Are demographics destiny in the 5th District?

Keith Ellison greets Minneapolis City Council Member Phillipe Cunningham.
Rep. Keith Ellison greets Minneapolis City Council Member Phillipe Cunningham outside of the Clara Barton Open School in Minneapolis. Ellison's decision to run for attorney general opened a seat for the 5th congressional district, which has seen demographic shifts in recent years.
Evan Frost | MPR News

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez's unexpected win in New York this summer served as a stark reminder to establishment Democrats: demographics matter.

The 28-year-old managed to topple powerful, longtime incumbent Democrat U.S. Rep. Joe Crowley in the primary, in part because she ran in a district that had become more racially diverse, younger and way more receptive to a campaign that pushed certain issues including campaign finance reform and universal healthcare.

In some ways, Ocasio-Cortez's victory mirrors the changes happening in Minnesota's 5th Congressional District, the state's most urban seat, which has also experienced dramatic demographic shifts in recent years. But there are some key differences from the New York district too, all of which will be on full display in the five-way, DFL primary race for the seat on Aug. 14.

The candidates include DFL-endorsed state Rep. Ilhan Omar, state Sen. Patricia Torres Ray, former House Speaker Margaret Anderson Kelliher, engineer Jamal Abdulahi and real estate agent Frank Drake. Much like the New York primary, the winner of the 5th District DFL primary is almost guaranteed a seat in Congress. Voters in the 5th District swung 73 percent in favor of Hillary Clinton in 2016.

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The seat is open after a last-minute decision from incumbent DFL Rep. Keith Ellison to run for attorney general. His election back in 2006 was historic: Ellison became the first Muslim elected to Congress and the first African American Congress member elected in Minnesota. And it was was the sign of a changing district, with Ellison replacing Martin Sabo, the son of Norwegian immigrants who held the seat nearly three decades.

But even the 5th that Ellison was elected to 12 years ago has changed considerably. The district, which covers Minneapolis and some surrounding suburbs, is growing. Since 2007, it's gone from 583,700 residents to roughly 708,000 now, the largest of any in the state.

And many of those residents are young — and trending younger. The 5th is Minnesota's youngest district by far, with a median age of 34 years old, down from 37 years old when Ellison was first elected.

"An interesting feature of this district, which is relatively rare given the demographic trends in the state, is it's kind of pulled a Benjamin Button on us. It actually got younger," Craig Helmstetter, head of the APM Research Lab, which analyzed demographic and voting characteristics of all 435 U.S. House Districts in its Representing US tool.

The millennial age group, ranging from 22 to 36 years old, also makes up the greatest share of the voting-age population in the district at 35 percent, or more than 200,000 voters.

That percentage also stands out in the nation: Minnesota's 5th District has the 6th highest percentage of millennial voters of all 435 U.S. House districts. It's a microcosm of a trend nationally that has, for the first time ever, pushed the number of millennial-aged voters over the number of boomer-aged voters.

Ocasio-Cortez, at 28, is also a millennial and won in a district that's nearly 30 percent millennial. This demographic point could favor someone like Omar in the 5th District, who, at 35 years old, is the only millennial candidate in the race.

But whether millennial voters turn out is another question. While boomers tend to show up to the polls at percentages higher than 70 percent, millennials historically haven't been as active. Less than half of millennials voted in the 2016 election.

"Will this be the year that millennials have that huge sway on the election?" Helmstetter said. "The 5th District is the only district where the percentage of millenials is higher than the percentage of Baby Boomers. We will see who turns out to vote, but it will be interesting."

The 5th is also one of the most educated districts in the state, second only to Minnesota's suburban 3rd Congressional District in adults with a bachelor's degree or higher. Nearly half of the population 25 and older has a bachelor's degree or higher. The district also has some of the wealthiest pockets in the state, but also some of the poorest.

It has the highest poverty rate in the state at 15 percent, and the highest unemployment rate in the state at 3.7 percent. Median household income is a moderate $59,000 — about $7,000 below the statewide value of $66,000.

"It has a wide range in terms of the economics, that's is reflected in this seeming paradox, where you have really high education levels but also high poverty levels," Helmstetter said.

Minnesota's 5th District is also the most diverse in the state, with 36 percent people of color. That number has increased slightly since Ellison was elected, the most dramatic shifts happening among immigrant residents. There are 22,000 more foreign-born residents in the 5th District since Ellison was elected, the largest increase from African immigrants.

The diversity of the district is reflected in the race. Three of the candidates in the race — Omar, Patricia Torres Ray and Abdulahi — were born outside of the United States.

If there's one area the 5th diverges most from what happened in New York, it's the district's boundaries.

The 5th District has the smallest geographic footprint in the state and is the most densely populated, but it's nowhere near as urban as the Bronx-area district that Ocasio-Cortez won.

Nearly 60 percent of the population lives in Minneapolis, but the other 40 percent live in suburbs including Brooklyn Center, Columbia Heights, Edina, Fridley, Golden Valley, Hopkins, Richfield, St. Louis Park and others.