Are polls for the upcoming election missing student voters?

Chad Lyle

Incumbent Republican Ted Cruz is leading opponent Beto O’Rourke by 5.5 points, according to the polling aggregation website FiveThirtyEight, but these polls may not be representative of the wave of voters between ages 18 and 25 that could largely benefit O’Rourke.

Maya Patel, interim president of TX Votes, said the common use of a “likely voter” score by polling firms could lead to results that exclude young voters such as students. Likely voter scores predict the likelihood that a given registered voter will show up on election day.

“A lot of political best-practice is to focus hard on the likely voter score,” chemistry junior Patel said. “If you’ve never voted before, or you never bothered to register to vote, or you’re simply a new voter and there’s no data on you, you’re not going to have one of these scores or you’re going to be considered a very unlikely voter.”

Of the 34 polls FiveThirtyEight is using to estimate the outcome of the Texas Senate race, 23 were based on the responses of “likely voters.” It’s a category defined differently by each polling firm, but often factors in the voting history of participants. Participants may also be asked questions about their willingness to vote and whether they have closely followed election news.

Victoria DeFrancesco Soto, a lecturer at the Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs, said she believes students and young voters are probably being overlooked in midterm polling based on likely voters.

“In highly motivated elections like this one where you see new voters come into the fold … the likely voter polls miss them because they don’t have a history of voting either in recent elections if they’ve been registered, or if they’re brand new voters,” DeFrancesco Soto said.

Last Friday, Bruce Elfant, Travis County tax assessor-collector, announced 18- to 35-year-olds are now the largest bloc of registered voters in Travis County. Susan Nold, director of the Annette Strauss Institute for Civic Life, said she believes younger voters are becoming more politically engaged and will show up in greater numbers this election.

“Politics is on the front of our minds right now, and that’s not always the case in a midterm election,” Nold said. “We’ve seen over the last couple years a surge in political interest among young people around particular issues. There’s a lot going on in national politics — and even at the state and local level — that’s drawing people to be interested and engaged and to want to weigh in.”

DeFrancesco Soto said she thinks an increase in participation by young voters will cause the predictions of many polls to be incorrect.

“We’re not going to know until election day, but my hunch is that there is a lot of enthusiasm in this election that is pulling in new voters,” DeFrancesco Soto said. “I personally think we’re seeing some of that with the Beto election. The likely voter model tends to work, but in exceptional circumstances — and I think we’re living in exceptional times — it doesn’t do as good of a job as it could.”