What Mayors & Local Leaders Need to Know About 50+ Voters

This is guest post by Nancy LeaMond, Chief Advocacy and Engagement Officer for AARP.

As political pundits continue to unpack the lessons of 2018 and start prognosticating about 2020, it’s important to remember that important elections are happening this year at the local level. Races for mayor, county executive, as well as city, town and county councils are underway across the country, and while the issues at play are likely very different than what comes up in Congressional or statewide races, there is one notable similarity . . . voters age 50 and older will play a critical role determining the results.

At AARP, we call older voters “The Deciders” for good reason.  Millennials and other young Americans may be the majority of eligible voters, but they haven’t yet shown up at the polls commensurate with their numbers. In election after election, the majority of folks who cast ballots are age 50 and up. According to exit polls, voters age 50+ made up 56% of the electorate in 2018.  And, at the local level, research compiled by Portland State University shows that residents age 65 and older were 15 times more likely to vote in recent mayoral elections than residents age 18-34.

With this reality in mind, it’s important that local leaders understand what matters to older voters and how to engage with them. Here are some top line insights from a recent survey that AARP conducted with 50+ voters across the country:

  • Congratulations . . . older voters really like local elected officials! More than six in ten have a favorable view of their local government (65%) and mayor (61%), making local leaders the most unifying, least divisive elected officials.
  • They are long-term constituents. Eight in ten (80%) plan to stay in their communities at least another ten years, and two thirds(64%) plan to stay the rest of their lives.
  • They pay attention to local news and are engaged in their communities. A significant majority of older voters watch local TV news regularly, and more than half read the local newspaper.  More than a third of older voters (34%) have gotten involved in local organizations and a quarter (24%) have attended city council meetings in the last year.
  • They want a mayor who fights for everyone. Three in four (74%) want a mayor who cares about the needs of EVERYONE, no matter their age, race or income.
  • There is little appetite for political or ideological leadership. Just one third (37%) want a mayor who shares their political views.
  • They care about a range of issues but JOBS come first. Seven in ten (71%) want their mayors to prioritize jobs and economic growth, and nearly two-thirds (64%) also want mayors to focus on helping them live independently. There is also support for investments in transportation, housing, and other things that benefit residents of all ages. (These findings align with what the Menino Survey of Mayors found that mayors are actually focused on . . . growing local economies through new economic development strategies and creating more affordable housing in their communities.)

More information about the poll results is available at AARP.org/LocalVoters. They were also discussed during a lively session at the US Conference of Mayors (USCM) Annual Meeting featuring USCM President Steve Benjamin (Columbia, SC); USCM First Vice President Bryan Barnett (Rochester Hills, MI); National League of Cities President Karen Freeman-Wilson (Gary, IN); and USCM Trustee Martin Walsh (Boston, MA).

As local campaign season heats up, AARP will be actively working in roughly 20 communities to make sure that older voters have the information they need to make their decisions.  Consistent with our decades-long track record of non-partisan voter engagement, we don’t endorse candidates or make political contributions.  Instead, we conduct a variety activities including:

  • Video voter guides that give candidates the opportunity to say, in their own words, where they stand on important issues like safe streets, housing and transportation options.
  • Tele-town halls that provide an efficient platform for individual candidates and large numbers of AARP members to engage in a question and answer forum.
  • In-person debates and forums, often co-hosted with other local organizations, that give community residents the opportunity to hear from multiple candidates.
  • Communications about how and when to vote, including registration and early voting deadlines and other logistical information.

To learn more about how AARP is working with local leaders and free resources to help improve communities, visit AARP.org/Livable.

About the author: Nancy LeaMond, Chief Advocacy and Engagement Officer, leads government relations, advocacy and public education for AARP’s social change agenda. LeaMond also has responsibility for AARP’s state operation, which includes offices in all 50 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands.