Oct 28, 2021 - Politics

Democrats aim to court young voters to turn Texas blue

A high school student registers to vote in a high school in Austin.

A voter registration drive for new 18-year-old voters in Austin. Photo: Robert Daemmrich Photography Inc/Corbis via Getty Images

Democrats keen on turning Texas blue are spending money on registering young voters and persuading them to get out to the polls.

Driving the news: NextGen America is spending nearly $16 million in the state over the next two years to register under-35-year-olds and urge them to vote, Cristina Tzintzún Ramirez, the Austin-based executive director of the progressive organization, tells Axios.

By the numbers: NextGen calculates there are 2.5 million progressive-minded eligible voters in Texas ages 18-35.

  • The group aims to register 150,000 of them ahead of the 2022 race and another 350,000 by 2024's general election.
  • Much of the money comes from Tom Steyer, the hedge fund manager and environmentalist who ran for president in 2020, and the rest is from other big donors.

Turnout among eligible young voters in Texas in 2020 was 41% — trailing the national youth turnout of 50%, per data from Tufts University, suggesting lots of low-hanging fruit for a get-out-the-vote effort.

  • Texas is third only to Utah and Alaska as the youngest states in the United States.

Yes, but: The youth vote (18-29 year olds) has long been the holy grail of Democratic politics, and with some exceptions, turnout has often been a disappointment.

What they're saying: "To prove the power of young voters to tackle the biggest issues — climate change or income inequality or the decline in democracy — there's no better place to do that than in Texas," Tzintzún Ramirez says.

The strategy: Beyond standard college-voting booths, use under-tapped technology, from dating to gaming apps, to pull in young progressives.

  • Also, community engagement — such as reaching young Black and Hispanic mothers at splash pads and soccer games — is important, she says.

The other side: ​​Republicans aren't resting on their laurels.

  • Macarena Martinez, an Austin-based spokesperson for the Republican National Committee, said the GOP is trying to draw in young minority voters with movie nights and faith nights in McAllen, Laredo, San Antonio and other cities.

In NextGen's favor: Demographic change.

  • Texas added some 4 million people in the last decade, 95% of them people of color, per U.S. Census data.

Tzintzún Ramirez has her work cut out for her.

  • Democrats haven't won a statewide race in Texas since 1994.
  • The last Democratic presidential candidate to carry the state was Jimmy Carter in 1976.
  • In 2020, Texas Democrats were crushed in the U.S. Senate and other down ballot statewide races.
  • And with the just-completed gerrymander of U.S. Congressional districts, Tzintzún Ramirez all but acknowledged that flipping congressional seats is dead in the water.

"We will have 10 years of difficult maps," she tells Axios. "I believe we will take statewide power before we're able to take districts rigged by Republicans."

The big picture: While engaging likely progressive young voters will help Democrats' competitive chances, they "shouldn't assume any sort of demographic group is locked up," James Nelson, associate professor of political science at Lamar University in Beaumont, tells Axios.


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