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.