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Texas midterm election results aren't surprising and here's why

An election official checks a voter's photo identification at an early-voting polling site in Austin, Texas.
Eric Gay
/
AP
An election official checks a voter's photo identification at an early-voting polling site in Austin, Texas.

Republicans once again won top statewide seats in Tuesday's midterm election. That includes Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, who will serve a third term after defeating Democratic challenger Beto O'Rourke.

KERA spoke with Brandon Rottinghaus, a political science professor at the University of Houston, about what may have motivated voters and why so many don't end up voting.

Were the elections results what you expected?

  • The governor’s race is one of the most polarizing races in Texas political history. It’s one of the most expensive we’ve seen, but the outcome is the same. Republicans won and Democrats are still struggling to find a way to be able to get a statewide win for the first time since 1994.

Why has it been so hard for Democrats to defeat Abbott and Republicans?

  • Defeating an incumbent Republican in Texas is really a challenge. That’s especially true if you don’t have enough money raised and you haven’t laid the groundwork for a solid turnout game the way that the Republicans have done over the years.
  • O’Rourke found himself running into massive headwinds that were from effectively the Democrats in Washington, who presented themselves as maybe too liberal for the rest of the country, especially for Texas, and were not able to successfully challenge people’s perception that their Democrats couldn’t handle the economy.

On the impact of the Uvalde school shooting:

  • Most polls show that Texans are in favor of the kind of gun control Beto O’Rourke is talking about, but most voters weren’t as concerned about that issue as they were about the economy or about border security.
  • In a moment where people are really economically vulnerable, they do tend to be more worried about immigration and border security issues. Those things just took priority over the other issues.

On voter turnout:

  • Texas has always been a state that’s been hard to get people to come vote in midterm elections, primarily because most of the politics are driven by what happens nationally, and people aren’t as attentive to what’s going on in state politics. That divide, I think, creates this gap between people’s desire to go vote for state officials and their understanding of what’s happening at the national level.
  • It’s hard to get people to vote in a non-presidential year because people aren’t as attentive to all of the different offices that range from agriculture commissioner to land commissioner to lieutenant governor. It’s confusing to a lot of voters, and the fact that there are so many of these offices – sometimes the ballots are so long when you include all of the judicial candidates – a lot of voters simply check out of the process.
  • Texas is not a very competitive state. Republicans have won something like a 150 complete statewide races since 1994. That means there’s not a lot of competition. If you’re a Republican, you’re thinking you’re going to win anyway. And if you’re a Democrat, you’re thinking that it’s hard to unseat those Republicans no matter how much you try. Without competition, it’s breeding ground for lack of efficacy among voters.

Impact of the new state voter law:

  • The new voter laws definitely have led to reduced turnout. We know that looking at other states who’ve changed their voting laws to make it more restrictive that that does decrease the likelihood of a person turning out.
  • Sometimes it’s the actual functional aspect of them not being able to go out to vote because there are these limitations, and sometimes it’s perception that voting is harder, and so people choose to avoid it all together and not go vote.

KERA News is made possible through the generosity of our members. If you find this reporting valuable, consider making a tax-deductible gift today. Thank you.

Got a tip? Email Stella M. Chávez at schavez@kera.org. You can follow Stella on Twitter @stellamchavez.

Stella M. Chávez is KERA’s immigration/demographics reporter/blogger. Her journalism roots run deep: She spent a decade and a half in newspapers – including seven years at The Dallas Morning News, where she covered education and won the Livingston Award for National Reporting, which is given annually to the best journalists across the country under age 35.