Just Because You Care About Politics Doesn’t Mean You’ll Vote In A Local Election

May 17, 2017

Tuesday’s voter turn out of 17.2 percent in Allegheny County was slightly down from four years ago and about 6 percentage points down from eight years ago. 

But in a climate of heightened political awareness, that has some scratching their heads.

“Clearly nonprofits and community organizations have our work cut out for us in terms of helping to make clear the importance of local elections,” Just Harvest spokeswoman Emily Cleath said.

Pittsburgh-based Just Harvest tried to continue the momentum built by the anger some felt over President Donald Trump's election by hosting a mayoral forum and other election-related activities. Several other organizations that were vocal in the first few months of the year did not run voter education or get out the vote efforts for the primary.

“There are really critical decisions that will be made by people in city council and the mayors office, Allegheny County Council and the school board that are going to affect, for instance, poverty and hunger,” Cleath said.

Political consultant Mike DeVanney of Cold Spark Media said he is disappointed that there weren't more people who decided to exercise their right to vote, but he was not surprised.

“When President Obama first ran, he brought some new folks into the electorate," DeVanney said. "Obviously when Donald Trump ran, he brought in many first-time voters to the fold, but we rarely see that level of interest carry over to these municipal elections."

An increase in voter registration plays a small roll in the falling turnout percentage. However, the raw numbers of votes cast is also falling. In fact, 5,245 fewer voters went to the polls Tuesday than four years ago and 25,508 fewer than eight years ago.

“Those are people, like me and others, who do [go to the polls] regardless of who is on the ballot. But that really isn’t the lion’s share of the electorate,” DeVanney said.  “The lion’s share of the electorate is motivated by what they’re seeing on the news or who is mobilizing them to get to the polls.” 

The highest profile case was the mayoral primary in Pittsburgh. The winner of that race has not lost in the general election since 1933. Votes cast in the mayor’s race were down 14 percent from four years ago when Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto gained the office for the first time.