Early voting is underway in Texas, where about 15.8 million people are registered to vote in the midterm elections. Monday’s numbers already show record-breaking turnout across Texas, including in Austin, where more than 36,000 people voted, nearly doubling first-day total for the 2014 midterms. In the Houston area, residents set a new opening day early voting record for midterm elections with 36,000 votes cast, and Dallas looked to be headed the same way as of late afternoon.
Young voters especially could set the stage for a blue wave in Texas, where unprecedented races – such as that between incumbent Ted Cruz and Democratic challenger Beto O’Rourke, who vie for a senate seat – have taken center stage.
Historically, voters ages 65 and older have determined election outcomes, as they show up to voting polls in far greater numbers than their younger counterparts. But a recent report by the Star-Telegram suggests this election could pit new voters against Baby Boomers, instead of Republicans battling Democrats.
According to the newspaper’s analysis, voters ages 18-29 have more registered voters than any other age group in Texas. But only a small percentage of registered young voters usually cast ballots.
The most critical subgroup of young voters are Latinos, who account for half of Texans younger than 18 years old, meaning they will be the largest ethnic group in the state by 2022. In the next decade – when we’ll have two presidential elections and three midterms – more than two million Latino citizens will reach voting age, representing half of the state’s new age-eligible voters.
Last week, Austin-based political mobilization group Jolt Texas released findings from Texas’ most comprehensive study of young Latino voters. Compiled by Jolt Initiative, applied research firm US-ness, and survey research firm EthniFacts, the “We Are Texas: An Analysis of Young Latino Voters in the Lone Star State” surveyed more than 1,000 Latinos younger than 45.
Below, find five key findings from the study.
Young Latinos’ top priority is healthcare.
The study found that the top issue for young Latinos is universal healthcare followed by a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants. We are Texas attributes this to Latinos having the highest uninsured rate in Texas, with one in three Latinos lacking health insurance. In their interviews, many Latinos cited affordable healthcare as a basic need.
“Other countries have free healthcare and they’re doing great and we’re over here charging hundreds of dollars for medication that people can’t live without and I can’t believe that,” said 28-year-old David of Allen.
The second most important issue is immigration, which the study concluded is not surprising given that Texas has the second-largest undocumented population in the US.
Half of young Latinos are cynical about voting
The report found that half of young Latinos surveyed are cynical about voting, despite showing interest in learning more about the democratic process and expressing eagerness to vote. Respondents said they don’t trust politicians, they believe their vote doesn’t matter and that “people like me don’t have a say in what the government does.”
This cynicism about voting is fed by a lack of information or confidence to vote, lack of identifying with candidates, and feeling politically detached. We are Texas found that the high level of distrust of politicians was the same among engaged voters and disinterested non-voters, but that engaged voters were more likely to believe their vote could make a difference.
One-third don’t identify as Democrat or Republican
Latinos surveyed didn’t demonstrate strong party affiliation – 32 percent preferred the Democratic party, 13 percent were more drawn to the Republican party, and 34 percent did not know which party they affiliated with. Independents and those unsure of their party made up 50 percent of respondents. The study suggests this points to a critical opportunity for both parties to develop strategies to better interact and articulate where they stand on issues to Latino voters, and do more outreach overall, with the Latino community.
“Most Latinos in Texas will never be contacted by any candidate or campaign,” said Cristina Tzintzun Ramirez, founder and executive director of Jolt. “This lack of investment in Latino voters creates a cyclical problem. Latinos say they don’t vote because they don’t know who to vote for but candidates don’t talk to them because they have lower voter participation rates and so we go round and round.”
Latinos care about progressive issues
Other issues young Latinos care about fall in line with progressive priorities, such as legalizing marijuana, expanding gun control, canceling student debt, raising the minimum wage and protecting the environment. They are politically motivated by racial and ethnic equality and justice and economic prosperity. More than half said they would not vote for a candidate who made anti-Latino or anti-immigrant comments.
Females are more likely to vote
The study found that young Latinas are 25 percent more likely to vote than their male counterparts and 5 percent more likely to vote than other females. In the youngest cohort, those ages 18 to 24, only 27 percent of Latino men are registered to vote compared to 52 percent of their female counterparts.
“So much of that power lies with young people and young women in our community. We feel this report is a call to action,” Tzintzun Ramirez said.