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College students and evangelical women

Will they really vote for Beto?

Rep. Beto O’Rourke

After church on a recent Sunday, Emily Mooney smiled as she told her girlfriends about her public act of rebellion. She had slapped a “Beto for Senate’’ sticker on her S.U.V. and driven it to her family’s evangelical church.

But then, across the parking lot, deep in conservative, Bible-belt Texas, she spotted a sign of support: the same exact sticker endorsing Beto O’Rourke, the Democrat who is challenging Senator Ted Cruz.

“I was like, who is it?” she exclaimed. “Who in this church is doing this?”

Listening to Ms. Mooney’s story, the four other evangelical moms standing around a kitchen island began to buzz with excitement. All of them go to similarly conservative churches in Dallas. All are longtime Republican voters, solely because they oppose abortion rights. Only one broke ranks to vote for Hillary Clinton in 2016. But this November, they have all decided to vote for Mr. O’Rourke, the Democratic upstart who is on the front line of trying to upend politics in deep-red Texas.

In the Senate race, one of the most unexpectedly tight in the nation, any small shift among evangelical voters — long a stable base for Republicans — could be a significant loss for Mr. Cruz, who, like President Trump, has made white evangelicals the bulwark of his support.

To Democrats nationwide, who have largely written off white evangelical voters, it also sends a signal — not just for the midterms but also for the 2020 presidential campaign — that there are female, religious voters who are open to some of their party’s candidates.

The women, who are all in their 30s, described Mr. O’Rourke as providing a stark moral contrast to Mr. Trump, whose policies and behavior they see as fundamentally anti-Christian, especially separating immigrant children from their parents at the border, banning many Muslim refugees and disrespecting women.

“I care as much about babies at the border as I do about babies in the womb,” said Tess Clarke, one of Ms. Mooney’s friends, confessing that she was “mortified” at how she used to vote, because she had only considered abortion policy. “We’ve been asleep. Now, we’ve woke up.”

Will they actually turn out for Beto?

In Texas, young people are one of the key blocs of the electorate that the Democratic Party, and O’Rourke, need to turn out to be competitive — they’re far more diverse and far more liberal than the electorate at large.

There’s just one problem: They don’t show up to vote.

That young people don’t vote has long been a political truism in Texas and nationwide, requiring the attachment of an asterisk to every energetic candidate who garners enthusiasm with The Youth. From Eugene McCarthy and Bobby Kennedy in the 1960s to Howard Dean, Barack Obama and Bernie Sanders, Democratic politicians are perennially predicted to be the conjurers of a youth-led revolution — one that will wrest control of the country’s destiny from the stubbornly change-averse hands of the older generation.

It’s never quite transpired.

In 2016, just 27 percent of Texans age 18-24 turned out to vote, compared with 65 percent of those over age 65. A recent national poll found that only 28 percent of young adults say they’re “absolutely certain” to vote in the upcoming midterms; for senior citizens, the corresponding figure is 74 percent.

With an expansive weeklong tour through campuses around the state — from the flagship universities in Austin and College Station to community colleges in Dallas and Houston — O’Rourke is making a concerted effort to drive youth turnout. “There’s really there’s nowhere to go but up,” said Brandon Rottinghaus, a political science professor at the University of Houston.

As O’Rourke tells it, his college tour is consistent with a campaign strategy that has flouted conventional wisdom at every turn: Consultants and pollsters generally advise candidates not to waste time on college campuses in the home stretch of a campaign. “‘Time, money and resources are too precious. Do not spend them on people who are unlikely to vote,’” O’Rourke told the UTSA crowd, summing up the typical consultant advice. “Our contention is that if no one ever showed up for me … then I wouldn’t vote either.”

He talked about the burden of student debt that has gone unaddressed by politicians in Washington, asking “Why do we make it so hard for people to better themselves for themselves and for everyone else?” O’Rourke also called for investing in universal pre-K, boosting vocational programs and raising teacher salaries.

Read ’em both. My answer to the first question is “some of them will”, and my answer to the second is “probably more than in 2014”. How much of each is the real question, and the key to whether the polls are underestimating Beto’s support or pegging it correctly. There are straws in the wind, and to whatever extent you can affect those numbers you should, but we just won’t know till we start to vote.

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