A review of Philadelphia's primary election on May 16 confirms what it seemed we saw on election night: the city's millennial voters stood and roared, relatively speaking.

The Democratic primary yielded surprising results: little-known City Controller candidate Rebecca Rhynhart unseated a three-term incumbent, and Larry Krasner, who was backed by progressive groups with a younger following won big in a seven-candidate race for DA.

An analysis by the city's board of election shows that nearly three times as many millennials voted this time as showed up in the DA/Controller primary four years ago (see graphics below).


People between the ages of 18 and 34 amounted to nearly one in five voters in May, giving them a much greater voice in the outcome than in past races.

There's some irony here, though. The millennial turnout was impressive mostly in comparison to past performance. In the primary four years ago, just three percent of registered millennials voted. In this election, the millennial turnout was still only 10 percent, below every other age category, but a big improvement over that three percent showing in  2013 (the turnout figures are not shown in the graphics here).

"Millennial voters still turn out at a lower rate overall than anyone else," said election board co-chair Al Schmidt. "Older voters tend to show up every election — presidential elections, municipal elections, no matter what it is."

So while millennial voters had the lowest turnout of the four age groups in the board of election analysis, it was dramatically higher than their historic performance, and thus increased their weight in the overall result.


Gwen Emmons is a board member of Young Involved Philadelphia, which promotes civic engagement among young adults.

She said the candidates for DA addressed issues of concern to young voters more than in the past, and reached out to them in more effective ways, including text messaging.

She said it's exciting to see the surge in turnout, but young voters still have a long way to go.

"Young people make up about a third of the city's voting share, so that's a massive amount of political power that we can and should be flexing," Emmons said, "and we're leaving a lot of opportunities on the table."