Ambiguous results from Texas

It appeared from early voting turnout that Democrats might be poised for dramatic turnout numbers last night in Texas. There seemed to be some hope that the 100%+ increase in Democratic early voting from 2014, combined with only a 15% increase on the Republican side, might portend an even greater gap on Election Day.

Results overall were consistent with the early voting totals. Democrats saw their highest off-year primary turnout since the Dixiecrats completed their party switch, an increase of almost 100% over 2014. Republican turnout still outnumbered Democratic turnout, 1.5m to 1m, but the GOP increase over 2014 was only about 15%. The early voting numbers were a pretty accurate predictor of turnout trends, but nothing larger was hiding in that figure.

Is this a big deal for Democrats? Yes and no. This is an impressive off-year turnout, but we can’t call it trend yet. Though these numbers are remarkable for an off-year, they are still only a third of the Democrats’ amazing ’08 primary turnout figures. Clearly, there is a much larger electorate out there for Democrats in Texas that they have yet to activate. And they clearly don’t yet know how to do it.

For Democrats in Texas, the number to watch is the percentage turnout of the “Voting Age Population.” Texans don’t vote, and the party in power is working hard to drive voter participation even lower. For Democrats to win in off-year elections, they need to push turnout among the VAP close to 45%, near the national average. Texas usually hovers around 25%.

Turnout in yesterday’s primary compared to VAP was higher than usual, but not by a remarkable margin. Overall VAP turnout in off-year primaries usually runs a little less than 10%, with Republicans gathering more than 70% of the voters. In 2018, overall turnout was almost 13%, with Democrats accounting for more than a third of voters. That’s an improvement, and the best we’ve seen in a generation. Does it signal a 2018 wave? Probably not.

Given the depth of the anti-Trump enthusiasm we’re seeing elsewhere in the country, this could be seen as a relatively disappointing outcome for Texas Democrats. On the other hand, compared to the recent electoral trend this might mark a turning point for the party. Losing the statewide races by a narrower margin while picking up a few Congressional districts might be just the formula for growing momentum. We’ll see how this plays out, but the results from yesterday are not a massive statement in either direction.

37 Comments

  1. A dose of reality from 538. It’s the economy, stupid! Any analysis of voters/ opinions right now needs to factor in this undeniable motivator. Money is principally driving politics on the right, while social issues are driving politics of the left. Whoever is driving the economy bus will benefit or lose accordingly. As Chris points out in his excellent Forbes post today, too many religious leaders from the White Evangelical crowd are giving Trump a pass on his personal infidelities. Principles used to matter – in politics and in religion.

    No one wants to denigrate the benefits of a strong economy but it is painful to see those who are commiting political malfeasance rewarded for disparate distribution of economic rewards. But, that’s where our country is right now. Not much empathy happening in circles that are seeing gains.

    https://fivethirtyeight.com/features/the-economy-is-keeping-reluctant-trump-voters-with-him/?ex_cid=Weekly4

    1. In reading the Goodreads description of “Nomadland”, I was struck by the reference that more women are finding this lifestyle advantageous. What good do “roots” serve if they limit us instead of support us? I have been participating in a new FB site (closed – have to apply and be vetted to participate) – organized by the Health Care editors of VOX, called “VOXcare”. Many who post here describe the personal healthcare crises they face in their home states due to the health care systems in those areas. As with all decisions that necessarily surround making a move, it’s complicated: family, job, income, etc. But, the concept of living in a less “rooted” situation is certainly intriguing for those who have the ability to move and the need to find a location that is more affordable and better meets their situation. Or, for those who simply want to experience many different areas. We have all allowed our livelihoods to dominate our planning for most of our lives. A hurdle will exist for the disabled and elderly who could lack the means to navigate these mobile homes much less possess the mechanical practical skill to maintain them. Thanks for the recommendation!

      1. As I listen to the audiobook, I keep thinking of the similarities with the lives of migrant workers from Latin America — constantly moving, in search of any opportunities they can find — doing mostly back-breaking work. This book focuses on baby boomers, so you have ladies in their late 60s with broken ribs and wrists doing their best to maneuver these big vehicles, as they drive to other jobs consisting mostly of physical labor, some even in agricultural fields.

  2. While the results were not definitive, I did notice some positive changes. My precinct person reached out to me for the first time in 15 years. Through that, I was able to attend a meet and greet with many of the candidates from my area. The two for district 22 who I thought were most qualified actually made it to the runoff! Those who live in 22 may recall that we have not always had stellar choices in this district.

    Another positive note, no one spent more, or sucked up to the Frump more than Wall yet she will sit out the runoff. Hell, there may be hope for us yet!

    1. It’s nice to know that a precinct person had an impact on you, a voter.

      I may end up the precinct person for my neighborhood precinct. I have to say, in the 30 years I’ve lived in this neighborhood, I was never contacted by an precinct chair, R or D.

      An interesting tidbit from a very experienced precinct chair, a first for her: a candidate gave her printed postcards with space for the precinct person’s handwritten message — plus postage. She personalized each one and sent them out.

      Yes, that candidate won the nomination.

      I’m very curious to see the impact of one-on-one communication.

      1. Speaking of one-on-one communication . . . the now retired Gene Greene, when he originally ran for office 25 or so years ago, surprised me by knocking on my front door, introducing himself, and shaking my hand. He was going through the neighborhood, door to door. I was impressed.

      2. Yes, door to door campaigning used to be the way a candidate ran for office. With the advent of fancy media, there’s not enough of that happening – in a direct form. Surrogates will canvass “for” the candidate, but more and more, candidates utilize group events to introduce themselves.

        Side bar: when I ran for school board in the late 80s, I had eighteen thousand constituents. Lotsa doors to knock on…but, it was expected and I did achieve it. Of course you don’t always find the homeowners at home, but it was how it was done then and I learned from the experience. This was also a time when people would open their doors and talk with you…today, not so much.

    2. Hi fellow TX-22 citizen. I voted for Brown in the first round (he has a lot of cred on environmental protection issues) but I also had a chance to see Plummer and Kulkarni at one of the meet the candidates forums, and I got a good impression of them too. You are so dead on right about some of the not-so-great choices we’ve had in the past (like a LaRouche-ite) so it was a welcome change to ponder several quality candidates. The downside is that you can’t pick them all. But I hope the ones who didn’t make it this time keep trying.

  3. In other news, I guess we should be looking at the puppet tyrant getting the Nobel Peace Prize in the next couple years with this North Korean announcement. Is the buffoon being played? Likely. But if ANY progress is made to de-escalate this situation, he will likely win the next election, assuming there is even another election, rigged or unrigged. I for one am totally floored that the puppet tyrant’s policies might actually have worked, at least somewhat.

    Best line from the whole thing. The irony meter went off the scale:

    “I won’t rule out direct talks with Kim Jong Un. I just won’t,” the President said. “As far as the risk of dealing with a madman is concerned, that’s his problem, not mine.”

  4. I’ve been following this post quite closely. If Texas ever does shift from being deep red to at least being competitive, national politics will change dramatically. Texas moving from the D’s to the R’s, is probably the single biggest factor that has made the Republican Party so dominant nationally since the 1980’s.

    1. Political pundits who study Texas politics closely are predicting further entrenchment of the far right wing of the Texas Republican Party. Further, it is important to note the “long game” the far right is playing in Texas….picking up a few seats from moderate Republicans in each election until they have solidified their majority lock.

      Can Democrats upset this plan? Yes, but not until sufficient numbers of registered Democrats turn out to vote and even though the numbers appear to be there in major urban areas, Texas is a big state and urban and rural areas are critically important to any significant political change. As Chris notes in his post, voting is abysmally low in Texas, and that plays to the advantage of the consistently voting Republicans (however low – it’s enough to control the outcome).

      I was intrigued to see a representative of the Steven Hotze group up in Montgomery County (he is with the hard right Republican group in Harris County and Houston)…working the polls in early voting, passing out their voter guides in our local elections. I haven’t seen this before but it indicates an expansion of their efforts into areas where the Tea Party is dominant….even if there is division within the two TP factions here.

      Here’s an article that illustrates this point.
      http://www.governing.com/topics/politics/gov-texas-primary-elections-2018-democrats.html?

      1. Mary-
        That’s kind of what happened to California: as the Republican party’s support declined, the remaining party became more wingnut. This accelerated their downfall in a vicious cycle. Now they’re left as a rump party, facing a democratic supermajority in the state legislature. Heck, this year’s governor’s and senator’s races will likely feature 2 democrats in the general election (due to CA’s top-two runoff system) just like the last senate election did.

        This cycle can happen pretty fast. The California Republican party used to be the bedrock of the western-wing of the Republican party (libertarian, socially liberal). It took just a couple cycles to being where they are now.

        Not saying it’ll happen that quickly in Texas, but that the process of replacing moderates is a self-feeding cycle.

      2. WX, very good. I was thinking basically the same. The entire CA Republican fiasco began seriously with Pete Wilson and his anti-immigration measures. I see the same phenomenon happening in the urban areas throughout the West and to a lesser extent throughout the nation. It is definitely happening in Washington and Pugetopolis. Seattle proper used to be moderate and with a strong Republican presence. Now it is difficult to find a Republican in the city; there are still a few in the suburbs.

  5. I imagine that part of the problem is that the Democrats are divided between offering actually tangible stuff like single payer healthcare (which I support) and demonizing white cishet males (which would normally bury them, except that Republicans are order of magnitude crazier). Problem is that corporations prefer the second approach because they want to appear enlightened without forking over any money.

      1. Het = hetero

        cis = cisgendered (basically not trans)

        I have figured out that lights are out for Democrats when they decided Sanders was sexist and racist. Too bad Republicans are even worse.

      2. EJ

        I’d be very interested to hear the ways in which I personally, a European, have demonised white cis men while being one myself.

        Or did you mean the “you” more nebulously, as a general term to mean everyone you feel that you disagree with?

      3. “You want them not to have that talking point? Then stop doing it.”

        If you wanted to prevent right wing commentators from having a baking point, the only thing you could ever say to them is “Yes, master.”

        Then they would complain about the tone of voice and your lack of gratefulness.

      4. EJ

        From an anthropological point of view, that’s a fascinating blog post – Scott Alexander has essentially reinvented, through herculean effort, intelligence, arrogance and ignorance, some of the basics of the modern concepts of identity and relativism. However, I should not indulge in academic pettiness about the wolves at the door of the ivory tower. I’m interested in examining your worldview.

        If I understand correctly, you’re saying that:

        A) You believe that all your enemies, from old-fashioned trade-unionists to modern intersectional progressive feminists, are a single cultural monolith that share their cultural values.

        B) You identify as a member of Alexander’s Gray Tribe.

        Am I understanding correctly?

    1. I agree with you antimule. I’m a fervent Democrat, mainly for economic reasons. And while I also support most of our social positions (pro-choice, anti-discrimination, etc.) I think the obsession with identity politics may end up being our undoing. There is a fine line between recognizing, celebrating, and protecting people different than us, and focusing so intently on the ways we’re different that we lose sight of how we’re the same. A gay person still needs a job. A person of color still needs health insurance. While our needs aren’t identical, they’re more similar than different.

      IMHO, the frequent Republican criticism about the victimhood olympics, where groups focus so much on proving they’re the greater victim, is valid (although not to the extent that Republicans think of it). Once you start it, there’s no end: there’s always someone who has less privilege than you.

      The controversy over Emma Stone’s Oscar presentation is a great example: She announced the Best Director nominees as “4 men and Greta Gerwig”. Many women applauded that she recognized a woman nominee and subtly insulted the Academy for only having one. Finally a group marginalized at the Oscars (female directors) is being recognized!

      However, among those 4 men, there was one Mexican immigrant (Guillermo del Toro), and one African American (Jordan Peele). And non-white observers were upset that Stone lumped them all together as “4 men”, as if their racial identities were less important than the gender identity of Gerwig. While Gerwig is only the 5th woman to be nominated, Peele is only the 5th Black man. Furthermore, the man who won the award (del Torro), started his speech by proclaiming that he’s an immigrant. Certainly immigrant status is also an important part of one’s identity?

      Should Stone have introduced them as ” 4 non-African Americans and Peele?” Or “3 white people and Peele and del Torro?” Or “4 native-borns and 1 immigrant?” Who (or who’s group) is the greater victim? Once you start down this rabbit hole, there’s no end, except the destruction of the very notion that coalition politics is possible. Maybe she should have just said “The 5 nominees are…” and leave it at that, recognizing that all 5 were brilliant directors, who will each be getting a laudatory 20-second introduction on-screen.

      This is a really difficult balance, and FWIW, I think the Democratic party is doing *okay* at striking it, recognizing and working on the unique needs of different people / groups, while also focusing on the broad issues. But there are definitely signs that this balancing act may start failing soon.

      1. I love this statement: “There is a fine line between recognizing, celebrating, and protecting people different than us, and focusing so intently on the ways we’re different that we lose sight of how we’re the same.”

        How to get to “how we’re the same”…..It is difficult to ignore personal, social and political undeserved abuse without reacting. Unfortunately, and it is very much a part of our daily life. I agree that hyper-focusing on these differences can be tiresome, distracting and even counter-productive, but it is important to stand up for those who are treated unfairly who have so little voice. There is a great sense of futility and lack of empowerment driving many of these conversations. As with most things, balance is key, and that is not easily put into practice nor is it always reciprocal. I could offer many examples to illustrate this reality but likely they are known. Our country is in a bad place right now in terms of our compassion and generosity of understanding.

  6. Organization – that’s really key. “Hoping” for a Blue Wave won’t make it happen. We are up against a formidable GOP organization that has invested serious time and capital (human and financial) in building a very successful GOTV effort. Moreover, they stoke their base continually between elections with tactics that result in consistent turnout numbers. We must learn from them and not underestimate them.

    Mid-Terms offer an opportunity and a daunting challenge to Democrats in Texas. Democratic voter turnout in the primary was not as robust as many hoped for in the suburbs and in rural areas, yet improvement in field organization and voter engagement should see those numbers improve leading up to the November mid-term election. The critical question is, will voter enthusiasm, commitment, and organization be sufficient to translate into the huge turnout that will see enough Democratic wins to sustain momentum? The answer to that will be clear with election results November 6, 2018. In the meantime, we work and organize to make that outcome a reality, not a miracle.

    This article offers interesting statistical charts/graphs on Texas voting history.

    https://www.politico.com/f/?id=00000161-fac8-df2f-a7e3-ffca30610001

  7. It’s good that the Dem numbers were up, but I can count and looking at the total votes people like Abbott and Patrick and Cruz got tells me that the Dems still have a very heavy lift ahead of them. But I am going to do a little schadenfreude dance if those CD02 results hold up and Kathaleen Wall is shut out of the runoff. Her kissing-Trump’s-ass campaign ads marred my Olympics watching. And her gun ads after the Parkland murders! Can you say tone-deaf?

    1. I live in 02 and researched the Dem candidates for our group.

      When I looked at the R’s web sites, Wall stood out (along with the guy who wears an eye patch). Apparently she’s been a big R fundraiser and apparently hoped to build on that.

      I, too, hope we don’t see her as a candidate again. Truly disgusting ads.

    2. Being a former Navy Seal is evidently a better indicator of personal quality than spending $6M of one’s own money….Crenshaw won this race with 145 votes…so next time someone tells you they’re not voting because their vote won’t count….remind them of this race.

  8. Curiously, I understand that Texas is a bit quirky in that some of its counties don’t even actively choose to run a Democratic primary since they’re so overwhelmingly Republican – so unless a voter went out of their way to drive somewhere else that had one, they could only choose from Republicans.

    Any reason to think that Republicans’ numbers would be inflated to any significant degree or is it inconsequential?

    1. I wouldn’t get carried away with that understanding about Texas counties. There are more than a dozen counties in Texas where fewer than 300 people voted overall, but I’m not aware of anyplace that didn’t hold a Democratic primary.

      On the other hand, in an election like this it wouldn’t be unusually for a potential Democratic wave not to show up at all in primary results. You could have a situation in which at lot of political newbees or lightly engaged independents are going to turn out for whoever the Democrat is in a general election and simply don’t care about the intramural question of which Democrat wins a primary. I think that’s what Democrats are hoping for here and it isn’t unreasonable.

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