Participation in Texas elections has ebbed and flowed for years in a clear pattern — turnout rising in presidential years and receding in midterm elections when statewide seats are on the ballot.
Then came 2018 when more than half of the state’s registered voters turned out, nearing presidential level of enthusiasm and raising hopes of a new era of increased engagement among Texas voters. With most of the votes from the 2022 election counted, though, it seems 2018 was more outlier than trend.
Just 45.7% of the state’s 17.7 million registered voters cast ballots in the 2022 midterm election. Despite the lower turnout compared to 2018, the midterms did offer some optimism for increased participation in non-presidential election years: Turnout in this year’s midterm elections surpassed every other midterm election in the last 20 years.
Until 2018, the high-water mark for turnout in the state’s midterm elections — which include contests for statewide offices like governor and attorney general as well as the state house — had been on a downward slide for more than two decades. In 1994, when just 8.6 million Texans were registered to vote, nearly 51% of registered voters participated in the midterm. Of course, the state’s population, and its voter rolls, have grown massively since then.
Incidentally, 1994 was the last year a Democrat won statewide office.
The 2018 election cycle came sandwiched between two presidential years with former President Donald Trump on the ticket, driving up turnout in the state. But it was also an unusual year in Texas politics. Beyond the pitched contest at the top of the ticket, that election also offered voters a wider battlefield of competitive races. It was the result of Republicans’ gerrymandering buckling under the combined pressure of increased Democratic turnout and nearly a decade of population change.
But there were few competitive races this time around. The Republican-controlled Legislature used the 2021 redistricting process to shore up its majority and draw safe seats for Republican incumbents who were facing competitive races as their districts diversified over the last 10 years.
Even with the lower turnout compared to 2018, participation in the election still came in higher than every other midterm dating back to 1998. Turnout this year was 12 percentage points higher than in 2014, the last pre-Trump midterm.
Though turnout was lower compared to 2018, no county saw turnout drop lower than 2014 levels of participation.
About two dozen mostly rural counties — most of them tiny in population — actually surpassed their 2018 turnout. Many others came close. Among the larger counties that almost matched that year’s participation is Hays County.
Roughly 53% of the county’s registered voters cast ballots in the midterm — just 5.4 percentage points lower than in 2018 and 16.5 percentage points higher than 2014. The fast-growing suburban county south of Austin is home to Texas State University and has in recent elections abandoned its GOP stronghold label. It flipped to the Democratic column in 2018.
Of the state’s biggest five counties, Dallas County saw the biggest drop in percentage points from its 2018 level of turnout while Bexar County saw the smallest drop. Among the big five, Travis County had the highest turnout with 52% of registered voters casting a ballot.
This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune. Read more here: Texas turnout fell from 2018. It was still higher than other midterms.