Millennial voting up (but still down) in Philly's May primary

The May 16 primary election in Philadelphia saw an uptick in voter participation, especially among “millennials,” aged 18-34.

One out of every three registered voters in Philadelphia is a millennial, a member of the generation that ranges from ages 18 to 34, often courted by political campaigns but not exactly known as reliable voters.

So is it good news that just one out of every 10 millennial voters in the city showed up to cast ballots in the May 16 primary election?

Yes (and still no), according to people who oversee and observe elections in the city.

“It’s always good news when more people show up for an election,” said Al Schmidt, vice chairman of the city commissioners, who run the city’s elections. “Millennials, admittedly, start at a much lower point.”

On Tuesday, Schmidt shared via social media demographic information about the primary voters based on age, which showed a 279 percent increase in voting among voters 18 to 34 as compared with the 2013 primary election, the last time the offices of district attorney and city controller were on the ballot.

But each election is different.

District Attorney Seth Williams was the only candidate on the Democratic primary ballot in 2013, when he was seeking a second term. That election drew little interest, with 9 percent voter turnout, including just 3 percent for millennials.

Williams, who faces public corruption charges in a federal trial due to start June 19, was not a candidate in the May 16 primary. His legal woes and the contest to succeed him helped draw more interest in that race, which drew 17 percent voter turnout, including 10 percent for millennials.

Millennials drew much attention when they turned out in great numbers for the 2008 presidential election. But that also led to scrutiny for an age group seemingly only interested in the nation’s biggest electoral contests.

Voter turnout was 27 percent for the 2015 primary election for mayor in Philadelphia. Millennial turnout in that election was 12 percent, higher than in May’s primary, but lamented as low two years ago.

In the recent primary, the increase in millennial turnout outpaced those of other age groups: 35 to 49, 50 to 65, and 65-plus.

“And while everyone increased, the younger a voter was, the more likely they were to show up to vote, relative to age,” Schmidt said.

May’s primary prompted far more spending — especially on television ads — in a district attorney’s race than in recent history. That included $1.45 million from billionaire George Soros to a political action committee that supported the Democratic winner, Larry Krasner, who will face Republican Beth Grossman in the Nov. 7 general election.

To David Thornburgh, president of the Committee of 70, a good-government watchdog group, May’s millennial turnout is “qualified good news.”

Thornburgh, who used to head the Fels Institute of Government at the University of Pennsylvania, said political consultants used to come in to tell his millennial students, “You don’t count,” because of their low participation rates in elections.

“This is all good,” Thornburgh said of the May turnout. “Where we would love to see this go is sustained involvement. Because they don’t take you seriously if you show up once.”

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