AUSTIN (Nexstar) — Democratic gubernatorial candidate Beto O’Rourke continued his college-campus tour on Wednesday in Central Texas, hoping young voters will turnout and bring him votes needed to win in the November election.
O’Rourke courted college students at Austin Community College, Huston-Tillotson University and Texas State University in a swing of campaign rallies Wednesday. It’s part of the Democrat’s college tour that kicked off at UT-Austin last Monday, swinging through more than 15 campuses across the state.
When broken up by age groups, voters ages 18 through 24 represented the smallest share of voters who turned out in the 2020 presidential election.
“There’s a lot of effort being made to try to increase their likelihood of voting in general,” said Emily Syndor, associate professor of politics at Southwestern University. “In part, because it sort of sets civic habits early, it encourages them to vote in later elections.”
During the March primaries this year, the average age of voters in the Texas Republican Primary was 63 years old. Average Democratic primary voters that year were 60 years old, according to data from Ryan Data & Research — a Texas-based election research group.
Syndor said there are a lot of nuanced reasons why younger voters — specifically college-aged ones — don’t show up in the same numbers as older populations. And no, it’s not laziness, she said.
“You’ve got a whole set of people who’ve moved sometimes across the state or across the country for the first time. They’re learning how to vote in a place that is not necessarily where they first registered,” she said. “From that perspective, it’s just about learning what it is they need to do and how to do it.”
O’Rourke’s stump speeches Wednesday were thematically similar to those tailored toward more general audiences, but his remarks on campuses honed in closely on two issues more than others: gun violence and reproductive rights.
Hannah Foshe, a recent college graduate who attended O’Rourke’s stop at ACC, said women’s rights are top of her mind ahead of the election.
“It’s hard being a woman in this country. I mean, it is. And being an age where you want to start a family, and you want to do these things, it’s scary,” she said in tears.
Gov. Greg Abbott has not announced any such similar campaign tours targeting college-aged voters. While O’Rourke promised young crowds in Austin that together they can be the change — the incumbent stuck to talking points that led him to victory on the last two cycles, touting successes at a business roundtable in Tyler, Texas.
“Every year that I’ve been governor, Texas has been ranked the number one state by CEOs as the best state to do business,” Abbott said. “I am running for re-election to keep those hard working jobs alive and well in the great state of Texas.”
While Smith County — where the governor spoke — historically leans red, Abbott carved out plenty of time in his remarks to attack his opponent.
“I need to point out to Texans what we’ve accomplished for them by making Texas number one for business, by having added more jobs than any other state in the country over the past four years,” the Republican incumbent said. “That could all be destroyed if someone gets into office that would destroy the policies that have made Texas number one for business.”
Back at O’Rourke’s events, volunteers armed with clipboards full of state voter registration documents shouted, “are you registered to vote? is your address updated?” at students and those passing by. One volunteer said she’s registered hundreds of voters from that effort alone. The question is if they will actually show up and vote.
“I think it has a lot of potential to yield good results,” Syndor said. “Looking to untapped banks of voters is one way to then get more people to vote for you.”