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Voter Turnout

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58% of the Citizen Voting Age Population in Travis County Voted in the 2012 Presidential Election

Indicators:

Goal: Increase voter turnout in Travis County

Targets:

Key Trends: Voter turnout in Travis County for the last presidential election was 58%, a rate that was well below the 64% voter turnout rate for the 2008 presidential election. There were also disparities in who voted by age, race and ethnicity. During the 2012 presidential election 28% of the Travis County citizen voting age population ages 18 to 24 voted, a much lower rate than the 55 to 64 and 65+ age groups, who had 63% and 65% voter turnout rates respectively. Opinion Analysts, a local research firm that estimates voter participation by race and ethnicity, found the lowest turnout rates during the 2012 presidential election to be among the Hispanic (30%), Black (39%) and Asian (35%) citizen voting age populations.

Participation in the March party primaries tend to indicate levels of voter interest. When there is a high rate of participation in the March primary, there is generally a higher rate of participation in the November election. Turnout for the March 1, 2016 primary elections was more than double the turnout for the last presidential primary in 2012, with 34% of all registered voters voting, but participation was still below the 2008 primary, when 41% of registered voters participated. There was a notable increase in Republican participation in the March 2016 primary election.

what the data tell us

Fifty-eight percent of the citizen voting age population in Travis County turned out to vote in the 2012 National/Presidential election. This was lower than the voter turnout for the Nation. Voter turnout in Presidential elections dropped from 2008 to 2012. In 2008, 65% of Travis County’s citizen voting age population turned out to vote, which is CAN’s community goal for the 2016 Presidential election.

Definition: The population ages 18 and over that are documented citizens divided by the total number of votes cast in National/Presidential elections

Data Source: American Community Survey (ACS), Travis County Elections Division

Data Considerations: This graph compares 2012 voter turnout data to 2011 population numbers, the most recent population data available at the time this data was calculated. The American Community Survey samples 3% of the Nation’s population. Due to small sample sizes, margins of error are increased and hard to reach populations may not be accurately represented in the data.

the story behind the indicator

Voter turnout is traditionally higher for National/Presidential elections than it for State/Gubernatorial elections and higher for State/Gubernatorial elections than for local elections. Roughly 3 out of every 5 people vote in National/Presidential elections compared to 2 out of 5 in State/Gubernatorial elections and 1 out of 10 in local elections. Local election turnout has improved. The 2014 election was historic for voters in the City of Austin, the largest jurisdiction in Travis County. For the first time, voters elected council members from ten single member districts across the city. Additionally, local elections were moved from May to November and are now held concurrently with State/Gubernatorial and National/Presidential elections. Thanks in part to these changes, there were over 250% more votes cast in the Mayoral and City Council races in November 2014 than in the May 2012 local election.

In an analysis of the 2012 Presidential election, Nonprofit VOTE notes that Texas ranked 48th among the 50 states in voter turnout. Texas and other states with low voter turnout also have some of the most burdensome voter registration requirements. Civic engagement groups have been working to increase voter turnout by focusing efforts on the “Rising American Electorate,” voters that are underrepresented among registered voters and actual voters. The “Rising American Electorate” includes African Americans, Hispanics and Latinos, unmarried women, and youth. Analysis of local data shows that people under the age of 30 are underrepresented at the polls while people over the age of 44 are overrepresented. Local data also finds that Hispanics and Asians are moderately underrepresented among voters in Travis County.

Significance of Indicator: The Nonprofit Voter Engagement Network explains that who votes and who does not vote impacts who elected officials pay attention to, the course of public policy and the quality of American democracy. It also impacts civic participation of all kinds. People who don’t vote are less likely to self-identify as stakeholders in their communities. They are less likely to volunteer, contact their elected officials or participate in public life. Frequent voters, on the other hand, are more likely to engage in community affairs, serve on boards and commissions and even enter public service themselves.

a closer look

Click on one of the titles below for more information.

» Voter Turnout of the Citizen Voting Age Population in presidential primaries, travis county

Turnout for the March 1, 2016 primary election was more than double the turnout for the last Presidential Primary in 2012, with 34% of all registered voters in Travis County participating. Voter interest in the primary election could portend a higher voter turnout for this fall’s Presidential election. There was a notable increase in Republican participation in the primary election.

Definition: Percentage of ballots cast for the Republican and Democratic parties during Joint Primary Elections, as a percent of total registered voters.

Data Source: Travis County Elections Division

Data Considerations: Travis County Clerk’s Office updates election results regularly as votes are tallied on election nights.

» Voting and registration by age for citizen voting age population, 2012

Older people are much more likely to vote than younger people. During the 2012 Presidential election 28% of the citizen voting age population in Travis County aged 18 to 24 voted, a much lower rate than the 55 to 64 and 65+ age groups, who had a 63% and 65% voter turnout rates respectively.

Definition: The number of voters in the 2014 general election in each age group, as a percentage of the citizen voting age population in the given age group

Data Source: American Community Survey 1-Year Estimates, (ACS) and Travis County Elections Division

Data Considerations: American Community Survey samples 3% of the Nation’s population. Due to small sample sizes, margins of error are increased and hard to reach populations may not be accurately represented in the data.

» Voting and registration by race and ethnicity for citizen voting age population, 2012

During the 2012 Presidential Election voter turnout for the citizen voting age Hispanic (30%), Black (39%) and Asian (35%) populations was much lower than those identified as Non-Hispanic White or Other. The Hispanic population also had double the percentage of unregistered voters as the “other” population. While the graph clearly indicates that Hispanics and Asians in Travis County are more likely to be non-voters than African Americans or other races, no racial/ethnic group is classified as being disproportionately overrepresented among non-voters.

Definition: The number of voters in each racial or ethnic group as a percentage of the total citizen population over 18

Data Source: American Community Survey 1-Year Estimates, (ACS) and Opinion Analysts

Data Considerations: American Community Survey samples 3% of the Nation’s population. Due to small sample sizes, margins of error are increased and hard to reach populations may not be accurately represented in the data.

Opinion Analysts uses the surnames of registered voters to determine race and ethnicity. Estimates of voter turnout by racial and ethnic group may not accurately reflect voter turnout trends for each racial and ethnic group. The “Other” category includes any voter not placed into one of the other three categories.

» Voter turnout of the citizen voting age population in state/gubernatorial elections

In the November 2014 general election, about 37% of voting-age citizens in Travis County turned out to vote. Voter turnout was virtually unchanged from the 2010 gubernatorial election and worse than the 2006 election. According to the United States Elections Project, the 2014 general election had the lowest voter turnout nationwide since 1942. In 2014, Travis County voter turnout was in line with the national rate, and slightly higher than the state.

Definition: The total number of votes cast in State/Gubernatorial elections divided by the population ages 18 and up that are citizens.

Data Source: American Community Survey 1-Year Estimates, (ACS) and the United States Elections Project

Data Considerations: The American Community Survey samples 3% of the Nation’s population. Due to small sample sizes, margins of error are increased and hard to reach populations may not be accurately represented in the data. State and local voter turnout numbers were gathered from the U.S. Elections Project and represent total ballots cast. Where total ballots cast was unavailable (as in the 2014 election), ballots cast for highest office were used instead. As 2014 population estimates were unavailable for Travis County at the time this data was calculated, turnout is expressed as a percent of 2013 population. To provide consistency across elections, population from one year prior to the election is used throughout.

» turnout of the citizen voting age population in the 2014 general election, by age group, travis county

Younger age groups are less likely to vote than older age groups. In the 2014 election, 13% of citizens between 18 and 24 voted, compared to 29% of citizens between 25 and 44, 42% of citizens between 45 and 54, 53% of citizens between 55 and 64, and 66% of citizens over 65.

Definition: The number of voters in the 2014 general election in each age group, as a percentage of the citizen voting age population in the given age group

Data Source: American Community Survey 1-Year Estimates, Opinion Analysts (ACS), Opinion Analysts

Data Considerations: This graph compares 2014 voter turnout data to 2013 population numbers, the most recent ACS population data available. The American Community Survey samples 3% of the Nation’s population. Due to small sample sizes, margins of error are increased and hard to reach populations may not be accurately represented in the data.

» turnout of the citizen voting age population in the 2014 general election, by race & ethnicity, travis county

Asian, Black, and Hispanic voters turned out at lower rates than the ’other’ population in the 2014 General Election. About 45% of residents who were identified as ‘other’ race turned out to vote in 2014, compared to 15% of voters identified as Asian, 24% of voters identified as Black, and 20% of voters identified as Hispanic.

Definition: The number of voters in each racial or ethnic group as a percentage of the total citizen population over 18

Data Source: American Community Survey 1-Year Estimates, Opinion Analysts

Data Considerations: This graph compares 2014 voter turnout data to 2013 population numbers, the most recent ACS population data available. The ACS estimates population data through relatively small sample sizes. The population estimates refer to the Non-Hispanic Alone group. Estimates of the citizen population over 18 were unavailable. Therefore, it was assumed that the share of the noncitizen population over 18 in each group was equal to the noncitizen share of the racial or ethnic group’s total population. Opinion Analysts uses the surnames of registered voters to determine race and ethnicity. Estimates of voter turnout by racial and ethnic group may not accurately reflect voter turnout trends for each racial and ethnic group. The ’Other’ category includes any voter not placed into one of the other three categories.

» Voter Turnout of Citizen Voting Age Population in Local Elections in the City of Austin

The 2014 election was historic for voters in the City of Austin, the largest jurisdiction in Travis County. For the first time, voters elected council members from ten single member districts across the city. Additionally, local elections were moved from May to November and will now be held concurrently with State/ Gubernatorial and National/Presidential elections. Thanks in part to these changes, there were over 250% more votes cast in the Mayoral and City Council races in November 2014 than in the May 2012 local election.

Definition: The population ages 18 and over that are documented citizens divided by the total number of votes cast in City of Austin local elections (for city council members and mayor)

Data Source: American Community Survey (ACS), Travis County Elections Division

Data Considerations: The American Community Survey samples 3% of the Nation’s population. This graph compares each year’s voter turnout data to the previous year’s population numbers, the most recent population data available at the time voter data is calculated. Due to small sample sizes, margins of error are increased and hard to reach populations may not be accurately represented in the data.

» map: Voter turnout: Presidential election, 2012

The map below shows that in 2012 voter turnout was much higher in west Travis County than in the east side.

Map depicting levels of voter turnout in the 2012 presidential Election

Definition: % of registered voters who actually voted in the 2012 presidential election by voting precinct

Data Source: Travis County Elections Division. Map was created by the City of Austin’s demographer Ryan Robinson.

» Other civic engagement

percent of residents who have volunteered in the past year

Austin-area residents are more likely than Texans and Americans as a whole to volunteer. In 2014, 28.2% of local residents volunteered, placing the Austin MSA 19th in the nation among the 51 largest metros. According to the Corporation for National and Community Service, of the 51 largest metros Austin also ranked 16th in the nation for volunteer hours (34hrs/year), also a higher rate than the state (29 hrs/year) and the nation (32 hrs/year).

Definition: Volunteers are defined as persons who performed unpaid volunteer activities at any point during the 12-month period, from September 1 of the prior year through the survey week in September of the survey year. The count of volunteers includes only persons who volunteered through or for an organization - the figures do not include persons who volunteered in a more informal manner.

Data Source: U.S. Census Bureau and U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Current Population Survey, as reported by the Corporation for National and Community Service

Data Considerations: The CPS is a monthly survey of about 60,000 households in the United States. Data on volunteering and civic engagement are collected in the September and November supplements. Although the Corporation for National and Community Service does not report margins of error, they are likely relatively large due to the small sample size, particularly at the local level. Data should be interpreted with caution, particularly when comparing across years or jurisdictions.

other civic engagement, 2014

According to the Corporation for National and Community Service, Austin-area residents are more likely than Texans and Americans to attend meetings and stay active in their neighborhoods, but less likely to donate to charity. In 2014, 11% of Austenite's attended meetings and stayed active in their neighborhoods, a higher percentage than the State and the Nation. Austin does, however, have lower rates of residents donating to charity with 45% of residents donating in 2014, compared to 46% in the state and 51% in the nation.

Definition: Civic engagement indicators are designed to measure participation in organized groups, non-electoral political activities, social connections with family and community members, and trust and confidence in people and institutions.

Data Source: U.S. Census Bureau and U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Current Population Survey, as reported by the Corporation for National and Community Service

Data Considerations: The CPS is a monthly survey of about 60,000 households in the United States. Data on volunteering and civic engagement are collected in the September and November supplements. Although the Corporation for National and Community Service does not report margins of error, they are likely relatively large due to the small sample size, particularly at the local level. Data should be interpreted with caution, particularly when comparing across years or jurisdictions.

Frequency of Discussing Politics with Family/Friends, 2013

Austin-area residents are more likely than Texans and Americans as a whole to discuss politics with family and friends. In 2013, only about 20% reported not discussing politics, compared to 28% of Americans and 37% of Texans. Most Austinites, however, discuss politics infrequently, with 53% reporting that they have these discussions a few times a month or less.

Definition: The percent of residents, 18 and over, who report discussing politics with a given frequency; 'Frequently' includes the percent reporting 'Basically Every Day' and 'Few Times a Week'; 'Infrequently' includes the percent reporting 'Few Times a Month', 'Once a Month', and 'Less Than Once a Month'

Data Source: U.S. Census Bureau and U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Current Population Survey, as reported by the Corporation for National and Community Service

Data Considerations: The CPS is a monthly survey of about 60,000 households in the United States. Data on volunteering and civic engagement are collected in the September and November supplements. Although the Corporation for National and Community Service does not report margins of error, they are likely relatively large due to the small sample size, particularly at the local level. Data should be interpreted with caution, particularly when comparing across years or jurisdictions.

Frequency of Expressing Political or Community Opinions via Internet, 2013

Most Austinites (56%) do not express their political opinions over the Internet, a trend that is in line with Texas and the United States as a whole. Austinites are more engaged than Texans and Americans as a whole, though. More Austin residents report expressing opinions online (44%) than residents of Texas (24%) or the United States (28%) as a whole.

Definition: The percent of residents, 18 and over, who report expressing political or community opinions via the Internet with a given frequency; 'Frequently' includes the percent reporting 'Basically Every Day' and 'Few Times a Week'; 'Infrequently' includes the percent reporting 'Few Times a Month', 'Once a Month', and 'Less Than Once a Month'

Data Source: U.S. Census Bureau and U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Current Population Survey, as reported by the Corporation for National and Community Service

Data Considerations: The CPS is a monthly survey of about 60,000 households in the United States. Data on volunteering and civic engagement are collected in the September and November supplements. Although the Corporation for National and Community Service does not report margins of error, they are likely relatively large due to the small sample size, particularly at the local level. Data should be interpreted with caution, particularly when comparing across years or jurisdictions.

Percent of Residents Who Have Contacted a Public Official in the Last Year, 2013

Most people report that they have not contacted a public official in the last year. Over three quarters of Austinites (81%), Texans (92%), and Americans (89%) have not contacted a public official in the last year. Austin residents appear slightly more likely to contact public servants than residents of the other areas shown.

Definition: The percent of residents, 18 and over, who report contacting a public official in the last year

Data Source: U.S. Census Bureau and U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Current Population Survey, as reported by the Corporation for National and Community Service

Data Considerations: The CPS is a monthly survey of about 60,000 households in the United States. Data on volunteering and civic engagement are collected in the September and November supplements. Although the Corporation for National and Community Service does not report margins of error, they are likely relatively large due to the small sample size, particularly at the local level. Data should be interpreted with caution, particularly when comparing across years or jurisdictions.

some local efforts to improve this indicator

  • The Travis County Elections Division works to increase voter turnout by offering programs such as early voting which provides voters with flexibility in voting times and locations. In 2013, Travis County began utilizing voting centers on Election Day, in addition to early voting periods. Thanks to the change, Travis County residents can cast their ballot at any polling location in the county.
     
  • The Travis County Tax Office conducts deputy voter registrar training to increase voter registration. To aid in voter registration, the Tax Office provides maps of addresses with unregistered voters by precinct, updated monthly.
     
  • VoteTravis.com, a joint effort between the Travis County Tax Office Voter Registration Division and the Travis County Clerk Elections Division, allows Travis County residents to check their voter registration status, find a convenient polling location, and view a customized sample election ballot.
     
  • VoteATX.us, a project by Open Austin contributors, uses open government data from Travis County and the City of Austin to provide a map-based website that allows residents to find their nearest polling place, along with a sample ballot customized for their location.
     
  • In November 2012, voters in the City of Austin approved the "10-1" plan that created 10 new council districts. Austinites also voted to move all City elections to November in even-numbered years. Austin voters used this new system of voting for the first time in the November 2014 elections. To find your district, click here.
     
  • The Annette Strauss Institute for Civic Engagement at the University of Texas works with young adults through programs such as "University of Texas Votes,” which is non-partisan and works to increase voting among college-age youth.
     
  • The East Austin Voter Mobilization Initiative targets its efforts toward East Austin precincts with low voter turnout and large African American and Hispanic populations. These efforts have proven successful on a limited scale, and provide opportunities to inform larger efforts.
     

vulnerable populations

turning the curve

While there are not any community plans or assessments focused on increasing voter turnout in our region, recommendations have been made about how to turn the curve on this indicator: