More than 6.1M Texans registered to vote in the 2016 November general election did not cast a vote for the country’s highest office, the highest such figure in state history for a presidential election. In the preceding gubernatorial election cycle, a record 9.3M Texans registered to vote did not cast a ballot for governor, making it the fifth straight gubernatorial election where at least 7.5M registered voters didn’t vote.

Another 2.3M Texans did not register to vote for the 2016 general election even though they were eligible to do so. An estimated 2.8M adult Texans were not eligible to vote, either because they were non-citizens or they (temporarily) lost their right to vote as a consequence of criminal convictions. Put another way, for every three adults registered to vote in Texas, one is not.

According to a recently released Pew Charitable Trusts report (PDF), 44% of unregistered adults “don’t want to vote” and thus have no need to register to vote. A quarter of unregistered adults said no candidate or issue inspired them to register, while another quarter said they “haven’t gotten around to it.” Two out of every five unregistered adults said they “dislike politics,” and more than a third agreed with the statement that “voting has little to do with the way real decisions are made.”

Pew found that registered voters were three times more likely to say they are “too busy to vote” and more than twice as likely to say they aren’t “informed enough about the candidates or issues to make a good decision” than unregistered adults.

Generally speaking, unregistered adults “are less interested in politics, less engaged in civic activities and more cynical about their ability to understand and influence government” than registered votes and, particularly, frequent voters. Fewer than one in seven unregistered adults – mostly younger and more civically involved adults – said “they could be motivated to register in the future.”

More than 60% of all respondents – registered voters and unregistered adults – said they “have never been asked to register” to vote.

Interestingly, the study found little difference in interest levels between unregistered adults and registered voters who either rarely or never vote. Only about one in four of either group said they were interested in politics and government, “often” discussed current events or felt “passionately about political or community issues.” Just one in five unregistered adults “care who wins” their congressional district election.

We have asked the study’s authors for Texas-specific data and will update this post if we receive any.

Turnout in Texas has consistently ranked near the bottom nationally in recent election years.

Percent of Voter-eligible Population
Casting Ballots for President

  • 1972 46% 46%
  • 1976 48% 48%
  • 1980 48% 48%
  • 1984 51% 51%
  • 1988 52% 52%
  • 1992 55% 55%
  • 1996 47% 47%
  • 2000 49% 49%
  • 2004 54% 54%
  • 2008 54% 54%
  • 2012 50% 50%
  • 2016 52% 52%

Percent of Voter-eligible Population
Casting Ballots for Governor

  • 1974 21% 21%
  • 1978 27% 27%
  • 1982 32% 32%
  • 1986 32% 32%
  • 1990 36% 36%
  • 1994 37% 37%
  • 1998 30% 30%
  • 2002 35% 35%
  • 2006 31% 31%
  • 2010 32% 32%
  • 2014 28% 28%

Measured as the percentage of the voting-eligible population casting ballots, Texas has ranked 46th or worse in every election cycle since 2002 and was dead last among states in 2010 and 2014. Only Hawai’I (42%), West Virginia (50%) and Tennessee (51%) saw a lower percentage of voting-eligible adults cast ballots than Texas (52%) in 2016.

In the modern era, turnout peaked in Texas in 1992, when 55% of the voting-eligible population cast ballots. Two years later, gubernatorial election turnout peaked at 37%. Since 1972, presidential turnout has averaged 50.5% and gubernatorial turnout has averaged 31%.

While the number of registered voters topped 15M for the first time last year, the percentage of registered voters is 8.5 percentage points off of the all-time high of 95.3% set in 2002. Prior to 2016, the percent of the eligible population registering had fallen in each of the last six election cycles. A surge in new registrations last year reversed some of those losses.

Low turnout and declining registration rates resulted in record numbers of voting-eligible adults not casting votes in the 2014 (11.9M) and 2016 (8.4M) gubernatorial and presidential election cycles, respectively.

As for the voting-age population, the 2016 general election was the 7th in state history in which at least 10M Texas adults did not vote. Turnout statewide for the May 2017 uniform elections was likely south of 10% of the voting-eligible population. Non-voting continues to trend in Texas.

©2017 Texas Election Source LLC