HOUSTON — New data shows Monday’s record early voting turnout in Harris County included a big jump in young voters that some experts believe, if its holds, will blow away that of recent presidential election years.
The data, publicly available through the Harris County Clerk’s office, suggests a predicted surge in young voter turnout driven by hot political races and big money might actually be happening. It surprised many experts because most voters are Baby Boomers.
Outside the Kingwood Community Center on Wednesday afternoon, Gina Dickens and her son Zachary both sported “I Voted” stickers on their foreheads after casting their ballot at the early voting location.
“I embarrassed him a little bit 'cause I was like, ‘It’s his first time voting,’” said Gina.
“I just wanted to put my voice out there and make sure the right person would be voted in,” said Zachary.
The 18-year-old Kingwood High School student isn’t alone.
“We didn’t really expect that on Monday we would see a lot of voters under 35,” said Bob Stein, a Rice University political science professor and KHOU political analyst. “Big mistake.”
Stein crunched the data from a list of the record 63,000 Harris County voters who cast their ballot in-person Monday, the first day of early voting. He found 15 percent of all voters that day were under age 35. During the 2014 midterms, those voters made up about 8 percent of the total.
For a presidential year election, Stein said around 40 percent of 18-to-35-year-old registered voters turn out. However, he said if Monday’s trend continues, that rate for the 2018 midterms will be around 50 percent.
"That will mean a 10-point increase in what they perform in presidential elections, 2016, 2012," Stein said. "That's very unusual."
Stein said just over half of those voters live in majority non-white precincts.
“So, we’re seeing two groups that historically don’t show up showing up on the first day of early voting.”
Still, he said predominantly Republican precincts saw the same surge in young voters, and guessing which party will benefit isn’t as easy to read.
“Younger voters do something that their older votes don’t do: split their ticket,” said Stein. “They’re not strong partisans.”
Stein said since 2000, the first day of early voting is the best single day predictor of overall turnout. He believes Monday’s numbers suggest 40 percent overall turnout, which is seven points, or about 200,000 people, higher than in 2014.
Early voting continues in Texas through Nov. 2. Election Day is Nov. 6.
For more information on local races, polling places, and hours, check out the KHOU Voter Guide.