Home > Announcement, Cultural Movement, Grand Visioning, Public Anecdotes, Representing > Local Elections: The Untapped Potential for the Future

Local Elections: The Untapped Potential for the Future

Engage & Represent

Are you registered to vote?

If nothing else, the data from Traverse City’s city clerk’s office for the off-year election of 2009 reveals an untapped potential for young adults to influence the direction of the city. Granted, not reflective of all elections, but I hazard to guess the percentages remain true.

Of eligible voters, those under 50 years old represent 58% of the electorate and, thanks to a 9% voter turnout in that age group, only 24% of the total vote. The under 40 crowd represent 42% of the potential voters and only 6% of the 40 and under crowd cast a vote in 2009.

Who’s Voting? 

It is a tad surprising that the under 50 crowd is as large as it is. For all of the talk that Traverse City is a retirement community, the numbers here don’t support it. The City has a good mix and a healthy young adult populace. They simply aren’t that engaged.

As the November election begins (absentee ballots go out soon today) the candidates for  local office are looking at these numbers and seeing who has voted over the last several elections. They know by name, address and age whether you are a likely voter. This is how newbies prioritize their outreach and efforts and this information informs incumbents on how to frame their decisions on the councils that they now occupy. This needs to cause everyone to ask some introspective questions:

Am I relevant to these candidates? 

Why would they listen to my concerns? 

So, are you registered to vote?


2009 Voting Data by Age Groups for Traverse City

Age     Voted      Possible    Percent Voted Percent of Electorate
 18-30 90 2927 3% 4%
 31-40 194 1944 10% 8%
41-50 322 1884 17% 13%
51-60 538 2217 24% 21%
61-70 630 1374 46% 25%
71-80 460 787 58% 18%
81-90 255 501 51% 10%
91+ 33 79 42% 1%
Totals 2522 11713 22%


EDITOR’S NOTE: In a future post, I’m interested in exploring the differences in concerns and issues between the age groups. It’d also be instructive to explore the commonalities. I suspect that for the latter there are far more than might be imagined. If you have some perspective of the subject, please leave a comment or send me a message. It’d be greatly appreciated.

  1. June Thaden
    September 28, 2011 at 2:19 pm

    I’d be very interested how these numbers relate to 2005 — since there were very large numbers of young people registered for the 2008 election. The 18-30s also are probably the group most discouraged that President Obama didn’t charge into his term on his white horse and change “everything” in the first couple of months.

    Being in that group who do lead in the percentage of those voting, I’m not surprised by that. But I am discouraged that we didn’t break 60%.

    Thanks for laying these numbers out so clearly. Sad commentary on our belief on how much effect we think our votes have.

  2. Ross Richardson
    September 29, 2011 at 12:52 am

    Granted, the 2009 was the lowest turnout election since maybe 2005, and was marked by a lack of races and a lack of issues. No mayoral race, 4candidates for 3 city commissioner seats. There was a lively school board contest, but it didn’t seem to generate a lot of interest. The two city commissioners elected that year (Mary Ann Moore and Mike Gillman) were 71 and 70 at the time.

    I try to point out to the under 40 set, “It will be your city a lot longer than it will be ours (I’m 60)”

    And Gary is right, there are a lot of young people and young families moving into TC proper, because frankly, it’s a great place to live and raise kids. I’m hoping the non-discrimination ordinance this year will interest people and drive turnout. Even a 40% turnout would be outstanding for a city election.

  3. September 29, 2011 at 12:42 pm

    Thank you for the breakdown of 2009, Ross. It’s very helpful context. Also, love the quote you use on the 40 and under crowd.

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