Greying population and youth tremor sees middle age voter squeeze

It wasn't a youthquake, but a youth tremor and a greying population have seen New Zealanders aged 35 to 54 squeezed as a percentage of our voting population.

With youth enrolments down as a percentage of the overall potential voter population this election, a youthquake was always going to be difficult. However, better youth turnout numbers than in 2014 helped counteract the significant greying of voters in those three years.

The good news is that turnout was up across the board, ranging from 6.54 percentage points for those aged 18-24 down to a 0.6pp for those aged 70+. The bad news is that those aged 18-24 made up a lower percentage of overall enrolments than they did in 2014, meaning that their big increase in turnout didn't create a significant change from 2014.

Where the big change did occur was with voters aged 25-29, who increased their representation in the actual voter pool by 0.709pp versus 2014, the largest increase of any age group. Their increase of turnout of 5.45pp, combined with their larger slice of the enrolment pie,  and to a lesser extent those aged 30-34, delivered nearly all of the increase in youth voters this election.

The increase though was largely offset by an increase in voters aged 55 and over. With voters aged 70 and over representing 0.704pp more of voters than in 2014, and those aged 55-59 representing 0.240pp more, it largely balanced out the increases in the youth voter.

All of this means that those aged 35 to 54 saw their influence as voters decrease relative to 2014, which was partially driven by their contribution to the pool of enrolled voters also dropping relative to 2014. The biggest drop was in the 40-44 bracket where they contributed 1.026pp less to the final voter pool than they did in 2014.

You can find the Electoral Commission's numbers here.

Overall there was a marginal greying of voters, going from a median age of 47 in 2014, to 48 in 2017.

And in case you're curious, here's the raw numbers.

No youthquake, youth tremor needs phenomenal turnout

The youthquake looks to be dead in the water ahead of tomorrow's election with the latest enrolment numbers from the Electoral Commission showing  that while there's been improvements in the 25 to 39 segments, the 18-24 segment is well down on 2014, while those over 55 are also well up. Looking at the total makeup of enrolled voters, it shows a clear shift towards grey segments.

Relative change.png

While the gap has eased somewhat from the 19 September numbers I wrote about earlier today there's still a clear shift in the overall makeup of the electorate towards voters aged 55 and over. The scale of the problem facing any possible youthquake tomorrow evening becomes clear when you put the enrolment numbers through the likelihood to turnout from 2014.

Change in makeup of actual voters 22 September.png

Assuming similar rates of turnout across all age groups as 2014, there's still around a 4 percentage point shift towards voters aged 55 an over. 

To put this in context - a 10 point lift in turnout on those reduced enrolment numbers for the 18 to 39 segments is the bare minimum required just to negate the growth in the grey segments since 2014. That also assumes there's no though it'll be those aged between 40 and 54 who actually get squeezed the most due to the growth of the age segments above them over the past three years, and their higher probability to vote.

While there's no official data yet - I believe we might get figures in October - for the scale of Jeremy Corbyn's youthquake, current estimates put it at around 10 points. It's worth remember that Corbyn's youthquake only worked for him because of their FPP system, as overall the Conservatives did drive up their share of the vote to 42% (from 37% in 2015). So while the youthquake was valuable in individual seats, in an MMP system it would have done very little to impact things other than mitigating the likely damage caused to UK Labour.

That means that Jacinda Ardern and Labour are hoping on not only a bigger youthquake than Jeremy Corbyn managed, but also lower turnout in those aged 55 and over, or for those aged 40 to 54 to turnout out in favour of Labour more so than they have in their past. Of those, given that our youth turnout has been higher than the UK's, I suspect hoping on a bigger youthquake than what we saw in June seems very unlikely, so they'll now be hoping on those final two things to go their way enough.

With all this in mind, I think what we'll see at most is a youth tremor. The good news for Labour is that in such a close MMP election, even a tremor be just enough to tip the numbers in their favour for a Labour, Greens, and Maori Party government.

Enrolment data doesn't yet support youthquake

Change in enrolment numbers 2014 to 19 September 2017.png

Wishing something is happening doesn't make it so, such appears to be the case with claims that a youthquake is in progress. While youth enrolments might be increasing at greater numbers since writ day than they did in the 2014 election, the overall number of those aged 18 - 24 is well down, and there's only a small increase if you extend that up to those aged 39, on the overall numbers who were enrolled in the 2014 election.

What's more, the biggest increases in enrolments since 2014 aren't in the youth segment but in what I call the grey segment - those aged 55 and above. Even if you take likely voter turnout out of the equation, there's still a clear swing in the voting population towards grey voters.

Relative change.png

You can see that while there's promising signs in the 25 to 34 brackets, the only other growth has been the over 55 segments, meaning grey voters are poised to dominate the election, especially as they turnout in much greater numbers. When you take into account the turnout figures for each age group from 2014, and put that against the 2017 figures so far, you can see what I mean a lot more clearly.

Change in makeup of actual voters.png

Once again there's an overall swing towards grey voters, with their greater numbers and greater propensity to vote, meaning they'll have a bigger impact.

If a youthquake was happening it should be showing up in the enrolment data, with more young people enrolling to vote and thus lifting their overall share of the voting population. While there have been signs of that taking place over the past few days which I've written about the problem is that it might be too little, too late, to reverse the drift to older voters.

None of this is to say that a youthquake isn't possible, but it's not likely to happen due to surging youth enrolments, which means it's down to those who are enrolled to turnout and vote.

As much as I've written about the data not showing a youthquake, I do hope I'm proven wrong, because what matters most to the future of our civic institutions and democracy is that young people participate in our elections to ensure that our government is more representative of New Zealand as a whole, and that political parties are forced to adapt their policies to reflect that reality.

Enrolment update - under 39s starting to claw back

Change in projected voting turnout 17 to 19 September.png

It's not a youthquake yet, but those under 39 are clawing back some of the swing towards over 55 voters the latest enrolment data from the Electoral Commission to 19 September shows. The trend towards older voters that was at 4.69% relatively to 2014 when I started collating the data has now edged back to 4.08%.

Make up of likely voters projected 19 September 2017.png

It's hard to see those 39 and under enrolment numbers increasing enough to match the 2014 turnout figures, meaning it's all down to motivating those voters who have enrolled. The problem is that if those age cohorts aren't motivated enough to enrol, it doesn't bode well for getting them to the polling booths, and that is a shame for our democracy.

Youth enrolments up, still more needed and turnout to beat greyquake

12 to 17 September Enrolment Change in Likely Voters.png

The latest Electoral Commission enrolment figures show the greyquake is still on, though it has shrunk slightly. Last week I suggested that there had been a shift since 2014 from the youngest half of likely voters to the oldest half of voters of around 4.69 points. Using updated enrolment figures today that has eased back slightly to 4.58 point shift.

Projected Voters 2017 as of 17 September.png

While those aged 18 - 24 enrolled in the greatest numbers - some 4,000, they still need to enrol in much greater numbers, and then turnout to vote with increased numbers too to create a youthquake, there's a sign that things might be improving in favour of one.

For example, for those aged 18-24 to make up the same percentage of the likely voter population on election day as they did in 2014 (using the 17 September data), they'd need to lift turnout by 7.27 points to reach 8.8% again. Some of that could be mitigated if Labour and the Greens lift turnout in the 25 through to 49 age brackets, but given that the 18-24 pool is the second largest group (314,000 enrolments to the 70+ enrolments of 471,000), lifting turnout at the youngest end is likely to have the biggest impact.

What's also key to remember is that the lower half of the pool of enrolled voters - those aged 18 through to 49, also have the worst turnout rates, and hence the biggest opportunity for parties focused on turning out voters to make an impact.

While much of the youthquake talk focuses on those below 34, there's also a good opportunity from 35 through to 49 for votes to be secured.

It's probably also worth noting that early data suggests that the youthquake that propelled Jeremy Corbyn to the brink of victory was in the order of a 10 - 12 point lift in under 35 turnout. Given the gap to currently match 2014's youth turnout, we might be seeing a youthquake in the order of a 5 point lift, which while still impressive, might not be enough to combat the "greying" of the likely voting base.

No youthquake yet but there is a greyquake

Enrolled Elector Comparison.png

Sorry Corbynistas, there's no sign of a youthquake this election. But there are signs of a significant greyquake. While there's still time for that to change, it would have to be a massive upswing in 18-24-year-old enrolments in the 11 days from 12 September to the election.

I was spurred into looking into the Electoral Commissions numbers by a friend who had heard talk of a youthquake but couldn't see it showing up in enrolment figures, and initially I was trying to compare enrolments as a percentage of eligible population. Then I realised that it was a tad difficult to do as I could only compare off the 2013 Census numbers, and there's been reasonable population growth since then.

Instead I decided to breakdown the overall makeup of the enrolled electors in each election year, as it's ultimately the demographic makeup of voters that's more relevant in seeing changes. It doesn't particularly matter if more young people vote if they're balanced out by more superannuitants voting.

What the current data shows is that it's the exact opposite happening, the 2017 elector population is looking like it will have a higher representation of those over 55 than in 2014, and that doesn't particularly help parties like the Greens who focus so heavily on the youth vote. It could also be holding back Jacinda Ardern's numbers slightly too as Labour has also been heavily focused in getting out the youth vote, which simply doesn't seem to be happening.

As we've seen overseas, older voters tend towards supporting centre-right to right wing parties, meaning both National and NZ First's numbers could be supported more than otherwise may have been the case.

The other important factor is that young people are less likely to turn out to vote than older people. That means the impact of this potential greyquake could well be compounded as those voters, especially aged over 70, amplify their presence more than normal at the same time as younger voter numbers are down along with their lower turnout.

Sadly I can't see this improving until civics education is ramped up in our secondary schools.

I'm also working on seeing how the enrolment percentages look compared to the estimated eligible population, but that's a bit trickier due to the need to estimate 2014's population, especially those aged 18 and 19, so will blog on that later.

Voter turnout in the 2014 election by age cohort demonstrates the double whammy that a larger grey percentage of the voting demographic will have on the 2017 election. More older New Zealanders voting at a higher rate means they're having a larger impact than younger New Zealanders who don't turn out to vote.

Voter turnout in the 2014 election by age cohort demonstrates the double whammy that a larger grey percentage of the voting demographic will have on the 2017 election. More older New Zealanders voting at a higher rate means they're having a larger impact than younger New Zealanders who don't turn out to vote.

Update: 3:15pm - I've just had a play around with some data trying to get a view on how enrolments are tracking as a percentage of the population for each cohort. It does show a potentially big gap in those under 34 who haven't enrolled to vote yet, relative to how other cohorts are tracking relative to 2014.

It's not perfect, as the data for 2014 is an estimate based of the 2013 Census data, and it doesn't remove those who are ineligible to vote, as well as the 18 and 19-year-old sections of the 18 - 24--year-old cohort being estimated based off the overall population growth in the 15 - 19-year-old cohort in the June 2014 estimates from Statistics NZ.

Elector Enrolment as a Percentage of Population.png