Only 24% of Eligible Philadelphians Voted for Mayor — Which Is Not That Bad, Comparatively

This puts Philly in the top half of voter turnout among the largest American cities, amazingly.

A dog at a polling place in Center City Philadelphia

A doggy at a Philadelphia polling place in 2015. | Photo by Dan McQuade

A new report found that only 24 percent of eligible Philadelphians voted for mayor in the most recent election. This sounds depressing, until you compare us to other large American cities: Of the 30 largest cities in the country, Philadelphia ranks 12th.

It’s not top-10, but not we’re just ahead of Nashville (23.8 percent) and Denver (22.6 percent) and right behind Detroit (25.1 percent). Among East Coast cities, Philly ranks behind only behind 9th-ranked Boston (29.7 percent).

Portland has the highest percent of eligible voters casting ballots in mayoral elections, with 59.4 percent turnout in the most recent election. Then again, Portland’s version of “Umbrella Man” is a beloved institution instead of piece of public art so hated it’s eventually sold and taken off the streets. So maybe we don’t want to pay too much attention to Portland.

But while Federal Donuts is still better than Voodoo Donuts, Portland can look down upon us for their superior mayoral race turnout. Among other findings from the report from Portland State and the Knight Foundation: Voters here are an average of 13.5 years older than the average Philadelphia resident. The median age of voters in the most recent local election was 56.

And, 45.5 percent of registered voters over the age of 65 voted, compared to 11.5 percent of registered voters aged 18 to 34. That gave voters 65-plus eight times more “electoral clout” than an 18-to-34 voter. The Philly study looked at the 2015 primary and general elections for mayor.

“One person, one vote is a core principle of American democracy for a very good reason — when turnout is abysmally low, more attention is paid to the interests of small groups of people instead of community-wide issues of equity and good governance,” Benjamin de la Peña, director for community and national strategy at the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, said in a release. “The danger of such low participation in local elections is the risk that elected leaders will not address serious and pressing issues that disproportionately affect historically disadvantaged communities.”

Philadelphia was not nearly as bad as some cities; in Fort Worth, Dallas and Las Vegas, voter turnout was in the single digits, percentage-wise.

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