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Turnout in student elections at The University of Texas

The student elections were last week at The University of Texas - congrats to Liam, et al. The focus was on Student Government but elections also included Texas Student Media, Graduate Student Assembly, and others. Overall turnout was 10,018 votes (PDF), or 20% of the student body based on Fall 2008 enrollment figures. While not yet available, the actual student body in the spring semester tends to be slightly lower than the fall due to drop-outs and transfers. Once spring enrollment data is released the estimated turnout will likely be 0.5 to 1.5 percentage points higher.

Here is a long-term graph of turnout:

UT Student Government Election Turnout

It's pretty clear that 1) online voting increases turnout, 2) a larger student body tends to have lower turnout, 3) while recent turnout is relatively high, we haven't gotten close to pre-1970s turnout. Thoughts?


I was waiting for you to update this. :)

As to point #2, a larger student body doesn't tend to have lower turnout, just lower % turnout. There seem to be a couple major eras.

A) Pre WW-II which has a fairly slow but stable growing student body and electorate that is high voting.

B) The GI Bill and post war has a huge influx of students which don't vote, keeping the voting population fairly stable and again, matching the increase in student population up until...

C) 1966-1974 when the voting population stops increasing and is static while UT's student body continues growing.

D) 1975-2003 when the voting population declines and bottoms out as UT student body tops out, with 1992-2002 being hyper stable.

E) 2003-present when online voting boosted turnout.

I still think a couple more years are needed to see if there will be a separation of the online voting era into one with or without tickets. I thought that that raw turnout in the last couple of years was lower though, there was hardly contested elections compared to when we were there....

"As to point #2, a larger student body doesn't tend to have lower turnout, just lower % turnout."

Fair enough, that's a difference in semantics. By "turnout" I mean "students who voted divided by students who were eligible," as I wouldn't really care about the raw vote count without indexing it to the student body.

My suspicion regarding the 1992-2002 stability is that it was a result of modern ticket systems. I haven't looked at my SG documents in such a long time that I can't remember when recent tickets emerged (1994 comes to mind though). Was able to recover them from a backup drive tonight to check out again at some point, and hopefully publish online eventually.

But yeah, tickets need to be understood as having very real pros and cons, in terms of candidate recruitment & training, voter contact, platform, competition, organization, etc. I gave an interview to KVRX back in the day (2004?) to explain some of this. The shift away from tickets this past year seems like a positive development, but I continue to hesitate at low expenditure limits. It's truly not that difficult to fund raise $1,000 over a few months to drive voter contact and increase turnout; given the student body size at UT, campaign expenditure limits are ridiculously low.