Just how old are our city voters?


In my previous installment, we talked about how many people vote across city elections. In this post, we’re going to look at another aspect of our city races that is often remarked on but seldom specified: The ages of the people who vote.

As before, all the data comes from the voter files I got from the Harris County Clerk’s office, and it is all about city of Houston voters within Harris County, who comprise nearly all but not quite all of the electorate. I could have just done a straight average age for each election, but that leaves out a lot of other interesting information. Here’s how I prefer to present it:

2013 voters Range Number Pct ====================== 18-30 9,786 5.6% 31-40 15,209 8.7% 41-50 23,508 13.5% 51-60 40,235 23.1% 61+ 85,393 49.0% 2011 voters Range Number Pct ====================== 18-30 5,939 5.0% 31-40 9,488 8.1% 41-50 17,126 14.5% 51-60 28,601 24.3% 61+ 56,664 48.1% 2009 voters Range Number Pct ====================== 18-30 10,021 5.7% 31-40 16,798 9.6% 41-50 29,664 16.9% 51-60 43,814 25.0% 61+ 74,730 42.7% 2007 voters Range Number Pct ====================== 18-30 5,791 5.0% 31-40 10,599 9.2% 41-50 21,090 18.4% 51-60 28,633 24.9% 61+ 48,728 42.4%

If you’re wondering why I stopped at 2007, it’s because the years presented included a “birthdate” field that was just a year, which made it easy to sort by that and add up the totals in each group. The 2005 and 2003 files had a full date in that field, and since I didn’t think to check the data type when I imported the CSV files into Access to do my crunching, it came in as text and thus sorted left to right, which was completely useless.

I may go back and re-import the data to fix this, but for now this is what I have, and I doubt those other two years would tell me anything that these four don’t, which is that we do indeed have an old electorate in odd-numbered years. This should come as a surprise to exactly no one, but here you can see just how heavily it leans towards the older crowd. When two-thirds or more of your voters are over the age of 50, you’re probably going to have elections that are light on issues that younger voters care about. Consider this an application of the old saw that ninety percent of success is just showing up. It’s also an illustration of the challenges that HERO defenders will face.

You may ask, how do these elections compare to even-numbered years? I can’t answer that question yet for Presidential years (2008 and 2012), as I have not gotten those files imported into a database yet. I do have information from the two non-Presidential even-numbered years in my stash. Here’s what that looks like:

Of 685,704 total 2014 voters

53,067 (7.74%) were 18-29
83,268 (12.14%) were 30-39
112,722 (16.44%) were 40-49
160,508 (23.41%) were 50-59
276,139 (40.28%) were 60+

Of 799,287 total 2010 voters

72,841 (9.11%) were 18-29
110,386 (13.81%) were 30-39
155,643 (19.48%) were 40-49
200,114 (25.04%) were 50-59
260,302 (32.57%) were 60+

Yeah, I know, the boundaries are different. I did these calculations several months ago, then lost the files after a hard drive crash; thankfully, I’d at least started drafting some posts based on what I’d done, so at least I had that. I’m not in position to re-do this work yet, so you’ll have to cope with the inexactitude. It remains the case that these years are also dominated by older voters, though slightly less so. It’s highly likely that trend continues for the Presidential years, but we’ll have to wait and see to what extent that is true.

What about those new voters we talked about, some of which must surely come from people who reach voting age in the interim, or maybe who move back after graduating college? I have that data for the 2013 first-time voters:

2013 new voters ====================== 18-30 7,218 13.2% 31-40 8,153 14.9% 41-50 8,849 16.2% 51-60 12,067 22.1% 61+ 18,319 33.5%

How about 2014? Of 25,747 newly registered Harris County voters in 2014 who voted in the 2014 election:

9,521 (36.98%) were 18-29
5,001 (19.42%) were 30-39
3,617 (14.05%) were 40-49
3,610 (14.02%) were 50-59
3,998 (15.53%) were 60+

A bit younger in 2013, quite a bit younger in 2014. You may recall there was a registration drive that year, spearheaded by Battleground Texas. Whatever else you may say about BGTX, they helped get some younger folks to the polls. A similar effort this year would likely be as successful, and would definitely be advisable.

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7 Responses to Just how old are our city voters?

  1. PDiddie says:

    Who you callin’ old, you little whippersnapper?

    Sixty is the new forty, you know…

  2. Carl Whitmarsh says:

    I, too, am mightily insulted with being called “old”. Watch your step sonny…it will catch up with you much sooner than you ever expected or wanted.

  3. joshua ben bullard says:

    Our city streets are ruined,we cant pay our pension and these city council members want presidential 4 year terms(are they high)????????vote against extending council term limits this Nov.joshua bullard

  4. Steven Houston says:

    I’ve looked at historical data a number of times and broken it down in a variety of ways but this really illustrates the power of those of us over 50. I knew age was a big factor but not this much. Thanks for all the work on showing how us “older” voters tend to run the show.

    Joshua, you keep repeating the same thing like a parrot but I doubt you’ve done any comparisons between major cities. Drive Boston, Philadelphia, Los Angeles, Chicago, or Washington DC for a week and you’ll see how well our streets compare on average. For that matter, you can compare pensions with most major cities to find two of Houston’s three better funded than most and the third about the same. I’ll admit all those other cities have more lucrative pensions on average but when your biggest complaint for a $5.1 billion dollar budget is the 6% that goes to pensions (admittedly, it needs to be closer to 8%), you’re way ahead of the pack.

  5. Manuel Barrera says:

    SH instead of comparing apples to oranges, why not compare apples to apples. The streets under the last two mayors are in much worse condition than they were under Bob Lanier. A call to report pot holes was repaired within 24 hours when Bob Lanier was mayor. That is but one example.

    SH are there any cities where the pensions are not a debt problems? This it is better than, is smoke and mirrors. I am fat but not as fat as —-, does not make me not fat.

  6. Steven Houston says:

    MB, the comparisons are merely to put things in perspective, not meant to be definitive guidelines. By knowing that HFD’s pension system is better funded than 99% of public systems across the country or that streets are far worse in other big cities, it helps define the larger picture. This is akin to using income statements and balance sheets when evaluating a company’s worth, industry standards in each field of endeavor differing. As such, it makes sense to compare a large city to other large cities just as you would compare a large oil company to another such company.

    The problem with pension funding anywhere ties to the assumptions used and the difficulty with predictive models. One great year can make giving better benefits look peachy to a pension board yet they are reticent to adjust downward when they have a bad year. Local politicians hide behind the five year smoothing process each of the city’s pensions use but extensive efforts to improve employee health very likely to negatively impact funding levels when people live longer than they were initially expected to by the actuaries.

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