What History Tells Us About Youth Voter Turnout in Texas

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AUSTIN (Nexstar) — Democratic gubernatorial candidate Beto O’Rourke continued his college tour of central Texas on Wednesday, hoping young voters will participate and bring him the votes he needs to win in the November election.

O’Rourke courted students from Austin Community College, Huston-Tillotson University and Texas State University at a series of campaign rallies on Wednesday. It’s part of the Democratic college tour that kicked off in UT-Austin last Monday, hitting more than 15 campuses across the state.

Divided by age brackets, voters between the ages of 18 and 24 made up the smallest share of voters who turned out in the 2020 presidential election.

“A lot of effort is being made to try to increase their likelihood of voting in general,” said Emily Syndor, associate professor of politics at Southwestern University. “Partly because it sort of establishes civic habits early on, it encourages them to vote in later elections.”

In the primaries in March this year, the average age of voters in the Texas Republican primary was 63. The average Democratic primary voter that year was 60, according to data from Ryan Data & Research – a Texas-based election research group.

Syndor said there are many nuanced reasons why young voters — especially those of college age — don’t turn out in the same numbers as older populations. And no, it’s not laziness, she said.

“You have a whole set of people who sometimes moved across the state or across the country for the first time. They learn to vote in a place that is not necessarily where they first registered,” she said. “From that perspective, it’s just about learning what they need to do and how to do it.”

O’Rourke’s stump speeches on Wednesday were thematically similar to those tailored to a more general audience, but his campus remarks focused on two issues more than others: gun violence and reproductive rights.

Hannah Foshe, a recent college graduate who witnessed O’Rourke’s ACC stoppage, said women’s rights were her top priority ahead of the election.

“It’s hard to be a woman in this country. I mean, it is. And being at an age where you want to start a family and you want to do these things is scary,” she said in tears.

Gov. Greg Abbott has not announced any similar campaign tours targeting college-age voters. While O’Rourke promised young Austin crowds that together they could be the change – the incumbent stuck to the talking points that led him to victory in the past two cycles, touting successes at a business roundtable in Tyler, Texas.

“Every year that I’ve been governor, Texas has been ranked the top state by CEOs as the best state in which to do business,” Abbott said. “I’m running for re-election to keep these hard jobs alive in the great state of Texas.”

While Smith County — where the governor spoke — historically tips red, Abbott spent plenty of time in his remarks attacking his opponent.

“I have to tell Texans what we’ve accomplished for them in making Texas number one for business, creating more jobs than any other state in the country in the last four years,” the incumbent Republican said. . “All of this could be destroyed if someone comes into office and destroys the policies that have made Texas number one in business.”

Back at the O’Rourke events, volunteers armed with clipboards full of state voter registration materials shouted, “Are you registered to vote? is your address updated? to students and passers-by. One volunteer said she registered hundreds of voters for the effort alone. The question is whether they will actually show up and vote.

“I think he has a lot of potential to deliver good results,” Syndor said. “Turning to untapped voter banks is a way to then entice more people to vote for you.”

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