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Older Utahns are politically active at the caucus level, with participation rates higher than their representation among eligible voters until they hit age 65.
From that point on, says AARP Utah, elders are underrepresented, causing concern that the current caucus and convention system for both parties doesn't reflect the general public's demographics or political positions.
The nonprofit, nonpartisan advocacy group hopes to remedy what it considers a problem for democracy with two tele-town hall meetings with Republican and Democratic party leaders during the upcoming Legislative General Session. They hope to educate participants and to learn from them what the barriers to their involvement may be.
Drawing from a Utah Foundation Report released in April, AARP spokesman Danny Harris said that while one-third of Utah's general election voters are over age 65, only 16 percent of Republican delegates and 8 percent of Democratic delegates fit that age profile.
The foundation's 2010 Utah Priorities Survey shows under-representation or the opposite in some age groups, but none so dramatic as the over 65.
Delegates' age does skew older than the voters as a whole, with the disparities climbing up to the age 60 to 65 bracket for both Republicans and Democrats. But never do the differences exceed 5 percentage points except for the over 65 group, where 16 percent of GOP delegates are that age compared to 33 percent of voters, and 8 percent of Democratic delegates versus 31 percent of voters.
Steve Kroes, executive director of the Utah Foundation, said the 2010 study hadn't analyzed the disparity.
"I don't have any speculation on why this is," he said Wednesday. "There are probably lots of reasons."
Among them could be political fatigue or transportation difficulties, Harris said.
The tele-town hall meetings, tentatively scheduled for mid-February, might yield clues as to why elders aren't showing up, or not winning, at precinct caucuses. Results "won't be scientific, obviously," Harris said, but would give AARP an opportunity to compile anecdotal information.
AARP Utah also will co-sponsor Democracy Day on Jan. 30 with the Community Action Partnership of Utah. Kirk Jowers, director of the University of Utah's Hinckley Institute of Politics, will speak about the delegate system and how to encourage broader participation by the public.
"Our caucus and convention system works best when large numbers of citizens are engaged in the process," especially as politicians and the nation examine how to strengthen Social Security and Medicare for the future, said AARP Utah State Director Alan Ormsby.
"More needs to be done to educate the general public," he said. "We want our members and the general public to have a choice of candidates that represent their beliefs. Involvement in the candidate selection process will help achieve this goal."
AARP Utah organizing tele-town halls, Democracy Day at Legislature
The nonprofit, nonpartisan advocacy group for older Utah residents wants to educate its members and the public about Utah's caucus and convention system. Two tele-town hall meetings are tentatively planned for mid-February. Democracy Day, co-planned with the Community Action Partnership of Utah, will be held Jan. 30 at the Capitol.