AUSTIN (KXAN) — Nov. 8, 2022 was an important day for Ethan Scrimpsher. For the 21 year old, it would be the first time to vote. It was important to him. But he was the only one in his group of friends passionate enough to go to the polls.
“The perception of voting for this generation of young adults is split. We have people who are getting passionate…but then we have so much division that some just choose not to vote at all which is the bigger issue,” Scrimpsher said.
Who is a part of the youth vote? Some say it is people aged 18-24, while others say it ranges from 18-29. Regardless, the age margin is wide and turnout is low.
According to Derek Ryan Data and Research, youth voters made up 11% of all votes cast statewide in this year’s election – a decrease compared to past years.
“Younger voters did not show up,” Derek Ryan said.
State elections data shows people over 50 years old typically take the lead in the population that votes the most in the state. This year, the numbers show that lead grew, with voters over 50 making up an even larger percentage of the vote.
In preparation for the 2022 midterm election, a few campaigns targeted their messaging to focus on youth voters – a population that Democrats believed could have been their saving grace.
Campaigns such as Beto O’Rourke, who was challenging incumbent Gov. Greg Abbott, focused their messaging on youth voters. O’Rourke even held many of his rallies at college campuses — UT-Austin, Austin Community College, Huston-Tillotson University, Texas State University and 11 other campuses around Texas — to gain youth voter attention.
James Henson, the director of the Texas Politics Project at UT Austin, said young people are less likely to vote for a whole range of reasons.
“It’s fair to look at voting rules as part of the situation. But I do think that the social reasons that we’ve traditionally looked at, are probably the larger issue here,” Henson said. “Degree of investment engagement is a common one but… there’s no one thing and that’s why it’s also been a hard problem to solve.”
Celia Bilicki, a 20 year old who has never voted and did not vote in the 2022 midterm election, said politics is an overwhelming topic for her.
“I grew up in a family with lots of politically vocal people…it just really put me off from anything to do with politics,” Bilicki said.
Jacey May, a 21 year old who voted in the latest presidential election, now attends college out of state. She found that situation made it more difficult to vote.
“I was considering [voting] but since I am living out of state and I don’t know how to vote with the place I’m registered for I am not voting this term,” May said.
In Texas, a person may request an absentee ballot if they are out of the county on Election Day and during the period for early voting by personal appearance. This route requires more planning and awareness of deadlines — which can catch young voters by surprise.
In the 2020 presidential election, youth voters represented the smallest number of voters as a share of the voter population, by age in Texas. That percentage was even lower in 2022.
However, nationwide numbers show youth voter turnout in 2022 was higher than in previous elections. According to Circle at Tufts University, 27% of youth voters showed up to the polls.
Insight on youth voters and non-voters
Family was a common theme amongst both voters and non-voters.
Lillian Hodges, a 21-year-old political communication major at UT-Austin said, for her, voting and politics is a family experience.
“I also got to sit down with my mom. And we looked at the issues on our ballot together and looked at our local and statewide candidates together as well. And then we made a plan for how we were going to vote based on what was,” she said.
“I’m politically involved because of the way I was raised. I also just believe in general equality,” Scrimpsher said.
“Growing up, my parents never really talked about specific politics…I was never into actually voting until my brother’s current wife came into the family,” May said.
Other young adults cited social reasons as a big factor that influenced their decision in choosing to vote or not.
“I chose to vote because I think all the issues on the ballot are not only relevant to me and my future, but my community’s future, including our personal liberties…everything is relevant and something that we should be concerned about,” Lillian Hodges said.
One common problem for youth voters and non-voters said was accessibility. They are looking for an improvement in the process — education on mail-in ballots, how to register if they’re out of state. But also an improvement in accessibility on Election Day — conveniently located polling stations. All of which they believe will make the process of voting easier for young adults.
“I feel like it’s accessible. But I also feel like there could be more options,” Bilicki said.
Hodges believes that voting for her is accessible because she is “privileged” but acknowledges that others don’t have that luxury.
“I’m personally able to get to the polls whenever I need to and wherever I need to. But I can say with confidence that it is not as accessible as it should be for people, especially on college campuses,” Hodges said. “They’ve [UT-Austin] taken away one of our most easily accessible voting locations on campus and moved it further outside of where most students have class.
The perception of voting among the youth population appears to be mixed – a possible suggestion why voter turnout has historically been low.
“For people my age, you are either really passionate about voting or you’re not.” Bilicki said. “I feel like some of us are really strong and vocal about our opinions, and some of us are still kind of finding our way.”
“Most people don’t care to vote outside of presidential elections,” Andrew Kurz said, a 21-year-old student at Texas State University.
Regardless of voter participation, the youth population has many areas that they are passionate about.
“I’m passionate about reproductive rights. I’m passionate about expanding Medicaid and healthcare for all. I’m passionate about the electric grid and the energy grid in Texas making sure that Texans stay safe during the winter months. I’m passionate about climate change the most and expanding renewable energy efforts so that we can all enjoy cleaner air cleaner space, a cleaner world, and a cleaner and better Texas.” Hodges said.
“I’m passionate about environmental protection, legal abortions, increase tax on the rich, legal marijuana, semi-open borders,” Scrimpsher said.
“Nature, especially. And I know that climate change has been a huge topic that honestly, I don’t think has gotten where it should be. And I’m passionate about education, but I think politically-wise education is doing pretty well,” May said.