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Politics

Today's Youth Vote Is Tomorrow's Latino Vote

Four young women in Quinceñera dresses pose at the Texas Capitol.
Jorge Sanhueza-Lyon
/
KUT
Wearing Quinceañera dresses, Leslie Abraham, Alexandra Lopez, Julia Pierce and Isabela Pierce pose for a photo while visiting legislators at the Texas Capitol ahead of a vote on an immigration bill in 2017.

The overwhelming number of young Texans who voted during the 2020 presidential election has put the Lone Star State in the national spotlight. Because even before Election Day, 1 million young people had already voted.

Analysts were surprised. But activists weren’t, because their organizations had spent years and several million dollars mobilizing young people between the ages of 18 and 30 to go to the polls.

In Texas, the majority of the youth vote is made up of Latino and Latina kids.

Some groups, though active in the community, were subdued in their voter registration approach. JOLT Action, an Austin-based organization dedicated to engaging Latinx voters, by contrast, was over-the-top. You may remember their 2017 Quinceañera protest at the state capitol, and for inspiring young Latinas to turn their coming-of-age 15th birthday parties into voter registration rallies.

But organized efforts were not the only catalyst that mobilized young Texas voters to go to the polls. This summer’s marches for racial justice were another motivating factor.

Twenty-two-year-old Jessy Esquivel from Austin joined many of the marches because she personally knows people who have been hurt by police brutality. Marching is one way she made her voice heard. Voting is another. She even recruited friends and family to vote with her.

“They’re all around the same age as me,” she said.

Some are a little older. But none had voted before.

Esquivel, like the majority of the young people who voted in Texas, leans liberal.

The Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement at Tufts University's Tisch College estimates 62% of the youth vote in Texas went to Joe Biden.

But like any other category of voters, the “youth vote” is full of nuance.

Take Aaron Cervantez from San Juan, Texas. He leans conservative. But he's pro-choice even as he works for the largest Catholic church in San Juan.

Unlike other conservatives, Cervantez is not worried about the economy. Since he lives near the U.S.-Mexico border, his number one motivator is immigration. He says the country needs a “fair” system. And, he adds, “I’m a big supporter of the Dreamers.”

He’s not the only one. Whether conservative or liberal, young Latino and Latina voters in Texas are often the children or grandchildren of immigrants, and how immigrants are treated matters to them.

Jessy Esquivel says another issue at the top of her list is the environment. It’s a topic she and her friends are constantly researching.

“Now that we know about [global warming], we’re not gonna let someone discredit what we’ve learned,” she said. “We don’t want to see our world die within our time here.”

Beyond immigration and the environment, rhetoric, is at the top of the list of topics Stephanie Frescas Macías cares about, especially after the 2019 racially motivated shooting at a Walmart in her hometown of El Paso, where 46 people were injured or killed.

“I definitely saw how rhetoric can have really concrete [and] harmful consequences,” she said.

She saw that in the manifesto the El Paso killer left.

A final motivator for these young voters, regardless of party affiliation, is health care.

Since the election, much has been said about the youth vote in Texas. But there are a couple of things to keep in mind. For one, the youth vote in Texas is mostly Latinx, and aging. Will political parties and organizations pursue them with the same zeal when they are no longer “the youth vote” and simply join the ranks of “the Latino vote?” Secondly, the next cohort of young Texas voters is even bigger than the last one – one in every 10 kids in the nation lives here.

It begs the question: will current efforts to get the new kids to the polls keep up?