Will young, first-time voters make turnout history Nov. 6?

Youth voter registration is up in Texas

The 65 and over demographic has historically shaped politics in Texas, that could change this year as voter registration among a younger age group has increased.
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The 65 and over demographic has historically shaped politics in Texas, that could change this year as voter registration among a younger age group has increased.

Immigration, higher education and race relations are among top issues on the minds of some Tarrant County high school seniors — including first-time voters planning to cast ballots Nov. 6, according to a Star-Telegram survey of 310 students ages 17 and 18.

The survey, conducted from September through early voting, included students from several Tarrant-area school districts, including Fort Worth, Keller, Northwest and Southlake Carroll.

The largest response came from Fort Worth’s South Hills High School while the second and third highest campuses to respond were Fort Worth North Side and Keller Timber Creek.

Because the survey was of high school seniors, not all of the respondents were 18 — the age when people can start voting. About 26.6 percent said they planned to vote in the midterms.

The survey didn’t ask participants about their political leanings, just which issues motivated them to head to the polls. The top five issues for first-time voters are immigration, higher education, race relations, gun reform/school safety and access to healthcare.

“Younger voters prioritize issues that are personal to them,” said Brandon Rottinghaus, a political science professor at the University of Houston. “Young voters care about issues they see around them and that directly affect their families.”

Rottinghaus said the issues Tarrant County youth listed largely match the headlines — immigration and gun control — but are tailored to these students’ unique experiences with the issues.

These issues are also the focus of much political debate and rhetoric this election cycle.

“This midterm has seen a greater degree of interest among young voters because politicians in both parties are talking more about the issues involving young voters,” Rottinghaus said.

Politically active teens

Rottinghaus said the youngest voters or near voters are “wedged between voting for their present and their future. “ These young people care about gun violence in schools in the present and higher education when they graduate, he explained, adding some are starting to pay attention to issues that affect their families. That means as parents and grandparents age, healthcare becomes another concern, he said.

After the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting in Florida, students mobilized across the country, including Tarrant County. The voiced their worries about school safety, participated in marches and walked off campus to remember victims of past school massacres.

Many promised to stay politically active and those turning 18 said they planned to vote. In recent weeks, young voters are being reminded to vote by young leaders in the March For Our Lives movement.

On Twitter and via text messages, young people are being reminded to vote. There is also a “Walkout to Vote” campaign urging young people to vote on Tuesday.

“We’re on the road rallying voters so Tuesday’s election has the largest youth voter turnout ever, and we need YOU to help us do it! This is our chance to make history,” reads a text message from Jaclyn Corin, a survivor from the Parkland school shooting and co-founder of March For Our Lives.

Emma Gonzalez, another activist and Parkland survivor is reminding young voters to show up to the polls on Nov. 6.

“I have already voted in this 2018 midterm election and the reason that you should is because there are a lot of things that matter in this country and you can’t have a say in any of them if you don’t vote,” Gonzalez told voters in a text from March For Our Lives.

Young voices

The respondents to the Star-Telegram survey, most of whom get their news from social media, appear to understand their importance to the political system.

“As the famous Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. once said, ‘Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere,’ therefore the right to vote is of utmost importance to the American nation as a way to provide a cure to the ailment that is ever growing,” said one student surveyed.

The respondents also reflect the nation’s current political climate.

When asked to cite the most important issue, one student stated : “Support for the police. For every instance of police brutality, there are thousands of honorable officers enforcing the law responsibly.”

The tenor of the national political scene also crept into responses. One student listed, “Trump” as a most important issue. While another one said: “Keep Texas Red.”

On television pundits wonder if young voters will help usher a so-called blue wave for Democrats or hold a red wall for the GOP. In news reports, early votes are analyzed in search for voting records.

Miguel Argumedo, 17, a senior at Fort Worth’s Paschal High School, said if he could vote he, too, would be focused on immigration and education — issues that are important to the Latino community at his school.

Asked if he hears 17-year-olds saying they wish they could vote, Argumedo said: “I’m hearing 15, 16 and 17.”

Rottinghaus said political parties, organized groups, and candidates are investing in young voters early with their eye on future support.

“The earlier voters get involved in the system the earlier they will vote,” he said. “This early connection to the system pays off in decades of participation.”

Richland and Colleyville Heritage high school students participate in the student-led national school walkout on Friday.