Youth voters seeking greater political influence have a lot to learn from seniors. It’s all about participation.
Inside the University House Wallingford retirement community attendees sat in rows facing the front — one leaned on his walker, ruffling through a newspaper. Another sat quietly, sipping a mug of coffee.
Each Saturday morning, around 40 seniors gather here to discuss current events and political issues townhall style with resident Jim Voss, a former professor of the University of Pittsburgh, leading the sessions. Voss began Saturday’s meeting by recapping Obama’s recent trip to Afghanistan and briefly discussing the Secret Service prostitute scandal.
The average age was 88. At 21, I felt a little out of place.
Seniors are a surging population. Between 2000 and 2010 nationally, the age group grew faster than the total population — increasing by 5.3 million people and for the first time, representing the largest demographic in the United States.
Earlier in the week, Voss said Representative Jim McDermott came to speak to residents and focused his visit on health care and social security, two issues that impact many of the residents.
McDermott had the right idea.
Data shows older populations have the most consistent voting turnout. In the 2008 presidential election, they represented 16% of the electoral vote. Even though the youth vote saw record turnouts reaching nearly 50%, seniors still trumped with a turnout of around 70%.
“Because we’re older, I think we come from a time when people believed in voting,” Attendee Lorie Rubin said. “I think many young people just don’t believe in it, we’re in the habit.”
Not the case at the University House. When I asked which attendees intended to vote for Obama in the coming election, every hand rose.
“You have to remember that Obama inherited the mess,” one woman said to the group. “There are things he has not achieved to my satisfaction but he is working on making it better.”
Some were disgruntled about health care — the cost of prescription medicine, benefits — others, the growing cost of education, specifically citing the UW’s recent proposal for a 16% tuition hike.
“Not only are we going to have fewer students, we’re going to become one of the most ignorant countries in the world,” one woman said. “We don’t seem to be doing anything to pull ourselves out.”
Most expressed discontent at the statistic that just over 60% of those eligible to vote actually did so in the last election. One attendee stated it should become mandatory for every citizen to vote.
“I think in some strange way the expansion of the media has been a source of difficulty as far as voter turnout,” Resident Barbara Melrose said. “As a child I remember families reading one newspaper, listening perhaps to one radio station — now, the media is presenting us with so much information that I think its confounding to many people.”
Currently, around 12% of Washington residents are age 65 and older — by 2020, that number is projected to double.
For all the talk about mobilizing the youth vote, those statistics present a pretty simple equation for politicians: keep vying for the gray vote.