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Race and Income Influence Who Votes in Texas

AUSTIN Texas — More than 17 percent of the people who register to vote never make it to the ballot box, and according to new research, these people tend to be poor or uneducated. Research also suggests, however, that more of these people would vote if officials made it more convenient.

The most basic duty of any candidate is to get supporters to the polls, and researchers at Austin Community College and Texas State University dug into 2008 voter data to better understand the people who register but don’t vote.

“We wanted to show the folks that are (trying to get out the vote) a scientific study of who isn’t voting,” explained Peck Young, director of the Center for Public Policy and Political Studies, which sponsored the study. “If you just take the people who didn’t vote in 2008, but were registered, they could change the outcome of the state.”

The 2.3 million non-voters in Texas broke down as 34 percent Hispanic, 5 percent African-American and 61 percent everyone else. The first surprise of the study was that neither gender nor the length of time someone has been registered influence whether someone made it to the polls.

The statistics also showed that Hispanics remain disproportionately more unlikely to cast a ballot than other groups. Assistant Professor Blake Farrar at Austin Community College and Texas State University Professor Hyun Jung Yun found that Hispanics between 35-44 years old were staying away at much higher rates than other groups, an indication that they have difficulty taking time off from work. Young Hispanics, between 18-44 years old, also voted in much lower numbers than other ethnic groups.

The study, though commonly performed by political consultants in secret, was the first of its kind performed statewide by political scientists. Campaigns use this kind of analysis to strategize how to win elections.

“There is a pattern that would tend to indicate that, especially when you look at African-Americans and Hispanics, there is a tendency to think they’ll be Democrat,” Young explained. “The overwhelming number of them are Anglo, and there is no guarantee they will swing the state over to the Democratic Party … and you’ve got to believe that because some of them have never voted before, they’re simply independents.”

Young has worked on political campaigns and voter turnout efforts for 40 years, mostly for Democrats. He explained that many people feel a duty to register to vote, but not necessarily an obligation to cast a ballot. Some don’t care about politics, others don’t like the candidates, but he said many face other barriers.

“The way you get new voters to participate is that you make it easier,” Young said. “The fundamental reason a lot of these people don’t vote has to do with economics. When you’re a breadwinner, but you’re winning your bread by working long hours and at maybe more than one job, you need a window of opportunity.”

Early voting in Texas is open from Oct. 22-Nov. 2, with polls open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. That time period is shorter than other states, some of which allow early voting a month ahead of the Nov. 6 election day.

Previous studies have shown education as the number one indicator of whether someone is likely to vote. Peck adds that life experience also plays a role, with older people more likely to cast ballots. Convincing younger, uneducated people to vote has always proven difficult, he added.

“They wouldn’t be non-voters if it was easy,” Young added.

More than 13.1 million Texans had registered to vote by July 1, and that number is likely to grow to more than 13.5 million. That’s 71 percent of the voting age population of 18.2 million people. If 2008 is any indication, only 8 million Texans will decide who wins the election in November.

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