On one side of the ballot, prognosticators and at least one poll are predicting that young voters will cast a long shadow over next year’s top tier federal elections when President Donald Trump will stand for re-election. Closer to home, reporters and consultants have identified an unmistakable bump in women candidates running for the Louisiana Legislature this fall, when Gov. John Bel Edwards will seek a second term.
There have been enough headlines regarding these topics to label them as election trends to watch. But there may be two other questions worth kicking around between now and these notable days of decision:
1. Will the increase in younger voters next year and women candidates this year influence the outcomes of elections further down the ballot?
2. Why are we seeing or expecting greater engagement from voters of a certain age and contenders of a particular gender?
Guy Cormier, the executive director of the Police Jury Association of Louisiana, said there’s also a trend of more women running for parish-level offices. Put another way, the bump in candidacies will go well beyond legislative ballots.
“You can see it at our new member orientations every four years,” he said. “There are more women running for parish office. In St. Charles Parish, for example, a majority of the council is women. On our level, this was a trend that really started about 10 years ago, but it’s continuing to climb.”
As for the influence of young voters, Louisiana Municipal Association Executive Director John Gallagher said in a recent interview that local-level races have already felt that influx over the past few cycles—primarily due to youthful candidates turning out younger segments of the electorate.
“A very interesting observation based on my recent visits around the state is the proliferation of newly-elected mayors in their 30’s and younger,” Gallagher said. “For example, the new mayor of Turkey Creek is 23 years old, the youngest ever elected mayor in the history of Louisiana. I am very excited to see this trend as it indicates a renewed engagement in local government.”
Then there’s the “why.” Why are more women candidates putting their names on the line for mostly low-paying, part-time jobs? And why are voters ages 18 to 29 getting geared up for 2020?
Addressing the former question, Belinda Davis, a first-time legislative contender running in Baton Rouge’s House District 70, said, “As a professor, I know that research supports the idea that women have a knack for solving problems instead of just complaining about them. That’s why women from across the spectrum are running this year: solutions.”
While the surface read on the increased involvement might be that women’s issues are simply important, those who feel passionate about the overdue shift are quick to caution that it’s much more. With 32% of the Legislature prepared to turnover due to term limits, the traditional barriers to the candidacies of women—namely institutional knowledge— are fading this cycle.
Women candidates aren’t only running in higher numbers, but they’re likewise branding their campaigns around their own roles and expertise in finance, academia and even parenting. They have some of the best guideposts in recent memory already serving in the Legislature, women who are holding gavels and merging diverse interests on complicated topics. The Legislative Women’s Caucus has also become more vocal outside of the rails of the House and Senate.
To provide a bit more data on the question of younger voters, the Institute of Politics at Harvard Kennedy School recently released new findings from its biannual “Youth Poll.” A summary of the survey indicated that “young voters between 18 and 29 years old are experiencing anxiety as much as joy, don’t think baby boomer voters or elected officials care about them and are increasingly concerned about the moral direction of the nation.”
Among the poll’s other findings were that the “youth vote — especially young Democrats — is poised to play an even more significant role in 2020 than in the 2016 presidential contest.” Plus, “protecting the environment is now central to both domestic and foreign policy agendas of young Americans.”
Exactly what Louisiana’s voters and politicians will ultimately do is a guessing game. But I do know that the state started this term with the largest deficit in modern times. Infrastructure projects continued to mount, right alongside the state’s unfunded accrued liability. Hospitals and colleges were threatened with closures and the state’s popular TOPS scholarship program was always in jeopardy.
Maybe more women are running for office and an increasing number of younger voters are filling out ballots because they happen to believe one thing—that they can do a better job. And, based on recent government output, perhaps they can.