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Spin Control

The difference between old and young (voters)

Note to candidates and campaign managers: If you’re going after voters in the upcoming election, you may want to target seniors early and hit the Gen Ys after Halloween. At least in Spokane County.

That’s one of the conclusions of a new study by Eastern Washington University’s Kevin Pirch, who analyzed last year’s voting patterns and found some things that go against the conventional wisdom.

“I was kind of surprised,” said Pirch, an assistant professor in the Government Department. “I kind of assumed older voters would hold on to their ballots longer.”


Campaign managers clearly assume the same thing. That explains why the weekend before Election Day, the “Vote for Me” spots crowd out the pharmaceutical pitches for osteoporosis and indigestion cures on the nightly news and the Sunday talking head shows, watched mainly by oldsters.

Pirch’s research suggests most senior voters had already cast their votes by then. He looked at when ballot envelopes’ bar codes were scanned by Spokane County elections, and matched that up with birth dates and precinct results. It was the younger voters who were holding
onto their ballots until close to Election Day.

The research also showed areas that are strongly Democratic or strongly Republican - based on strong margins for those parties’ candidates in the presidential and gubernatorial races - tended to vote early. Those that trended toward tossup - say a majority for Barack Obama but
Republican Dino Rossi, or John McCain but Democrat Chris Gregoire - tended to vote closer to Election Day.

Because of vote-by-mail, the concept of an “Election Day” is probably as relevant as an eight-track tape. There is no 12-hour period where everyone but the excused absentees trundle down to the precinct house and mark a ballot.

But newly registered voters might have wanted to catch a part of that community feeling and decided to vote on or near Nov. 4, Pirch suggested. Older voters, who may have a strong sense of voting as a patriotic duty, might have been reluctant to let the mailed ballot sit
around on the desk or kitchen table, so they were more inclined to mark them and mail them quickly.

One study in one county is not conclusive, and Pirch plans to do more research. But campaign managers looking at the results might consider the results as they target their ads, he said: “Get older voters first. Grab younger voters closer to Election Day.”


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About this blog

Jim Camden is a veteran political reporter for The Spokesman-Review.


Jonathan Brunt is an enterprise reporter for The Spokesman-Review.


Kip Hill is a general assignments reporter for The Spokesman-Review.

Nick Deshais covers Spokane City Hall for The Spokesman-Review.

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