First-time voters study issues, candidates before 2014 election


by MARK WIGGINS / KVUE News and photojournalists ERIN COKER and MICHAEL MOORE

Bio | Email | Follow: @MarkW_KVUE

Posted on November 28, 2013 at 5:42 PM

Updated Thursday, Nov 28 at 5:42 PM

AUSTIN -- In Professor Brian W. Smith's freshman class at St. Edward's University in Austin, the next wave of future voters gets an introduction to politics.

Next November they and tens of thousands of other first-time voters will help determine the next governor of Texas. So what issues are important to the next class of political participants?

Among the top responses in the class of roughly a dozen students were education, the economy and health care -- in particular, issues of health care affecting women. Yet students expressed a wide range of interests in other issues as well.

"Voting rights is important to me because members of the rising American electorate have been historically misrepresented in Texas and underrepresented in a state that has historically been gerrymandered," said freshman Christopher Olivarez.

"Both my parents are immigrants, and I have a lot family that has come from Mexico," said Jerusalem Garcia Jordan. "So I'm immediately impacted if a reform passes or not. It could determine whether or not my family gets to stay here and whether or not I will have to take care of my younger siblings."

"I just think that energy is a pretty important issue," said Octavio Sanchez. "Just because of the fact that we are in an age where we can't just use any energy we want, and it's at the brink where if we don't make any changes we're pretty much self-destructing the planet."

"Young people always tend to be concerned about the issues that affect them most, which means education is always a big one," said Smith. "They've just come out of the school system going into higher ed, so they really know what the problems with the public school system are and what the challenges of higher ed are. So that's always a big issue."

But could so-called "millennials," the age group that voted nationally in droves for President Barack Obama's election in 2008 and reelection 2012, make a difference in Texas in 2014?

"In 2012 they came back out and supported President Obama, which the Republicans didn't expect they would in such high rates," said Smith. "The problem is in mid-year elections like 2014, the Democrats here in Texas need young voters, and they're an unpredictable group. A lot of times they decide to stay home in the mid-year."

And what about those original millennials who voted for Mr. Obama and who will choose from an open presidential field in 2016?

"That 2008 cohort is going to be a lot older and the issues of 2008 are long gone," said Smith. "So the question is, will they stay Democratic? Will they become more Independent? Or will they even become Republican?"

While Smith's freshmen continue their studies, we'll wait and see which candidate makes the grade.

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