Cambridge Civic Journal Forum

November 28, 2009

Age and party voting statistics for the recent Cambridge municipal election

Filed under: 2009 Election — Robert Winters @ 12:20 am

Nov 27 – Age and party voting statistics for the recent Cambridge municipal election:

Average age of all registered voters 43.7
Median age of all registered voters 38.4
Average age of those who voted in the 2009 election 55.2
Median age of those who voted in the 2009 election 56.1
Percentage of registered voters who voted 26.6%
Percentage of registered Democrats who voted (11169 of 35587) 31.4%
Percentage of registered Republicans who voted (563 of 2800) 20.1%
Percentage of Unenrolled who voted (4182 of 20997) 19.9%
Percentage of registered Green-Rainbow who voted (65 of 262) 24.8%

Histogram of ages of all registered Cambridge voters - 2009

Histogram of ages of Cambridge voters who voted in the 2009 election

Histogram of ages of Cambridge voters who voted in the 2008 presidential election


  1. It would be very interesting to poll samples of people who voted and didn’t vote in the 30-42 age range to find out why they chose to vote or not. I wonder if there is some way to get some funding to prepare a good poll and to take it. Other age ranges would also be interesting but I chose these because of the rapid growth of percentages in the three age ranges you showed statistics for.

    Comment by John W Gintell — November 29, 2009 @ 1:15 am

  2. My suspicion is that voting in local elections is highly correlated with (a) home ownership and (b) having children who either are in the public schools or may soon be entering the public schools. Both of these peak in the age range you mention. I also expect that once somebody starts paying attention to local elections, they will be more likely to continue voting in them as they grow older. During the rent control era, occupancy in a controlled unit was another major factor in voter turnout and most seem to agree that the end of rent control played a significant role in decreased voter turnout.

    Some members of the Cambridge Election Commission (Darlene Bonislawski in particular) always take an interest in increasing voter turnout among groups with low turnout, but this rarely goes beyond setting up a voter registration table in some neighborhood or at the high school. I would love to see an initiative that comprehensively examines the disparities in voter turnout and designs effective campaigns to increase turnout in underrepresented groups.

    I’m much less concerned about overall turnout than I am about unrepresentative turnout. There’s an interesting contrast in that the goal of election officials should be to generated a substantial and representative turnout, yet the goal of individual candidates is to “bring out their vote” even if this leads to disproportionality. Candidates always target their “base” before going after new voters and the result is that these known voters comprise the lion’s share of those who vote in the local elections – kind of like a city within the city. Local elected officials really represent this smaller city made up of “townies” and a patchwork of the political bases of individual candidates.

    Comment by Robert Winters — November 29, 2009 @ 10:17 am

  3. According to the preliminary tallies on the Globe’s website – the Cambridge Elections Commission has yet to post a word on its own – some 16,123 voters cast their ballots yesterday in the two primary elections here in Cambridge. That’s a fascinating number, because by the thinnest of margins, it exceeds the turnout in the municipal election.

    Viewed one way, that’s great. The turnout in Cambridge outstripped the preliminary turnouts in any other major urban area in the state – 17% in Boston, 13% in Fall River, 15% in Worcester, and 23% in Quincy, according to the Globe. Statewide, turnout seems to have been 19.6%. So Cambridge did well, even compared to other areas represented by Capuano – or other Middlesex County towns that formed Coakley’s base, and other progressive areas where young voters turned out for Khazei.

    On the other hand, I find it a little depressing. The election took place in circumstances about as far from ideal as can be imagined – a field of candidates that didn’t connect with voters, with little seemingly at stake in terms of hot-button issues, at an irregular time, with poor advance publicity, and on a dark and cold day. And it still turned out more voters than the municipal races.

    Look at Boston. A hotly contested mayoral race there spurred primary turnout of 28%, and general election turnout of 31% – much more impressive figures than the 17% in yesterday’s race. It’s great that voters in Cambridge were so engaged with the senate race. But it’s also a marker of concern about disengagement from municipal elections. I share Robert’s nicely expressed conviction that unrepresentative turnout is more disturbing than low turnout per se. But since we have no polling, we have no idea whether turnout is representative of political preferences – the closest we can come is in determining whether it reflects Cambridge’s demography, which is an uneven proxy.

    When you get the chance, Robert, I’d be fascinated to see a graph of yesterday’s turnout, broken down along the same lines as above. Were these, broadly speaking, the same sixteen thousand voters as turned out last month? Were younger voters more likely to vote in a statewide race, and older voters more likely to show up for the municipal races?

    Comment by Cynic — December 9, 2009 @ 9:07 am

  4. I’ll be damned if I know what to make of the numbers, even though I find them fascinating. There doesn’t seem to be any pattern that is instructive. One observation is that the nearer to an institution of higher education, the lower the percentage turnout. The registered voters in those bastions should be ashamed of themselves.

    I think that your view is interesting that voters who have a connection with the schools are more likely to vote. The fact that so many of the incumbents and former school committee people have children in the system (five out of six, the sixth being Fantini) speaks to the difficulty of non-parents getting elected. School committee members/parents have a built-in constituency of election workers and backers — parents, teachers, employees — that is difficult, if not impossible for newcomers to overcome.

    Comment by Alan Steinert — December 11, 2009 @ 7:28 pm

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