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The Oregonian: Hipsters or seniors? Who's more valuable in Portland politics
Author: Brad Schmidt, The Oregonian
Posted: August 7, 2015

Read the original story in The Oregonian. 

The conventional political wisdom is simple: young people don't vote.

And it's backed up, of course, by stats.

A new study by researchers at Portland State University reaffirms that older residents have more voting clout, but it also provides some other interesting takeaways as the 2016 Portland mayoral race approaches. Although no one has announced a challenge to Mayor Charlie Hales, State Treasurer Ted Wheeler is considering it.

The study reviewed voting patterns in four cities – Portland, Charlotte, St. Paul and Detroit – to see who votes in mayoral elections. It's thought-provoking fodder for political-types.

Here's a top 5:

1) A huge share of young people don't vote; that's true.

The study found that just 7 percent of Portland's nearly 167,000 residents aged 18-34 voted during the May 2012 primary, compared with 67 percent of the 62,500 residents who make up Portland's 65-and-over crowd. (This portion of the study looked at all voter-aged residents presumed to be eligible to vote, not just those who are registered).

Turnout improved on both fronts in the general election. But the percentage-point gap remained steady.

Fully 30 percent of young Portlanders cast ballots in the primary compared with 91 percent of older Portlanders in the general election.

Put anther way: among only registered voters, older Portlanders were 14 times more likely than younger Portlanders to vote for mayor in the 2012 primary, and nearly 8 times more likely in the 2012 general election.

"The implicit lessons here for calculating mayoral candidates?" Phil Keisling, a study author and director of the Center for Public Service at Portland State University, wrote in a blog.

"Certain parts of the city just aren't worth their time – and it's better electoral politics to pay more attention to two elderly voters on the street than a dozen or even two dozen young citizens at a neighborhood event."

2) Despite all that, the young-adult vote does matter in the general election.

The total number of votes cast by 18-34 year olds in Portland's 2012 general election was nearly 51,000. That's just shy of the nearly 57,000 cast by Portlanders 65 and older.

3) Portland's electorate changed dramatically in 2012, skewing much younger in the general election.

In the primary, Portlanders cast more than 122,000 votes – and nearly 2 out of every 3 came from a resident who was at least 50 years old.

Turnout swelled across all age groups in the general election. But it disproportionately grew among the 49-and-under crowd.

In the general, Portlanders cast about 259,000 votes – and this time just more than half came from residents 49 and younger.

4) Neighborhoods and socioeconomics matter.

It's well established that residents in east Portland don't vote as frequently as those in other parts of the city, a challenge that's compounded by a similarly large population of non-residents who can't vote.

The new study shows that residents living in nearly all census tracts in east Portland cast ballots in November 2012 below the citywide average.

Additionally, the study identified so-called "voting deserts," where voting rates were less than half the citywide average.

In the 2012 primary, Portland had five deserts: four of five are east of 82nd Avenue, and the fifth is just inside that boundary, encompassing the Brentwood-Darlington neighborhood.

While socioeconomics often correspond to voting trends, it's amplified in Portland – where an at-large voting system leaves east Portland with no district representation.

"The result lends credence to the move to ensure more equitable geographic representation," said Jason Jurjevich, assistant director of PSU's Population Research Center, who conducted the analysis.

5) Portland looks better than the three other cities studied – but with a big caveat.

Portland voters pick a mayor during presidential election years, when turnout is at its highest. The other cities hold mayoral elections in odd-numbered years.

"It really underscores the importance of the timing of these elections," said Jurjevich, also an assistant urban studies professor.

What's that mean locally? Expect local politicians in 2016 to push a liberal-leaning message that aligns most closely with the deep blue partisanship of Portland voters casting ballots in presidential elections – particularly during the November general election.

-- Brad Schmidt