The shrinking electorate of Vienna
2.9.2013 by ramon bauer
Although the population of Vienna is steadily increasing since 25 years, the city’s electorate is stagnating at the level of the early 1980s. Since then the gap between eligible voters and people ineligible for voting multiplied in Austria’s capital city.
During the 1980s, Vienna’s population started to grow again after a period of almost constant decline that lasted for more than half a century. And while the city’s population increased by 14 per cent between 1982 and 2012, the population eligible for voting decreased by 1 per cent. The gap between de-facto electorate and people ineligible for voting is opening more and more since 1989 because the city’s growth is driven by an increasing influx of international migrants, especially since the late 1990s. Most of the new arrivals are not eligible for voting in Austria – only Austrian citizens aged 16 years and older are. Hence, an increasing share of the city’s population is excluded from voting at national or city level.
A growing city with a stagnating number of eligible voters is facing a shrinking electorate. While population numbers in Vienna increased from 1.52 million in 1982 to 1.73 million in 2012, the number of people eligible for voting stagnated around 1.1 million. Actually, the number even declined between 1982 and 2000 (by 60.010), before slightly increasing again after the turn of the millennium. In 2007, Vienna’s electorate gained almost thirty thousand new members after a national electoral law reform that lowered the electoral age from 18 to 16 years. However, the number of people who are excluded from participating in elections – because they are younger than 16 years and/or of foreign nationality – increased by more than 60 per cent between 1982 and 2012 (from 365,889 to 587,406).
At the coming Austrian national elections (on 29 September 2013) more than a third of the population of Vienna (587.406) will be ineligible for voting. Besides those younger than 16 years in 2012 (263.535), there are 323.871 people that are 16 years or older but do not hold an Austrian passport. In 2012, foreign nationals of voting age accounted for almost 19 per cent of Vienna’s population and for more than 22 per cent of the population 16 years or older, which constitutes the “potential electorate” (at least by age). Since 1982, over the course of only one generation, the gap between actual and potential electorate increased almost fourfold: from 5.5 per cent to 18.7 per cent of Vienna’s entire population.
Besides the growing imbalance between the population eligible for voting and the total population of Vienna, also considerable changes in the electorate’s age structure come to light (when digging through the online database of Statistics Austria). Compared to 2002, which was three rounds of national elections ago, the age structure of Vienna’s electorate became considerably older. Interestingly enough, this must not be entirely ascribed to the growing number of elderly Austrians in Vienna. The share of the electorate 60+ increased by 6 per cent since 2002 while other and younger age groups within the electorate experienced even stronger gains (below 30 years by 31 per cent, and 45 to 59 years by 11 per cent); only the group of 30 to 44 year old Austrian citizens decreased by both absolute numbers (minus 29.616) and proportion (minus 18 per cent). This distinct decline of young Austrian adults can be attributed to some extent to the selective out-migration of young Austrian families from the core city to Vienna’s suburbia just beyond the municipal boundary.
The age composition of foreign nationals of voting age in Vienna also experienced considerable changes during the last decade. Between 2002 and 2012, the share of the group of foreign citizens aged 60+ nearly doubled, albeit from a very low level (from 18.572 to 36.187). All other age groups of foreign nationals of voting age were also strongly increasing – between 32 per cent (45 to 59 years) and 62 per cent (below 30 years). Most interestingly, the age group 30 to 44 years, contrary to Austrian citizens at this age, was not only growing since 2002 (by 52 per cent) but also constitutes the strongest age group among foreign nationals in Vienna. Within the group of young adults, those with foreign nationality accounted for almost a third of Vienna`s population aged 30 to 44 years in 2012.
Vienna is a growing and also a prospering city. Because this growth is driven by international migration, the share of the electorate – i.e. Austrian citizens aged 16 years and older (or 18 years and older before 2007) – decreased since the 1980s and especially since the late 1990s. A shrinking electorate means that fewer people participate in the political process; be it at national or city level. Since 1982, the gap between Vienna’s actual electorate and the potential electorate (including foreign population of voting age) has widened almost fourfold. Nearly a third of the young adult population of Vienna between 30 and 44 years – an age group that is caught in the middle of career prospects, family formation and parenthood – will not be represented in the political process of the upcoming Austrian national elections. Beyond that, the election turnouts of the national election rounds since 2002 show that not much more than 70 per cent of Vienna’s electorate are active voters. Assuming that this will also be the case at the upcoming 2013 elections, the vote of considerably less than 50 per cent of Vienna’s population (about 800.000 or less) will represent the city’s society at the next Austrian National Assembly.