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Money, Marriage and a Mortgage: The Formula For More Voters

KUT News

Could you create a mathematical formula to increase voter turnout?

The idea may sound far-fetched. But Travis County clerk Dana DeBeauvoir has an idea on what it might look like.

“It has to do with how well each voter is connected to their local community,” DeBeauvoir tells KUT News. “For example: Do you own a house? That’s a point. Do you have children in school? That’s a point. All of those add up.  And it turns out that people that have the most points of connection with their community are the people who vote.”

DeBeauvoir notes those variables are “roughly all about how old you are. It takes a while to get connected.” And those factors may have a lot to do with why young Texans are sitting out elections.

The 2008 Presidential election – and then-candidate Barack Obama was – was thought to swell the youth vote. And young voters showed up in significant numbers, particularly among African-American females. But the Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement, which studies civic engagement among the young, writes that out of the 41 million 18 to 29 year-olds eligible voters in 2008, barely over half (51.1 percent) voted.

Predicting a dearth of young voters this election compared to 2008, political journal The New Republic  offers a suggestion that’s similar to DeBeauvoir’s: “the most likely answer is that young adults do not vote because many are still – in a sense – children, without adult commitments or responsibilities:”

The data suggest that three factors consistently make a difference in voting rates: money, marriage, and homeownership. Those are the adult commitments that give people a stake in society; to protect and expand their stake, they vote.

The New Republic goes on to argue that the Great Recession has taken a big bite out of all three metrics: a loss of economic security has lead in turn to declining marriage and homeownership rates among young citizens.

Aside from economic factors, maybe a process of maturation is required.

Elizabeth is a 22-year-old mother of three. She didn’t share her last name with KUT News, because of her personal relationship to an issue that driving her to the polls this November: immigration, as her husband is an undocumented immigrant.

“I’m a Hispanic American,” Elizabeth says. “I do have my papers here, but I’m married to a guy who doesn’t, so it concerns me a lot. That’s one of my interests for why I’m voting – because of the fact of immigrants. That’s one of my prime reasons for voting.”

“I’ve been registered to vote since 18, and honestly, I haven’t voted,” Elizabeth adds. “I wasn’t really interested at that time. Now that I’m older, 22, I’m more into it than I was younger.”

KUT News, KLRU and the Annette Strauss Institute for Civic Life are raising awareness in Central Texas about low rates of civic participation and the impact on democracy. Join us tomorrow, Tuesday, Oct. 2, 2012, for “Why Bother? Voices of a New Generation,”  a conversation with young Texans — those who are engaged and those who aren't — about the causes of low civic participation and how to boost it. You can RSVP for the event here.

Why are young Texans increasingly tuning out of the political process? Leave a comment below, or join the conversation on Twitter using hashtag #whybothertexas.

Wells has been a part of KUT News since 2012, when he was hired as the station's first online reporter. He's currently the social media host and producer for Texas Standard, KUT's flagship news program. In between those gigs, he served as online editor for KUT, covering news in Austin, Central Texas and beyond.
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