Things might be looking up for voter turnout in Texas. After this year’s midterm elections, Indiana beat us for last place in the nation. Of course, that doesn’t necessarily mean that we did any better. In fact, that’s still pretty abysmal.
Unofficial numbers from the Texas Department of State show that about 4.7 million people voted for a Texas gubernatorial candidate in a state with 14 million registered voters. That means only about a third of registered voters actually turned out.
Not that this is anything new. The Texas Civic Health Index shows that rates of political participation and voter turnout have been consistently low compared to the rest of the nation since the 1970s.
This year’s midterm elections however, were seen as particularly important for Texas, with voters given the chance to elect a new governor in Democratic nominee Wendy Davis or Republican candidate Greg Abbott, thereby replacing 12-year governor Rick Perry. Although reports of voter turnout are still in the early stages, it appears that something is still keeping many Texans from hitting the polls.
A few Texas non-voters expressed that they don’t feel one vote would make a difference.
“I’ve never voted,” Ashley Stanford, a senior art history major at The University of Texas at Austin, said. “I don’t feel like I’ve taken the initiative to inform myself enough on the issues to make educated decisions, nor do I feel like my vote would matter.”
Even though Stanford said she felt more informed back in 2012 during the presidential elections, she still refrained from voting for the same reason.
“I skipped this election due to voter apathy,” said Todd Spoth, a 31-year-old freelance photographer. “It was a landslide [win for Greg Abbott], as most predicted.”
In a state that has been historically red, many Democrats feel their vote won’t make a difference. But this is the conundrum: if no one votes, the status quo will never change.
“If everyone that supported Wendy Davis in these elections actually voted, then she would probably still lose,” Spoth said. “But at least people would notice Texas’ improvement towards the Democrats, and that statistic and feeling would carry over to 2016. Then, just maybe there would be a chance. Unfortunately, most people here are like, ‘What’s the point, we’re a red state.’ So that’s the way it’ll stay.”
One Texas voter, 22-year-old Khai Pham, wasn’t giving up that easily.
“This is a big year for Texas,” Pham said. “It’s an opportunity to turn the state blue possibly, so Wendy Davis is why I came out to vote.”
Davis quickly rose to national fame for her support for women’s rights, and combined with Texas’ rapid urbanization, population increases and demographic shifts, many began to wonder whether the state could soon turn blue. But as the midterm elections show, it still has a long way to go.
Geographer and visiting scholar at Harvard University Kirk Goldsberry predicted this result in his story for FiveThirtyEight, “Mapping The Changing Face Of The Lone Star State.”
“If polls are right, Republican candidate Greg Abbott, the Texas attorney general, will easily defeat his Democratic opponent, state Sen. Wendy Davis,” Goldberry wrote prior to Election Day. “This isn’t surprising. After all, Texas is the GOP’s flagship stronghold.”
His article shows that Democrats likely won’t win the state until they can win over not just urban voters, but suburban voters as well.
In line with Goldberry’s research, urban centers, like Austin, remain largely Democratic, with Davis winning about 63 percent of the votes in Travis County. It also fares better than the state overall in terms of voter registration and turnout, with 40.8 percent of registered voters casting a gubernatorial vote. Rather than young voters turning out in support of democracy or civic duty, many of them turn out for politics.
In fact, two voters I spoke with registered to vote in Texas this year from other states, mainly to support Wendy Davis.
One of them is Danielle Levy, a 20-year-old film major at Sarah Lawrence College, who recently moved back to her hometown of Houston.
”This is actually my first time voting as a Texas voter,” she said. “And I couldn’t be happier to do so for Wendy Davis. I’m voting because it’s important to me, especially in the way of women’s rights.”
Overall, at least in liberal-leaning central Austin, it seemed like you either voted in hopes that Democrats would gain ground elsewhere in Texas, or you didn’t vote because you felt like that was an impossible feat. Now, with Abbott’s sizeable win over Davis to become Texas’ new governor, voter apathy among Democrats could intensify.
However, this doesn’t entirely explain why millions of Texans—Democrat or Republican—failed to cast their ballot on Tuesday, or to even register. As Texas continues to undergo changes in population and demographics over the coming years, it remains to be seen if more citizens will become engaged.