As the May 6 voting numbers prove, El Paso’s young progressive movement simply do not vote. El Paso’s progressives are organized and have proven they can become politically engaged – up to a point. But when it matters, the young progressives fizzle away and do not show up to the ballot boxes. Across the nation, young voters do not vote. Proposition K, wrapped as an important climate public policy, was the testbed by Ground Game Texas to test whether comprehensive municipally enacted climate legislation can solve the stalled Green Deal climate policies across the nation. They hoped to use young voters to push their test legislation. Ground Game Texas failed to get the young voters to the polls in El Paso, as well as in San Antonio.
The so-called millennials, those born between 1981 and 1996, make up the largest voting population today. The baby-boomers, those born between 1946 and 1964, are the reliable voters but their numbers are dwindling. It is the millennials and the GenZ (1997-2012) who make up the progressive movements across the nation. According to a Yale study, those born between 1981 and later are most concerned about global warming. Their concern, however, does not translate into public policy at the ballot box. Anyone born before 2005 was eligible to vote on Saturday.
The median age group in El Paso is around 34, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. At 61%, El Paso’s largest population age group are those between 18 and 64 years old. Twenty to 29 years old make up about 16% of the population, more than those aged between 60 and 60 years old – the reliable voter.
Had the young progressives made it to the ballot box, the climate charter would have been adopted last Saturday. It wasn’t.
Signer Remorse And Lack Of Support
The younger voter not showing up at the ballot box was not the only problem with Proposition K. Those who signed the petition to put the measure for voters to vote on it may have had second thoughts about the measure.
Several signers of the climate charter petition told El Paso News that when the young advocates approached them about signing the petition to put the climate charter on the ballot, they signed it for two reasons. The first was that they care about climate change, and the second was that they were happy to see El Paso’s young engaged in the political process. However, when they saw the ballot language it became apparent El Paso’s homeowners could not afford the climate initiative. Property taxes fund city operations and the onus on the climate charter lay on El Paso’s taxpayers.
After voters saw the ballot measure, they feared the cost more than the climate change problem. The last-minute push by Beto O’Rourke demonstrates that the progressive electoral movement in El Paso lost interest in the measure. O’Rourke, who often engages with younger voters, posted a video online encouraging voters to vote for the measure. Not only did the voters not follow through, but O’Rourke’s video garnered less than 300 plays 72 hours after it was posted by the climate charter advocates. O’Rourke’s Twitter posts usually draw thousands of interactions. The lack of viewership also showed a lack of interest in supporting municipally driven climate legislation by the younger voters.
El Paso Testing Ground With Little El Paso Support
El Paso was the testing ground for legislating climate change policy at the municipal level. El Paso was the guinea pig for local governments to enact comprehensive regulations to address climate change, but it is not the first municipal legislation. Colorado and Minnesota enacted local climate-related legislation in 2019. Unable to address climate change at the national level, local governments have started looking at zoning laws to address it. An advantage to locally led energy policy is that the local climate policies “can be tailored to the needs of the local economy.”
As an out-of-town effort, Proposition K was not tailored towards the El Paso economy focusing instead on policy rather than on the consequences of the policy on the local economy. Rather than garner local government support, the proponents of the climate charter instead looked to address climate without addressing the economic consequences of the proposed changes to the city’s charter.
As a testing ground for local climate legislation, El Paso’s Proposition K was driven from outside of El Paso. The low support at the ballot box demonstrates that the climate charter was a foreign-led effort being imposed on El Paso’s taxpayers by outside influences, unlike in Phoenix where various stakeholders were invited to the table.
Addressing climate in Phoenix has been a locally led effort. The Phoenix city council committee includes elected officials, representatives of the utilities, other stakeholders, as well as environmental justice groups. Likewise, Colorado’s efforts have included several stakeholders, including the utility service providers. Proposition K was strictly an environmental justice led effort. Their successes in climate shows that an inclusive approach can lead the effort to address the climate.
The Fossil Fuel Showdown Narrative
Political rhetoric about Proposition K focused on a Goliath-versus-David battle where the oil industry was pitted against El Pasoans. In an editorial on The Nation, Sunrise Movement fundraising director, Mathew Miles Goodrich, characterized Saturday’s election as “a showdown” pitting “Sunrise El Paso against a fossil fuel utility and its Wall Street backer.” The editorial added that “it’s fitting that in the heart of oil country, a new front in the battle for the Green New Deal is opening.”
The problem with Goodrich’s narrative is that El Paso is not the “heart of oil country” with one oil refinery in the city. Sunrise El Paso fighting a fossil fuel utility was mischaracterized by supporters of the measure. Goodrich, like most of the leadership behind Proposition K is also not from El Paso.
Although the fossil fuel industry contributed heavily towards the $1 million campaign to discourage voters from voting on the measure, the opposition included financial support from local businesses to defeat the measure. The proponents, however, led by Sunrise El Paso had almost no financial support from the local community to encourage voters to vote for Proposition K.
Although the climate charter proponents successfully collected over 39,156 signatures to force the measure on the ballot box, their petition signatures did not translate into votes. Less than 10,000 El Paso voters cast a vote in favor of Proposition K. This suggests that 30,000 petition signers either regretted their support of the climate charter, chose not to vote or were not bothered to support the measure they championed.
Most of the petition signers either stayed home or voted against Proposition K.
But that was not the only loss for the progressive movement led by Ground Game Texas on Saturday.
Ground Game Texas Also Rejected In San Antonio
The rejection of Proposition K by voters in El Paso was not the only setback for Ground Game Texas on Saturday. The progressive movement pushed forth an effort that sought “to decriminalize abortion and low-level marijuana possession” in San Antonio, as well as to “require police to issue citations rather than make arrests for some nonviolent crimes” on Saturday. It was also rejected by voters. Over 70% of San Antonio voters rejected the progressive-led effort in their community. San Antonio’s Proposition A, named the “Justice Charter” sought to “overhaul policing.”
Like in El Paso, the business community opposed Proposition A. Also, like the El Paso climate charter, Ground Game Texas led the effort for San Antonio’s Justice Charter. Like in El Paso, the San Antonio effort relied on a petition led effort by young progressives that failed to materialize at the ballot boxes.
Young Voters And Voting
In partisan politics there is an ongoing debate on what impact the Millennials and GenZ voters will have in future elections as they get older. Pew research provides a “persuasive” suggestion that “younger voters should be a source of electoral strength for Democrats for some years to come,” argues a February Brookings Institute column.
While the Brookings column makes its argument for the future of the Democratic Party by the Millennials and GenZ voters it acknowledges that “linear projections of past trends are neither definitive, especially in politics,” and especially when the trend is based on one election.
The failures of Proposition A in San Antonio and on Proposition K in El Paso largely dismisses the idea that progressive voters can influence elections for the Democrats. Michael Apodaca, the chair of the El Paso County Democratic Party staked the party’s future behind Proposition K as he advocated for voters to vote for it. In a city that heavily leans towards the Democratic Party and with the support of Beto O’Rourke, the voters ignored party politics and voted against the party’s wishes.
Although GenZ voters “voted decidedly with Democrats” in 2022, and “say they were most concerned about issues related to abortion,” the results in San Antonio’s abortion proposition show that GenZ’s are not as motivated as they were in 2022.
GenZ voters are just “unsure” about how to vote when presented with the ballot. GenZ voters “primarily relies on social media for news.” While opposition for Proposition K focused on the traditional news outlets, proponents for El Paso’s climate charter seem to have decided to respond directly to the opposition in traditional news media outlets instead of engaging GenZ voters on social media, where they are mostly influenced.
It is too early to analyze the voter demographics of the voters because the official results have not been released. But preliminary analysis of voter data suggests that the young voters weren’t persuaded to vote for the climate in El Paso and for justice reform in San Antonio. It is unknown if it’s a case of young voter apathy, unsure about their votes or as the result of Ground Game Texas’ failure to engage their voter base where it matters, on social media. It can also be all three reasons.
Nonetheless, the Ground Game Texas failures are simply voter apathy among the progressive voters and the progressives’ inability to translate passion into votes.