Sunday, March 4, 2018

Generational Turnout in North Carolina

On Twitter, in a thread following the release of a new Pew Research Center analysis on the Millennial generation and the "generation gap" in American politics, I was asked about the turnout rates for that generation in comparison to older cohorts (Generation X, Baby Boomers, and Greatest/Silent generations). Having worked with data from the NC State Board of Elections, it's relatively easy to perform this analysis for the Old North State, based on elections since 2008.

In using voter registration files from the general election years and merging those records with data on voters who cast ballots in election years, the following analysis shows not just the turnout rates for each generation in an election year, but also each generation's composition within the voter registration pool and the actual electorate of voters casting ballots. The respective ages of each cohort in each election year are:

2008 2010 2012 2014 2016
Millennials up to 27 up to 29 up to 31 up to 33 up to 35
Generation X 28-43 30-45 32-47 34-49 36-51
Baby Boomers 44-63 46-65 48-67 50-69 52-71
Greatest/Silent Over 64 Over 66 Over 68 Over 70 Over 72

Since 2008, Millennials have grown significantly in their percentage of North Carolina's voter registration pool:

From 16 percent in 2008 to 30 percent in 2016, Millennials are seeing their share of the pool of registered voters nearly match the next largest generational cohort in the Old North State's voter pool, Baby Boomers. In fact, as of February 2018, Millennials, and the subsequent generation (Gen Z, by some names) are now a plurality of registered voters in the state, having surpassed Baby Boomers (see this post for further analysis). 

But being registered to vote does not equate to actually voting, and Millennials (and, as usual, younger votes) fail to vote at their relative voting "strength" when it comes to casting ballots. One way to measure this fail to "punch up to their weight" is by the percentage of the electorate in the respective elections for each generational cohort:

While Millennials were 16 percent of the 2008 eligible pool, they were only 11 percent of the voters who actually cast ballots that year; in 2016, while they were 30 percent of the voter pool, Millennials were only 22 percent of the electorate. Conversely, the Greatest/Silent and the Baby Boomer generations have been over-represented in elections, especially in mid-term elections (in 2010, the Greatest/Silent generation was 26 percent of the electorate while being only 18 percent of the voter pool).

The second way to measure the impact of generational cohorts is to measure their turnout rate of casting ballots from their registration numbers:

The mid-term elections of both 2010 and 2014 show the significant drop in votes being cast by Millennials (15 percent and 19 percent, respectively) from their registration numbers, while consistently, Baby Boomers and Greatest/Silent generations have the highest turnout rates (70 percent or greater in the three presidential election years, while 50 percent or greater in the two mid-term years).

The next four charts give a chronological sense of each generation's percentage of the voter registration pool, compared to their percentage in that year's election:

So while Millennials, and now Generation Z, are coming of political age and have a plurality power in terms of registered voters in North Carolina, their real political impact lags behind other generations. With their distinctive political outlook and affiliation, once these younger voters take seriously moving beyond registration and into actual voting, the true influence on our politics will be felt.