Harris County voters are on the verge of favoring a Democratic presidential candidate for the first time in 44 years — putting the area out of step with the rest of Texas, according to a Houston Chronicle poll.
They gave Barack Obama the edge over Republican John McCain by 7 percentage points this week, with very few undecided or backing another contender.
Voters also favored Democrat Rick Noriega of Houston against Republican Sen. John Cornyn by the same amount — with 13 percent undecided or committed to another candidate.
The survey results were compiled by Zogby International as early voting got under way for the Nov. 4 election.
Other than in the 30-49 age group, where Obama and McCain were in a statistical tie, Obama was ahead in every age category in the survey. The pattern was the same in the Noriega-Cornyn race.
The county is poised to reverse the trend not only because of population shifts, pollster John Zogby said, but also because of the political mood of the nation, which leans toward Obama in several polls.
From the Houston-area view, he said, “if the Democratic ‘brand’ hasn’t been enhanced, the Republican ‘brand’ has certainly been damaged, state and nationwide” by economic woes, President Bush’s unpopularity, the Iraq war aftermath and other factors.
The Chronicle poll of 602 people, conducted Monday through Wednesday, has a margin of error of 4.1 percentage points.
More than two-thirds of Harris County voters said the economy is the most important issue facing the U.S. The next most frequently mentioned issue was Iraq, at 11 percent.
In February, well before the financial crisis hit the nation, 35 percent of Harris County voters in a Chronicle poll placed the economy at the top, followed by Iraq at 16 percent.
This month’s poll assumes the black and Hispanic populations each will contribute 20 percent of the countywide vote.
– The first thing everyone is going to latch on to is the partisan breakdown of the sample, which is 46D/37.5R/16.5I. I have to say, that seems a little Democrat-heavy to me. I have no trouble believing that the Dems have erased the Republican’s lead here, and can believe they have nosed ahead, but an 8.5 point gap in the Dems’ favor strikes me as excessive. Needless to say, I’ll be delighted to be wrong about that.
(For what it’s worth, if you assume that the sample should have an equivalent number of Ds and Rs and you recalculate based on the R/D/I percentages Zogby found, you get a dead heat, 47-47. What this suggests to me is that the Republicans had better hope they haven’t lost their edge in party ID.)
– Hand in hand with this is the poll’s projection, deemed low by “some local experts” in the story, that 40% of the turnout in this election will come from Hispanic and African-American voters. Richard Murray points out that Hispanic and African-American turnout in early voting is way up from 2004, much more than Anglo turnout. The more this holds true, the more accurate Zogby’s partisan breakdown is likely to be.
– The Chron is promising polls tomorrow and Monday on countywide races and the judicial contests. This will help answer the question of what kind of coattails, if any, Obama may have. I’ve spoken before about how Bush voters in 2004 were much more likely to skip downballot races than Kerry voters were – the average GOP judicial candidate in a contested race got about 93% of Bush’s vote total, where the average Democratic judicial candidate got about 98% of Kerry’s, and in one case exceeded his total. How many Obama voters are just there to push the button for him, and how many will take heed of the HCDP’s efforts to get them to vote straight Democratic? How many Obama voters are actually Republicans who just won’t be voting for McCain, like the many high profile defectors we’ve seen lately? Everybody not running for President will be sweating those questions out.
– This poll also has Rick Noriega leading John Cornyn by a 47-40 mark; there are considerably more “not sure” responses” for this race. More self-proclaimed Democrats are unsure than Republicans, so there’s more room for Noriega to go up. In the small subsample of Hispanic voters, Noriega leads 50-33, and Obama leads 53-36. Again, I expect Noriega to do better with this group, and I believe that will help him do better overall than Obama.
– In the end, Harris County will be about 15% of the state vote total. If Obama and Noriega are doing this well here, they may well be doing better statewide than recent polls have shown. That’s assuming Zogby’s sample is representative, which is no sure thing. But it’s definitely possible.
I can’t wait to see the other results. This stuff is like catnip for junkies like me.