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Will the end of Roe push young people to the polls in Texas?

Voting in Texas.JPG
Gabriel C. Pérez
/
KUT

Polling shows a majority of Americans aged 18 to 29 consider themselves “pro-choice.” But that age group historically has low voter turnout rates.

For young adults who have only known a world with abortion access, the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade last month marked a major shift, upending what seemed like a long-settled issue.

Polling shows a majority of young people favor abortion access in at least some circumstances, but will that be enough to get young adults – a notoriously unreliable voting bloc – to the polls?

Cayla Harris, an Austin bureau reporter for Hearst Newspapers, spoke with the Texas Standard about whether the Dobbs decision could help Texas Democrats in November.

This transcript has been edited lightly for clarity:

Texas Standard: You spoke with some young women at a recent abortion rights event in Austin. What are we hearing from them? 

Cayla Harris: Yeah, I mean, so this event was organized by a social media influencer, actually, who is in Austin. Her name is Jenna Palek, and she has about half a million followers on TikTok. And after the Dobbs ruling, when the Supreme Court sent the abortion issue back to the states, she decided to host this fundraising event, this voter registration event. And there were some 300 people there. So a lot of young women showed up.

They were expressing anger, frustration with the ruling. And many of them had just moved to Texas, to Austin, and didn’t know that they could register to vote here or wanted to for the first time. And there were about 70 or 72, I believe, the actual number was people who registered to vote that day. So there was a lot of excitement, energy, people who were really interested in getting politically involved even though they hadn’t before.

A question that a lot of people have been asking – a lot of researchers in particular – is how these expressions of frustration with what the court has done translate into actual votes. What does the polling say, not just about political attitudes among young Americans, but whether this will prompt them to actually turn out to the polls? 

Yeah, it’s a question mark, right? So we know that about 71% of young people across the country say that they are pro-choice over pro-life. It is still unclear if it will translate to votes in November. So we’re looking at what types of things motivate young people to go to the polls. And in 2020, like all other age groups, young people turned out in droves and there was a huge bump in turnout in 2020. But that said, Texas still has one of the lowest turnout rates in the country in a midterm election year, when turnout is typically lower than it is during a presidential election year. It’s even a bigger question mark – I keep using that term, but it’s true.

There’s a little bit of deja vu here: Every election we’ve heard from Texas Democrats that there is a sense of a wave coming, that Texas is on the precipice of turning purple. But as you were pointing out, Republicans consistently outperform. One question some have had is whether or not the Dobbs decision, in a sense, creates the perception of momentum on the right that could actually mobilize conservative voters. I mean, there’s already a strong showing expected for Republicans in this midterm election cycle. 

Yeah. Like you mentioned, it’s a little bit of a different issue for abortion, because it’s kind of different when you’re adding a right or you’re advocating for something or you’re hoping that a politician does something. But political experts were telling me that it’s an entirely different case when a right is taken away, as in the case of the Dobbs decision. And so that could be a motivator in and of itself.

But like you mentioned, there are a whole bunch of reasons why Republicans are expected to do well this fall. We have the economy and inflation and all of these typical political issues that you hear about ahead of an election, not to mention historically the first midterm election cycle after a new president is elected, the opposite party usually does pretty well. So all of those factors are working against Democrats in addition to all the usual problems they face.

It seems like the gubernatorial contest has narrowed considerably in the wake of the abortion decision and, of course, the shooting in Uvalde and some other events. Do Democrats seem to have a sense that they are, in fact, closing in on the Republican control of government in Texas? 

I think Democrats do have that sense to some degree. Like you mentioned, the Democrats always have this kind of hope that the bigger turnout will flip the state. But again, history shows us that that’s not always the case and that if they are going to win in November, they really need a concerted effort to turn out all kinds of voters, but especially young voters. So even though the polling is indicating a tightening race – not only in the race for governor, but also lieutenant governor and some other statewide races – it is still favoring Republicans. And that’s an important point to stress.