composing 51 percent and 54 percent of the voter rolls, respectively. But whether they show up on Election Day is what matters. Between the last two Senate runoffs, voters under 45 in District A increased their turnout by 5 percent. In District B, younger voters are really starting to show up on Election Day, with them constituting 44 percent of overall turnout in the Senate runoff — a 7 percent increase from the last Senate runoff. And younger voters actually made up a majority of the voters in the 2016 Presidential Election in District B. If younger voters remain engaged and show up in the upcoming local elections, it could very well make a crucial difference in these districts, especially considering that both seats are open, with no incumbent and several contenders vying for a runoff spot.
Yuri Mladenoff, a 36-year-old audio-visual technician living in Mid-City, voted in the Senate runoff last December — his first time voting in a decade. Yuri was living in Jefferson Parish until late last year, when he moved back to the city where he grew up. He also plans to vote in the upcoming local elections, although he doesn’t know for whom yet. Yuri said he was motivated to vote in the Senate race because now that he was living back in the city, he wanted to have an impact; New Orleans has always been home. He said that in the upcoming elections he will be paying attention to candidates’ crime plans and “whether or not the candidates are actually going to be a voice for the people.”
Rachel Hitchens, a 20-year-old pre-med student at Xavier University, voted in her first local election in the March special judicial race. Ms. Hitchens said that her main reason for showing up to vote that day was that a campaign volunteer called her and asked her to. Because Xavier has a polling location on campus, it was easy and didn’t take too much time away from her studies. Rachel, who is working to become a rural family physician, plans on voting in the local elections this fall, but is very busy with school and hopes she gets reminded again with a phone call. Her top issues are increasing access to healthcare and higher education for those who have difficulty affording it on their own.
Chris Okorie, a 27-year-old chef and Uptown native, voted for the very first time in the Senate runoff last December. Chris said he had “lollygagged” in his younger days, not making it to the polls although he was a big Obama supporter. After the 2016 presidential election, he didn’t like the way this country was going and felt he had to do all he could to try to get the right person in office. He said that social media has helped him stay more involved and he will “most definitely be voting in the upcoming local elections.” Mr. Okorie has not made any decisions yet about who he will be supporting, but will be paying close attention to find out the candidates’ positions regarding his top concerns: access to education and more investment in the city’s high poverty areas.
The leaders elected in New Orleans this October and November will run the city during a pivotal moment in its history – three hundred years old, growing fast while trying to preserve its soul, facing heavy challenges like violent crime and equitable development, all while in the middle of multi-billion dollar infrastructure projects. The folks who show up on Election Day will decide who the next Mayor and City Council members will be and thus will decide the kind of city that New Orleans is going to become. Whether or not younger voters will make their voices heard in the upcoming fall elections is yet to be seen, but if millennials and their neighboring generations continue to increase their civic engagement, it could make all the difference.