Voter turnout soars in 2018 Texas midterm election

Sami Sparber

At both county and state levels, this year’s voter turnout surpassed that of the 2014 and 2010 Texas midterms and came close to that of the 2016 presidential election.

In 2014, 41 percent of registered voters in Travis County cast ballots, up from almost 40 percent in 2010. This year, 61 percent of registered voters in Travis County cast ballots, not far from the 2016 election’s turnout of 65 percent. 

This year, 53 percent of registered Texans cast a ballot. This is 19 percentage points more than the last Texas midterms in 2014, and 15 more than in 2010. In the 2016 presidential elections, 59 percent of registered Texans voted.

The surge in turnout was largely due to Dem. Beto O’Rourke’s “spirited, though ultimately futile” campaign to become the next U.S. Senator from Texas, said Joshua Blank, manager of polling and research at UT’s Texas Politics Project.

“Unlike most Texas elections in which the outcome is predetermined in favor of Republican candidates, this time the outcome was far less certain, and more people took the opportunity to vote,” Blank said in an email.

Blank said the increase in turnout across the state likely reflects a changing political landscape.

“It’s hard not to look at the election results and determine that Texas has changed,” Blank said. “The Democratic candidate at the top of the ticket lost by 22 points in 2014, nine points in 2016 and somewhere between two and three points in 2018. Three makes a trend. And that trend points to more competitive elections from here on out — if Democrats continue to recruit quality candidates.”

First-time voter Sean Tucker said O’Rourke’s campaign motivated him to become civically engaged.

“There was so much on the line in this election,” said Tucker, a communication and leadership sophomore. “This was America’s first real chance to respond to the Trump presidency and how the 2016 election turned out, and I wanted to make sure my voice was heard.”

Although O’Rourke lost the U.S. Senate race, Tucker said he is not discouraged and will continue to be politically active.

But it’s tough to say whether Texas’ voter turnout will remain as high in future elections, Blank said.

“Handicapping turnout in the 2020 race is going to be challenging, but it’s hard to imagine voting (will) recede when so many people have taken the opportunity (to vote),” Blank said.

Maya Patel, interim president of TX Votes, spent months registering students to vote ahead of the November election. She said she is willing to put in the work to keep turnout rates up.

“We need to contact all those people again for the next election and say ‘Thanks for voting this time. Now we need you to vote again and keep voting,’” chemistry junior Patel said. “We need to figure out how we can build off the excitement from this election and create culture of civic engagement and voting.” 

Tucker said he anticipates young people, who now make up the largest bloc of registered voters in Travis County, to keep the ball rolling toward progress.

“Our generation has been impacted too greatly and is too woke to just sit quietly and not engage anymore,” Tucker said. “Change comes very slowly, but progress does come as long as you keep chopping away at it.”