May 10, 2023 - Politics

Nashville mayoral candidates vie for older voting bloc

Animated illustration of a finger pushing a "VOTE" button from the left of the screen towards the center

Illustration: Annelise Capossela/Axios

The early days of the 2023 election cycle underscore a time-honored truth of a Metro election: Older voters will largely determine the next mayor of Nashville.

Why it matters: Campaign messaging so far paints the picture of older voters angry at the overall direction of the city.

State of play: In his latest television ad, mayoral candidate and former Metro official Matt Wiltshire makes clear the importance of winning over older voters.

  • "Today we're in danger of Nashville becoming a place where the people who built this city, especially our senior citizens, can't afford to live here," Wiltshire says.
  • Businessperson Jim Gingrich gardens in an early ad while lamenting unmanaged development growth.
  • State Sen. Heidi Campbell came out against the proposed Belle Meade Plaza development, aligning herself with older voters in west Nashville who have criticized the plan.

By the numbers: While Nashville mayoral elections typically see very low turnout, older voters are a reliable voting bloc.

  • According to election data analyzed by political consultant Dave Rosenberg, who also serves on the Metro Council, 80% of the people who voted in the 2019 race and still live in Nashville are at least 50 years old.
  • There was just 23.6% voter turnout for the August 2019 mayoral election. In 2015, the turnout was 28.4% and in 2011 it was 19.7%.
  • By comparison, 64.9% of the voters turned out for the November 2020 presidential election.

What she's saying: Katie Lentile, a Nashville political consultant who served as a top aide to Mayor John Cooper's campaign and administration, tells Axios, "We are yet to hear how most of these candidates differ and the specific solutions they want to bring as the leader of the city."

  • "In 2019, when Mayor Cooper's campaign launched a physical policy book, there was a distinctive shift with older voters who were undecided," she says. "With such a crowded field, finding unique ways to present the message and solutions will be a key factor."

Yes, but: Lentile expects more young voters to participate this year.

  • "Between all the crises Nashville has endured over the last few years and everything that happened at the state legislature this session, I believe all Nashvillians are more aware of just how important representation matters and will be eager to vote."

What we're watching: Unless a surprise candidate enters the race, the field for the Nashville mayor's race appears to be set.

  • The qualifying deadline to run for Nashville mayor is May 18, and candidates have until May 25 to change their minds and withdraw from the race.

Be smart: Check out the current list of who's running for mayor


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