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Many Millennial And Gen Z Texans Say They Didn't Hear From A Campaign Ahead Of The Primaries

Salvador Castro for KUT
Voters line up to cast ballots on the UT Austin campus during early voting in the 2018 midterms.

Voters under 40 have been largely ignored during the lead up to this year’s presidential primaries, according to a new poll released by the Tisch College of Civic Life at Tufts University.

Sixty-six percent of Millennial and Gen Zer Texans (ages 18-39) polled by researchers between Jan. 13 and Jan. 27 said they had not been contacted by any political campaign.

“Barely one in three (34%) Texans under age 40 have been contacted by campaigns or parties, which is roughly half of what we saw among youth (ages 18-29) in Iowa,” researchers wrote. “That means two-thirds of Millennial and Gen Z Texans have never been contacted by a campaign during the past six months.”

Outreach was particularly poor toward Latinos. About 75% of Latinos under 40 reported that they had not heard from a campaign, compared to 60% of Texans who are white.

“That’s a really low number,” said Kei Kawashima-Ginsberg, the director of the Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement at Tufts. “But young people tend to be really neglected in primaries and off-year elections and special elections because they lack the voter history.”

"Not only is this not making an investment in the future of our democracy, in the future of our elections; this is a really poor way to win in an election. You cannot win without young people in this state."

Kawashima-Ginsberg said campaigns typically spend money on reaching out to voters who have voted “multiple times” at that point, which makes younger voters less of a priority. Ideally, she said, campaigns would change their strategy.

“I really wish that campaigns would think about what these young people can do – not just what they have done as voters before,” she said. “I know really it’s difficult to consider future behavior … but it’s the future of your state.”

Organizations working to get young people civically engaged in Texas say they're frustrated.

“We are incredibly disappointed to see that the vast majority of young voters in the state have not been engaged by either political party or any candidates,” Charlie Bonner, communications director for the nonprofit MOVE Texas, said.

Bonner said it is “really insulting to young people” – and especially young people of color who account for most of the state’s younger populations – that so little money has been spent on them. It's also a missed opportunity for campaigns, he said.

“Not only is this not making an investment in the future of our democracy, in the future of our elections,” Bonner said, “this is a really poor way to win in an election. You cannot win without young people in this state.”

Campaigns, historically, have also played an important role in educating the public about basic election information – including where and when to vote.

This is particularly important during primary elections, because ballots are divided by political party – which can be confusing to new voters. Even though Texas has open primaries that allow voters to choose a party ballot at their polling place, two-thirds of Latinos under 40 said they “either think they have to be registered with a party to vote in the primary or said they don’t know either way.”

“Among all respondents, Latinos were more likely to say they didn’t know (40%) than non-Latinos (27%),” the poll found.

“There is a huge information gap that we see with young voters, many of whom are voting for the very first time,” Bonner said. “Campaigns and the parties have the largest infrastructure to inform young people and all voters about that critical election information."

Kawashima-Ginsberg said part of the reason her group wanted to poll Millennials and Gen Zers in Texas is because of the surge in turnout among young voters during the 2018 election. During that election, there were three times as many voters under 30 in Texas compared to the previous midterm election.

“A lot of places and organizations worked really to mobilize young people there,” Kawashima-Ginsberg said. “So we knew there would be really big potential for Texas’ young people to show up to vote in the primaries, as well as the general [election] in 2020.”

Researchers found that despite the lack of direct engagement, many voters under 40 are still planning to vote.

Researchers found “39% of Texans, ages 18-39, say they are 'extremely likely' to cast ballots in one of the March 3rd presidential primaries, including 43% of Whites and 38% of Latinos" in that age group.”

Kawashima-Ginsberg said there is “no indication” that these voters are less likely to vote than the general voting population.

“It’s just a missed opportunity right now,” she said.

In response to the poll, MOVE Texas, Jolt, Texas Rising Action and Texas Youth Rise posted an open letter to the Democratic presidential candidates, warning them not to take the youth vote for granted.

"You are doing a disservice to your candidacies by not putting resources behind getting out the youth vote. More importantly, you are showing a contemptuous disregard for the power of our voices. The young people of Texas deserve better," they wrote.

This post has been updated. 

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Ashley Lopez covers politics and health care. Got a tip? Email her at Follow her on Twitter @AshLopezRadio.
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