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Texas Democrats fought to expand access to mail-in ballots in the state to all voters during the primary runoff election, citing concerns over the coronavirus pandemic in multiple lawsuits filed in state and federal courts.
Their efforts were blocked, meaning the normal rules for voting by mail were in place for the July election and extra safety precautions were in place at polling sites, including finger coverings for using the voting machines and social distancing for those waiting to vote.
Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, a Republican, fought the effort to expand mail-in voting through the courts, where cases are still pending that could impact voting during the November election.
During an interview with Progress Texas, a liberal advocacy group, state Rep. Gene Wu, D-Houston, said Republicans should support the expansion of mail-in voting because of the demographics of the party’s supporters.
"In Texas, vote-by-mail overwhelmingly benefits Republicans," Wu said. "The average age of the Republican voter is like 20 years older than the average Democrat. It is a lot. Their average age is like 65, or something crazy high like that."
In Texas, state law allows people who meet certain criteria to apply to vote through the mail, which includes any person over 65 years old.
So, is Wu’s comparison accurate? Is the average Republican voter in Texas really 20 years older than the average Democratic voter?
Wu said he was aware of reporting to this effect, but did not have a source for the specific statistic he shared during the interview.
Looking to the voter rolls
In Texas, voters do not register with political parties and they are not required to have any affiliation with a party to participate in that group’s primary election.
To check Wu’s statement about the average age of voters in each party, we turned to voter registration data available from the Texas Secretary of State’s office and different polls of likely voters in the state.
Derek Ryan, a voter data specialist and the former research director for the Republican Party of Texas, maintains a list of registered voters and, at PolitiFact Texas’ request, analyzed the ages of people who voted during this year’s Republican primary and Democratic primary.
"Based on this data, the average age of people who voted in the 2020 Republican primary election was 59.2 years old," he said. "The average age of people who voted in the 2020 Democratic primary election was 51.6 years old."
In 2018, Ryan found that people who voted in the Republican primary averaged 60.1 years of age and Democratic primary voters had an average age of 54.5.
Based on those figures, the average Republican voter was about 7.6 years older than the average Democratic voter in 2020 and about 5.6 years older in 2018.
Ryan did note that, while primary election data is the best way to identify Republican and Democratic voters, people who go to the polls in primaries tend to be older across the board compared with people who vote in general elections.
"But the Democrats appear to be doing a better job at getting younger voters to participate in their primary (Beto in 2018 and a competitive presidential primary in 2020 probably helped)," he said in an email. "I went back to the 2012 election cycle and the average age of a Democratic primary voter that year was 57 while the average age of a Republican primary voter was 59."
Brandon Rottinghaus, a political science professor at the University of Houston, conducted an analysis using polling data on political ideologies in the state. Both surveys he cited are representative of the state’s general population and do not reflect just those individuals who actually voted, the population Wu specified in his statement.
Using Harvard University’s Cooperative Congressional Election Study, a national survey with state-level data, Rottinghaus said the average age of people who identified as Republicans in Texas in 2018 was 52 and the average age of people who said they were Democrats was 46 — a 6-year age difference.
In 2016, the average age of Republicans was 54 and the average Democrat was 49. That’s a gap of 5 years.
Polling from Univision in partnership with the University of Houston showed a similar trend — although people were asked to identify their ideology, not a political party.
In 2018, Rottinghaus said respondents who said they were conservative or very conservative had an average age of 57, while those who said they were liberal or very liberal had an average age of 41 — 16-year age gap.
In 2016, conservative or very conservative respondents had an average age of 57, and liberal or very liberal respondents had an average age of 47 — a 10 year difference.
Wu said that in Texas, the "average age of the Republican voter is like 20 years older than the average Democrat."
The most recent voter data shows that the average Republican voter was older than the average Democrat, but the age difference was far less pronounced than Wu’s statement, for which he did not have supporting evidence.
The average Republican voter in Texas was younger than Wu said and the average Democrat was older.
We rate this claim False.
Periscope, Progress Texas, Aug. 7, 2020
Email interview with State Rep. Gene Wu, Aug. 11, 2020
Email interview with Derek Ryan, voter data specialist, Aug. 12 and 13, 2020
Phone interview with Brandon Rottinghaus, politics professor at the University of Houston, Aug. 12, 2020
Texas Tribune, Analysis: Millennial Texans might be louder, but they’re not voting, May 18, 2020
Univision and University of Houston, Texas Statewide Poll, Sept. 2019
Harvard University, Cooperative Congressional Election Study, accessed Aug. 12, 2020
Texas Secretary of State, Election Advisory No. 2020-05, Feb. 11, 2020
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