Thursday, August 8, 2013

Which Brooklyn Neighborhoods Have the Lowest Voter Turnout?

Posted By on Thu, Aug 8, 2013 at 9:45 AM

Not that any Brooklyn neighborhood can claim much pride in voter turnout: the highest we could find in the last mayoral election in 2009, according to a map by census tract compiled by WNYC, were in the 40-50 percent range, and those were flukes. Good voter turnout was more like 30-35 percent in most areas, with poorer turnout just as common in many other parts of the borough. Here's where turnout is lowest—and ideas maybe as to why.

Latino Neighborhoods
Though one of the bigger stories that emerged after the last presidential election was about the power of the Latino electorate, some of the lowest voter turnout in Brooklyn was in predominately Latino neighborhoods; parts of Bushwick showed just 7-9 percent of the adult citizens voted in the mayoral election; in Sunset Park, on either side of Fifth Avenue, it was 6-10 percent; in the significantly Latino parts of South and East Williamsburg, it was 12-14 percent. As WNYC tried to estimate the citizen population of these areas and not just the total population, thus eliminating non-documented residents who can't vote by law, the low numbers can't be explained that way. There are other theories as to what can keep Latinos away from the poll: it might have been the effect of the recession on them, which often forces people to move and thus makes voting a challenge; and/or it could be the lack of a voting traditions among recent immigrants. But, nationally, there also seems to be stronger voting disillusionment among Latinos than other ethnic groups, especially in non-presidential races.

Asian-American Neighborhoods
While the predominately Latino parts of Sunset Park, those surrounding Fifth Avenue, boasted low voter turnout for mayor, so did the rest of Sunset Park, extending east into the predominately Asian areas: just 5-8 percent of the adult citizens in these census tracts voted in 2009. And, as the demographic's booming population has led to the Asian population moving in great numbers into surrounding neighborhoods like Dyker Heights and Bensonhurst, so too is voter turnout in these areas similarly low: just 10-15 percent. This could also, like with Latinos, be an example of recent immigrants lacking the cultural infrastructure that encourages voting. It might also be because Asian-Americans, compared to other racial groups, are less engaged by politicians both because their numbers are smaller and because their cultures more heterogenous than Latinos. "Koreans and Chinese and Vietnamese aren't necessarily more or less fractured than Mexicans and Puerto Ricans and Cubans," Slate suggested. "But, unlike Latinos, they speak different languages," which means they are harder to reach by advertising. Asians also don't have a unified district in Brooklyn, which some have suggested disenfranchises them and maybe cools them on the electoral process.

Some Black Communities, But Not All
A recent study showed that rich people were twice as likely to vote as poor people, which helps explain why politicians seem to worry more about the former than the latter. It's a chicken-and-egg thing: do officials not care about the poor because they don't vote, or do poor people not vote because officials don't care about the issues that affect them? Either way, you can see it play out on the voter-turnout map: Coney Island, especially its eastern end, had turnout as low as 5 percent; in East New York, some of the neighborhood's turnout falls in the 9-15 percent range. Though, interestingly, not in all of it; other parts of East New York are in the low-20 percent range, which isn't bad, comparatively. This might be explained by the strong traditions of voting that exist in many black communities, where civic groups, unions and others have worked for decades to mobilize voters. Fort Greene, Clinton Hill, Flatbush and parts of Brownsville have relatively strong turnout numbers.

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Outliers
Brighton Beach had low voter turnout in 2009, in one tract as low as 7 percent. Anecdotally, I've known a lot of Russians, Soviet immigrants specifically (the kind you see a lot in Brighton) who seemed particularly skeptical of government and the political process. (I'm not sure we could really explain voter trends that way, though.) Large swaths of Gravesend and Homecrest also boast low turnout; that one stumps me, as does the fact that the numbers are relatively low in Gowanus (maybe a matter of miscalculating who actually lives there?) and in the northern part of Bergen Beach.

Follow Henry Stewart on Twitter @henrycstewart

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Henry Stewart

Henry Stewart

Bio:
Henry Stewart is the Culture Editor at The L Magazine and Brooklyn Magazine. He has always lived in Brooklyn.

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