Prof hopes students change voting trends

The March 2 preliminary gubernatorial race will place particular scrutiny on how Texans cast their ballots.

According to Texas Politics, an online textbook maintained by the College of Liberal Arts at the University of Texas at Austin, Texans are most likely to vote if they are white, a female who’s older than 40, or an affluent college graduate.

In the 2000 presidential election, more than 80 percent of Texans with advanced degrees voted. Nearly 75 percent of those with family incomes of more than $75,000 also cast a ballot.

In contrast, people who didn’t graduate from high school voted at a rate of 32 percent. Those with family incomes of less than $25,000 voted at a rate of only 42 percent.

Over the last 40 years, voter turnout in Texas has consistently remained around 20 percent lower for gubernatorial elections than presidential elections, according to figures available on the Web site of Texas Secretary of State Esperanaza “Hope” Andrade.

Jennifer Clark, an assistant professor of political science at UH, said one explanation for low turnouts is the lack of competition in gubernatorial elections.

“Texas is generally a stronghold for the Republican Party, and gubernatorial elections are not highly competitive,” Clark said via e-mail. “That has an effect of depressing both conservative and liberal turnout.”

According to a Rasmussen Reports poll published on Feb. 23, seven percent of Texas voters are still undecided about who they want as their next governor.

Rasmussen also reported that male voters prefer the Republican candidates to Bill White — the favorite for the Democratic nomination — by more than 10 percent.

Women support U.S. Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison over White, but White has an 18-point lead with women over Republican Debra Medina.

Texas Politics says Republican and Democratic voters possess differing views as to what is the biggest problem facing the state of Texas.

A quarter of Texas Democrats believe high unemployment is the biggest problem, while a quarter of Republicans think immigration is the most urgent issue.

Political corruption troubles Independents most.

According to the Rasmussen poll, 63 percent of respondents said the state government needs to cut spending. Eighty percent believe President Barack Obama’s proposed freeze on spending will do little or nothing to reduce the national deficit.

If trends hold true, the number of UH students heading to the polls will be low. Clark hopes that trend will disappear soon.

“Students should be involved and actively follow state politics — not just national politics — because the issues that directly affect them are not just federal,” Clark said.  “The state budget has a significant effect on education. Although the budgetary process is often the class material that gets students the least excited, creating a state budget, in essence, is setting policy priorities.”

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