Analysis: Millennial Texans Might Be Louder, but They’re Not Voting

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Waylon Cunningham for the Texas Tribune

Younger Texans aren’t voting, and it’s particularly bad in the Texas GOP.

Derek Ryan, a young Texas voter who also happens to be a political consultant, is finally starting to see some of his peers talking and posting about politics and showing up on lists of voters. It’s taken long enough: He’s in his early 40s.

He also has crunched the numbers, finding that his anecdotal experience is not anecdotal at all. Younger Texans aren’t voting, and it’s particularly bad in Ryan’s own party, the Texas GOP.

In the 2018 Republican primary in March, voters over the age of 70 outnumbered voters under the age of 50. More than three-quarters of the voters were 50 or older, Ryan found in his analysis of voter turnout.

In this year’s Democratic primary, grandchildren outnumbered grandparents, with voters under the age of 40 outnumbering those over the age of 70. Even so, more than 60 percent of the Texans who voted in the Democratic primary this year were over the age of 50.

Ryan said the poor turnout of Texans under 40 means those voters are handing control to older Texans. “In many parts of the state, primaries are where the real elections are held,” he said.

In the primaries, the average Democratic voter was 54.5 years old. In GOP primaries, the average age was 60.1.

Democrats had a good year in terms of turnout, relatively speaking. They were outnumbered three-to-two by Republicans, but that was an improvement over recent elections. Democrats doubled their 2014 primary turnout this year, despite remaining a smaller party than the GOP.

They’re also the younger of the two parties by a good margin. While only 11 percent of the GOP’s primary voters were under the age of 40, that group made up 23 percent of Democratic voters. In sheer numbers, it’s a bit closer, with the Democrats still ahead: 257,917 Democrats under age 40 showed up for the primaries, while 179,113 Republicans in the same age group voted.

Baby boomers ruled the day in both parties. Among Republicans, voters between the ages of 50 and 70 made up 47 percent of the turnout; among Democrats, they accounted for 41 percent. Add in another decade, including everyone from age 50 to age 80, and you’ve accounted for 68 percent of Republican voters and 56 percent of the Democrats.

“In baseball terms, they’ve got a farm system in place, to replace the older voters in their party as they pass along,” Ryan says of the Democrats. “On the Republican side, there’s a significant amount of work to be done.”

In general elections, the age gap – though not identifiable by party – persists. In 2016, more than half of the general election voters in Texas – 56 percent – were between the ages of 40 and 70. Voters under 40 made up 29 percent of that electorate., while voters over 70 years of age accounted for just over 14 percent, by Ryan’s reckoning. That last number is slightly larger than the proportion of voters under 30.

In general elections, the biggest single chunk of voters — Ryan has them sorted into decade-sized groups — was voters in their 50s, followed by 60-somethings, 40-somethings, 30s, 20s, 70s and 80s. Voters in their teens outnumbered voters in their 90s by a four-to-one margin, giving the youngest voters their one victory in this turnout derby.

If you’re looking for signs of enthusiasm, the growth in this year’s primary turnout offers mixed signals at best. Nearly 27 percent of this year’s Democratic primary voters didn’t vote in the four previous primary elections. In the GOP, 14 percent were new to the March contests.

But they were voters — just not in primaries. Just over 5 percent of the voters on the Democratic side hadn’t voted in any primary or general elections starting sincein 2010; fewer than 3 percent of the Republican primary voters were first-timers.

It’s not just that voter turnout in Texas is anemic. To a great extent, Texans cede their political choices to their elders.


5 thoughts on “Analysis: Millennial Texans Might Be Louder, but They’re Not Voting

  1. I’ll vote when you old people start making more sense thank you very much.

    To this day I have yet to see one of you up on stage without the utter rank of mendacity.

  2. Richard, have you been paying attention to Beto O’Rourke’s campaign? No mendacity there. What about Andrew White?
    Or are you applying “mendacity” to the current officer holders only (Trump, Cruz, G. Abbott, D. Patrick)? Their mendacity is EXACTLY the reason to vote, even if it just means voting scoundrels out.
    As for “you old people up on stage,” I think if you look at the candidates on the current run-off ballot (and who will hopefully be on the Nov. ballot), you will see a good number of people who would hardly be considered old.
    I am reminded that during the 2016 pres. campaign, I recall a good number of younger people (I’m 70) telling me that they weren’t going to vote because they didn’t like any of the candidates. I told them that whoever becomes the next president will not affect my life that directly as I’ll be dead before the true crap hits the fan, but the younger folks will be in the prime of life. Good luck with that, kiddies!

    • Mark,
      My commentary was reactionary to the title of the article. I can’t argue with the facts about low turnout of my generation. They are what they are. However I would like to comment on the constant patronizing attitude of media towards my generation. It was also typed with a big gleam in my eye, which I wish I could transform into words.

      I notice my generation is usually referred to in media as “loud, privileged, lazy, spoiled, ADD” and the word “millenial” has become ripe with negative connotation much like the phrase “you old people”. I didn’t have a choice about when or where I was born, but I do have a choice about who I vote for, and if I vote. Perhaps the reason I don’t vote is become I haven’t found someone that I like to support yet. On the national stage, I see identity politics. On the local stage, I smell the same!

      My reference to “mendacity” was a favorite phrase of Big Daddy in the 1958 movie ‘Cat On A Hot Tin Roof’. I use it here because Big Daddy’s speech represents a lot of what you hear from the older generation when speaking to the younger generation, and in this case I thought it funny to adopt the term in order lecture back towards the other direction.

      To vote the lesser of two evils is not good enough for me.

  3. Thanks for your thoughtful reply, Richard.
    Just as you point out that your generation is painted with a negative brush, we boomers have not been exempt from counterpart stereotypical insults. And both generations no doubt have representatives that span the spectrum from liberal to right wing, from brilliant to stupid, from generous to wildly selfish, from….well, I think you get my point.
    However, I do still take issue with your refusal to vote because of the caliber of the candidates. On any ballot, you are not required to vote in all the contests; you can vote for races/issues that you choose. I encourage you to examine your sample ballot at each election, do some homework (e.g., League of Women Voters) and I would hope there would be at least one race or one issue that inspires you to support with your vote. I have a time or two left an race blank when I didn’t know either of the candidates’ qualifications or couldn’t decide.
    Let me know if you do feel inspired to vote sometime. I’ll meet you at an early voting site (there are many — open nights & weekends — Bexar County has a stellar early voting program!) and would like to treat you to a drink aftewards (I’d love to have one of those stereotyped snazzy craft cocktails with you). Bring some friends to the voting party and I’ll buy them drinks as well. Seriously.

    • I can see your point of view, especially about the multiple issues on the ballot worthy of further examination and due diligence. I take in what I can everyday of the news both local and international, sometimes my head hurts by 6pm and I start to realize I’m already behind the times.
      As I’ve tried to educate myself in the world of politics, for me starting at the international, and national level was easier…Rivard Report has really brought me into the world of local politics…and I am thankful for that. I will continue to keep digging.
      I have a feeling that I will vote locally and nationally in the future, but that when I do, my choice will be grounded in years of my own research, thinking about and chewing on big issues, really getting behind someone I like, and will be the most responsible choice I can make. It’s okay with me if people take issue with that. It is after all their freedom to do so. Maybe some people take issue with my time line simply because they don’t like that I do have a choice not to choose. Maybe ironically freedom to choose not to choose bothers a lot of people. I will still focus on the decision to make a quality choice and not just a choice. My instincts agree with this line of thinking. After all, that is how I arrived at my beautiful wife.
      I’ll take you up on that offer. Sounds like a great treat after that line! I don’t promise to tick all the boxes but I promise to show up and go through everything, rather than disregarding all of it. I’ll buy the second round!

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