But first, a few words about the overall picture.
The number of Texans voting early at the polls is down significantly in Harris County compared with the last midterm election, a potential warning sign that pundits say may mean Democrats will suffer worse defeats than those seen in the 2010 countywide Republican sweep.
In-person turnout during the first seven days of early voting is 33 percent less than in 2010, a drop masked by a huge surge in vote-by-mail ballots that inflated the first day’s returns. Texas Democrats launched a coordinated vote-by-mail program this year to target the state’s elderly voters, and the Harris County Democratic Party supplemented that effort with its own absentee operation.
Together, the numbers of votes by mail increased by 17,000 on the first day over the last midterm election’s haul, but that increase was quickly been nullified by a daily drop of 5,000 to 8,000 in-person ballots. Vote-by-mail ballots are received and counted mostly on the first day, so it is not expected that the massive uptick seen on day 1 will repeat, while the in-person decline may persist throughout this week.
At the end of the first week, about 195,000 total votes have been cast – 13 percent less than the number at this point in 2010, when former Houston mayor Bill White ran as the Democratic candidate for governor but local Democrats still suffered heavy losses.
Democrats would need a large turnout statewide – especially in Harris County, the epicenter of Texas’ efforts to turn the state blue – to earn surprise victories on Election Day. The lower turnout could spell trouble for Democratic candidates, including Kim Ogg, the district attorney who stands as the Democrats’ best chance to win a countywide offiice this fall.
“Clearly, they’re down in the count,” said Brandon Rottinghaus, a political scientist at the University of Houston. “You’ve got this hidden pocket of Democratic voters that voted in 2008 that clearly aren’t deciding to show up in 2014.”
Rottinghaus noted that turnout was weak at the Acres Home and Metropolitan Multi-Service Centers, which typically are heavily Democratic.
Early voting typically increases daily during the second week, which has longer hours, and spikes on Friday, the final day. That gives Democrats a chance to reverse the trend, said Lane Lewis, the county’s Democratic Party chairman.
“The challenge that’s going on right now is our base vote,” said Lewis, “but the second week of early voting is always our strongest week, so I’m very optimistic.”
Here are the Day Eight totals and the full 2010 EV totals. No question, early voting totals are down overall, though as it happens Acres Homes had its best day yesterday while the Metro Multi-Service Center had its second best day. Actually, nearly every EV location in a Democratic State Rep district had its best day yesterday, which was not the case for the GOP SRDs. Dem turnout was similarly up on the second Monday in 2010, but so was GOP turnout.
What I’m saying, and what I have said before, is that “turnout” includes Republicans, too. What matters is who shows up. Republicans have had the best of it so far, no doubt. Dems have done better than they did in 2010, but that’s a low bar to clear, and the general consensus is about a 55-45 lead for the GOP. That said, Dems had their best day on Sunday, and yesterday looks to me like it was pretty good as well. The opportunity is there to make up some ground.
Early voting in the top 15 counties remains up overall compared to 2010, though this continues to be due to strong mail ballot numbers. The Davis campaign has argued that the vote so far has been less white than it was in 2010. The guts of their argument, from the Quorum Report via email:
In what has been a historically strong period for Republicans in early voting because of the truncated hours (8-5), the Davis team counters that 4% more African American voters have participated than in 2010 and 12% more Hispanic voters.
It is Republicans that have faded so far in this mid-term election the Davis people say. Historically, it is women, minorities and young people that vote in presidential years but then disappear two years later. Not so this time.
To bolster their argument, campaign spokesman Zac Petkanas told QR that by their analysis, 602,343 anglos had voted at this point in the anti-Obama tidal wave of 2010. In stark contrast, only 587,098 anglos had voted five days in to this election. In other words, white participation (from which Republicans derive most of their votes) had dropped by around 15,000 votes and minority participation increased by 16,000 votes.
I don’t have access to that data, but even if true that would represent a narrowing of the gap, not a closure of it. And as encouraging as that would be, it’s important to remember that the gap in 2010 was pretty fricking huge, like 25 to 30 points in the non-gubernatorial race. Cut that in half and you’re still looking at a double-digit deficit. The Trib acknowledges the issue in a way that I haven’t seen them do before.
Part of politics is persuasion — getting people who are likely to vote for a particular candidate to turn out. Another strategy is to get people who are not as likely to vote — and who, if they voted, would choose a particular candidate — to go to the polls.
That second group is the target for Democrats this year, and part of their rationale when they complain about political polls that show Republicans winning all of the statewide races. Those surveys concentrate on likely voters. If new people are voting and the pollsters do not have them in sight, the reasoning goes, the outcome on Election Day will be something other than what the pollsters and pundits are forecasting.
Whether that is the case will be clear in less than two weeks.
Ross Ramsey could easily have been giving me the side-eye as he wrote that. I would point out that pollsters have wrestled with that question as well, at least to some extent. That may be why, as I noted before, some have this as about a ten point race while others have it at sixteen or more. I’ll be keeping an eye on the Harris totals as we go to get a better feeling for that.