Regina Lawrence

Photo Credit: Daulton Venglar | Daily Texan Staff

Professors and campaign professionals gathered at the Belo Center for New Media on Wednesday to dissect and analyze Tuesday’s election results at an event hosted by the New Politics Forum at the Annette Strauss Institute for Civic Life.

Election Day in Texas saw Republican candidates win all statewide races with large, double-digit margins. At Wednesday’s election debriefing, Regina Lawrence, journalism professor and Strauss Institute director, said voter turnout is what makes the democratic process effective.

“Elections are kind of an imperfect way of measuring the will of the people, and they get less and less perfect, the fewer and fewer people who show up,” Lawrence said. “In a way, elections are all about who shows up.”

Lawrence said the election Tuesday demonstrated the increasing popularity of early voting in Texas.

Actually we saw, in a continued trend, an increase in early voting so that we had about one-third of Texas registered voters actually voting before yesterday,” Lawrence said.

Voter turnout across the state has been low, but Lawrence said Texas had the lowest turnout in the country in 2010.

“I’m here to tell you that the early returns suggest that Texas was not dead last yesterday,” Lawrence said.

Ross Ramsey, executive editor and co-founder of The Texas Tribune, said turnout is always an issue when it comes to election time.

“There’s a big emphasis in politics, not just in this campaign, but in a lot of places on voter registration and the importance of voter registration,” Ramsey said. “Voter registration doesn’t matter if you can’t peel them off the couch when its time to vote.”

Lawrence said despite the meager voter turnout, there were more open races on Tuesday than there has been in Texas since 1906.

“So we had a really historic opportunity for voter engagement, but we saw it unmet,” Lawrence said. 

Young voters are commonly the most underrepresented, and, according to Lawrence, this year was no different. Lawrence said her experience in the classroom has given her an idea of why this occurs.

“I can tell you, at least anecdotally, over the years of teaching, that the young people that I teach tell me again and again that one of the biggest reasons that they do not vote consistently is that they don’t feel informed enough,” Lawrence said. 

Lawrence said young voters might also vote less than other age groups because they feel isolated from the major political parties.

“Of course, we know that for many young people, these days particularly, there’s not as much of a strong connection to political parties, to those traditional political identities of democrat and republican,” Lawrence said.

Edward Espinoza, executive director of the Texas Research Institute, said there was little the Democrats could have done to fend off Republican

“Had the Latino outreach been better, that would have taken [Democrats] from 39 percent to maybe 43 percent, but there was no stopping that wave,” Espinsoza said.

Photo Credit: Erica Reed | Daily Texan Staff

Texans are some of the least engaged citizens in civic life in the United States, according to a national index.

The low ranking was spotlighted on campus Saturday during the Texas Conference on Civic Life. In 2010, Texas ranked 51st in voter turnout among the 50 states and Washington, D.C., according to the Texas Civic Health Index. UT’s Annette Strauss Institute for Civic Life produced the report in partnership with the National Conference on Citizenship.

In political participation, the report showed the top two reasons Texans said they did not vote in 2010 were because they were too busy, and they felt like their vote didn’t matter. Political participation also correlated with race and ethnicity, finding that the white population was twice as high in voter turnout than the Hispanic population.

In last week’s election, only 15 percent of registered voters in Travis County cast a ballot.  

At the conference, students, faculty and residents from around the state discussed the future of civic engagement in Texas and how they can work together toward greater civic health.

A variety of speakers at the conference addressed the statistics in The Texas Civic Health Index and allowed audience members to interact with each other about the issues they thought were important in their communities.

Institute director Regina Lawrence said the report’s civic health indicators reflect social connectedness, political participation and civic involvement.

“Unfortunately, one thing we found is that Texas is not doing so well compared to other states,” Lawrence said.

Lawrence said one glimmer of hope for Texas’ low civic engagement is the state’s rank as 16th in social connectedness, which the institute describes as frequently interacting and trusting neighbors and family.

Lawrence said the conference aimed to increase community interaction allowing participants to discuss issues that were important to them in their neighborhoods.

Kathryn Flowers, graduate research assistant at the institute, said the conference allowed people to share the issues that are important to them, including a station to create a visual collage of their neighborhood identity.

“It’s important to do civic engagement activities like this where people aren’t doing research and aren’t being pushed to do anything specific,” Flowers said. “Strauss is about engaging people wherever they are on the political spectrum.”

The event gave citizens the opportunity to talk about what policies they would like their representatives on Austin City Council to address.

Ann Stehling, government senior and administrative assistant at the institute, said that the dim lighting and crime in West Campus were her biggest concerns.

“I would really appreciate having a city councilman who is concerned about the safety of the students in West Campus and for women especially who may not have a man to walk home with them every night,” Stehling said.

Everything is bigger in Texas — except voter turnout.  

In conjunction with the National Conference on Citizenship, UT’s Annette Strauss Institute for Civic Life released the Texas Civic Health Index that ranked Texas amongst the lowest states in civic engagement on Tuesday. According to the the institute, Texas has a voter turnout of 36 percent — the worst in the country. 

Annette Strauss Director and journalism professor Regina Lawrence said the goal of the study is to make Texas residents aware of where they stand in volunteering, contacting their representatives and voting. 

“The goal was to provide the first comprehensive report measuring civic engagement using current US Census data,” Lawrence said. 

Citizenship, income, education, age, race and ethnicity all have an effect on each resident’s level of civic engagement, the report said. Residents with higher education usually fair better in each category but education senior Rina Patel said she believes the low numbers in Texas stem from a disconnect between the public and elected officials.

“There’s an interest on topics but a disagreement between students' views,” Patel said. 

The study records only nine percent of Texas contacting elected officials compared to twelve percent in the United States average. The study also ranked Texas as the 42nd state for volunteering.

Economic and advertising senior Timothy Tran said learning how to be engaged in the community should be taught in schools.

“The government or the independent school districts do not do enough to prepare kids to graduate and understand how to be involved, rather than the linear pattern of just going to school,” Tran said. 

Lawrence said the institute offers programs such as, ‘Speak Up, Speak Out’, a program that enables school-aged children to identify problems in their communities and learn how to address them. 

“The quality of civic engagement has to be improved in K-12 instead of just the emphasis on memorization,” Lawrence said. 

Where Texas does rank higher than the United States average is in “social connectedness” for exchanging favors with neighbors.

History professor Henry Brand, journalism professor Regina Lawrence, and government professor Daron Shaw spoke to an audience of freshmen on the importance of voting in the upcoming presidential election at Bass Concert Hall Tuesday evening.

Photo Credit: Nathan Goldsmith | Daily Texan Staff

With fewer than 50 days until the U.S. presidential election, first-year students flooded Bass Concert Hall to listen to professors from three different fields offer their take on the race.

The talk, entitled “Election 2012: History, Rhetoric, Politics,” was the second lecture in this year’s University Lecture Series, which aims to give first-year students the chance to interact with acclaimed faculty. History professor Henry Brands, government associate professor Daron Shaw and journalism professor Regina Lawrence spoke about campaign issues related to their respective fields of study.

In the lecture Tuesday night, Brands cautioned students against hoping the new president will be a hero.

“Will President Obama, if reelected, will Governor Romney, if elected, rise to the ranks of a Lincoln or a Roosevelt? You better hope not,” Brands said. “Because if either one does, what that means is that the country will experience some crisis comparable to the Civil War, comparable to the Great Depression.”

Patricia Micks, senior program coordinator for the School of Undergraduate Studies, said the University Lecture Series, which all students enrolled in a first-year signature course are required to attend, aims to promote a dialogue among students and draw their attention to what the campus has to offer.

“The hope is that each lecture will create a campus-wide conversation and will highlight some of the exciting research and scholarly work being produced on our campus,” Micks said.

With a record amount of money being raised and spent this year, Lawrence urged students to not let their voices get drowned out despite the significant and often unappealing role money has in influencing the political conversation.

“When the discussion is dominated by money and by the kinds of political negative non-factual ads that we’ve been talking about tonight, that’s not a very inviting conversation,” Lawrence said. “That doesn’t invite you to take part. Frankly, for a lot of you it’s a turn-off.”

All speakers dedicated part of their time toward encouraging student civic engagement. David Bishop, international relations and global studies freshman, said the talk could encourage students to get involved in the electoral process early.

“I think it’s important for freshmen,” Bishop said. “If they target freshmen as we come in, then we’re engaged in the political process throughout college instead of waiting until we leave to get going on it.”

Printed on Wednesday, September 19, 2012 as: Faculty lecture prepares students for election season

UT’s School of Journalism has hired an Austin American-Statesman social media editor and a media-and-politics researcher to start this fall as the school prepares to transition to a new curriculum.

Robert Quigley will leave the Statesman to teach multimedia courses as a senior lecturer. Between 30 and 40 people competed for Quigley’s position, said School of Journalism Director Glenn Frankel. The school will merge the five concentrations into a single program for all students in fall 2012, and Quigley’s multimedia experience will aid that transition, Frankel said.

“We are hoping and expecting that he will help our school develop more courses and more directions in multimedia, in social media, in mobile devices and apps; all in the name of creating better journalism,” Frankel said.

Quigley said he wasn’t interested in leaving the Statesman until he learned more about the position from Frankel.

“Glenn clearly has a vision of making UT a powerhouse for new media, and he said this position is a key part of that transformation,” Quigley said in an email. “I helped lead the charge at the Statesman into the new media age, and I love the challenge of doing the same at UT.”

Quigley said he hopes the skills he will teach in class will prepare students for the modern media environment.

“It’s a difficult time to be a journalist, but especially [for] one who is looking for a job for the first time,” he said. “My overriding goal will to be to make every student I teach a more attractive job candidate and a more valuable employee once hired.”

The journalism school will see other staffing changes this fall. Regina Lawrence, the senior chair of political communication at Louisiana State University, will teach graduate courses and an undergraduate course about how women are covered in the news. She will take over the Jesse H. Jones Centennial Chair in Communication from professor Max McCombs, who retired in the spring. Associate professor Mercedes de Uriarte also retired this spring. Both will continue part-time work as professors emeriti.

About 30 people vied for Lawrence’s position. Frankel said Lawrence’s media and political research will make her a great successor to McCombs.

“She has a proven track record of working well with both undergraduates and grad students,” he said. “She’s published widely. She has collaborated with some of the top people in the field.”

Lawrence said she wanted to work at UT because of its reputation in her field.

“My research and teaching expertise is in political communication, and there are very few universities with such a strong concentration of scholars in that field — particularly when you include the Department of Government as well,” she said in an email.

Lawrence said she is excited to work on research for news and politics when both face a time of immense change.

“This is such a fascinating and treacherous time for the news industry, for our political system and for citizen engagement,” she said. “All of these things are in peril, and yet there are also remarkable opportunities to reinvent news, to reinvent politics and to reinvent what it means to be a citizen.”

Printed on 06/27/2011 as: UT journalism to see changes, updates in fall with new fires