Why Isn't Texas Voting?

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Just because it's not a census year doesn't mean we're not getting fascinating statistics out of the Census Bureau.  And here we have some data showing voting trends in recent years by state, demographic, etc.  

While there are some noteworthy trends related to gender (i.e. women vote more than men), age and education (i.e. the likelihood of someone voting is almost directly proportional to age and level of education), one of the most surprising findings is that Texas is in really bad shape when it comes to voter turnout.  In every November in the last decade, Texas has fallen squarely in the bottom tier of states in terms of voter turnout.

In the 2008 presidential election, 56.1 percent of Texas citizens 18 and older voted.  Only five states had lower turnout.  In November 2010, 36.4 percent eligible Texans voted, placing Texas dead last in terms of voter turnout.

voter turnout map

The forecast isn't rosy either.  In non-presidential election years, turnout has been decreasing, and is currently the lowest it's been over the past decade.  Voting in presidential election years has at least increased somewhat, but, once again, still remains behind every other state.  

The argument could be made that Texas isn't exactly a swing state, and gets little love from national candidates.  But compare our 2008 turnout of 56.1 percent to 67.1 percent in Massachusetts, 69.7 percent in Mississippi, or 67.5 percent in North Dakota – all states that are also solidly red or blue.  It also wouldn't explain the fact that Texans are increasingly voting in presidential years while voting less in non-presidential elections.    

Shifting demographics may also be responsible.  A very high proportion of eligible Hispanic voters are not registered, and voter turnout among Hispanics is only about two-thirds that of white voters.  With the Hispanic population in Texas approaching 40 percent, the low registration and turnout levels in this group may be impacting the overall turnout.  But states like New Mexico, California, Florida and even Arizona (with its notorious scare tactics), all with sizable Hispanic populations, still have significantly higher turnout.  Whether Republican-led racially charged scare tactics and voter suppression efforts are a cause of this low level of voter registration and turnout, or whether they're just another layer on top of an already serious problem, they certainly don't help.  

Our voter turnout is a major problem, without a clear cause or obvious solutions.  Any ideas?  Leave them in the comments.  

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About Author

Emily Cadik

Emily is a Texas ex-pat and proud Longhorn living in Washington, DC, where she remains connected to the Lone Star State through her work on BOR and her enthusiasm for breakfast tacos. She works on affordable housing policy, and writes about health care, poverty and other social justice issues.

5 Comments

  1. What tools are other states providing
    What tools are other states providing to Hispanic voters to allow them to be comfortable with how to vote, where to vote, and an overview of the offices and what they do/what impact they have on the voter.  In addition, a voter guide in Spanish that lays out what candidates stand for.  This comes up often in research about why Hispanic voters don't vote – don't have the information about what candidates stand for.  

  2. been thinking about this for a long time
    how straight is the line between voter disengagement and gerrymandered election districts?

    and think you're right about voter suppression efforts succeeding. another cause could be redistricting: the very thing that ensures political hegemony is contributing to driving voters away from the polls.

    when house members draw safe seats, what's the motivation for voters – most of whom are not intensely political – to go vote? they read the papers, they hear news stories about districts drawn to protect an incumbent or specific party, and then are hit with hateful mailers and TV ads, and say, “why bother? the decision is already made, why make an effort?”

    collateral damage of course would be a general disaffection with all things governmental, grumbling about lack of services, and outright rebellion against paying taxes.

    I get a sense that we're on the cusp of some real scary social upheaval. come november we'll have more of an idea what the shape and possibly size that revolution could take.

    ack! hope I'm wrong

  3. Redistricting is a major factor…
    in the low turnout. No question. If the sense is – “the fix is in” – why bother? People get frustrated when they become engaged, learn the issues – and then their effort doesn't appear to make a difference.

  4. focusing on voter engagement
    I'm not as sanguine as lorenzo that redistricting hasn't made voters feel disenfranchised at all levels.

    when your views aren't adequately represented, and the system is clearly impossible to beat – and you really can't figure it out anyway – then it's natural not to want to be involved. human psychology is built to pursue success. differences occur in how many defeats it takes for someone to opt out of a fight that's not winnable.

    true, lots of folks stay and fight …. but more simply walk away. not that they don't still vent – you can hear sedition in many comments floating around out there.

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