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Precinct analysis: HISD Trustee district VII in a Presidential year

As you know, we have a special election for HISD Trustee in district VII on the ballot this November. There’s one Democratic candidate in that race and three Republicans. These races are normally held in odd-numbered years, in which turnout is considerably lower than in Presidential years. Overall turnout in Harris County in 2013 was 13.23%, with turnout in the HISD VII race at 21.86%; this was the highest level among the three contested Trustee races that year. In 2012, turnout in Harris County was 61.99%. There are going to be a lot more people at the polls for this Trustee race than there usually are, is what I’m saying. What effect might that have on the special election?

Well, the conventional wisdom is that Democrats do better in higher-turnout environments. There’s a lot of empirical evidence for this, but just because something is true in the aggregate doesn’t mean it’s true in all specific subsets. Here’s what the numbers look like in HISD VII in 2013 and in 2012:


Pcnct  Moore   Sung   Moore%   Sung%   Romney    Obama  Romney%   Obama%
========================================================================
54        79    222   26.25%  73.75%      531      444   54.46%   45.54%
70       271    375   41.95%  58.05%    1,487      825   64.32%   35.68%
129      473    373   55.91%  44.09%    2,369    1,279   64.94%   35.06%
135      377    205   64.78%  35.22%    1,366      657   67.52%   32.48%
139      199    317   38.57%  61.43%    1,027      965   51.56%   48.44%
177      102    134   43.22%  56.78%      628      398   61.21%   38.79%
178      198    177   52.80%  47.20%      878      375   70.07%   29.93%
204      261    537   32.71%  67.29%    1,411      939   60.04%   39.96%
217      480    226   67.99%  32.01%    1,388      633   68.68%   31.32%
227      377    118   76.16%  23.84%    1,089      289   79.03%   20.97%
233      298    351   45.92%  54.08%    1,496    1,310   53.31%   46.69%
234      629    280   69.20%  30.80%    2,327      606   79.34%   20.66%
269      398    125   76.10%  23.90%    1,278      282   81.92%   18.08%
272       77    132   36.84%  63.16%      404      660   37.97%   62.03%
282      112    186   37.58%  62.42%      765      481   61.40%   38.60%
303      541    165   76.63%  23.37%    2,052      404   83.55%   16.45%
312      247    246   50.10%  49.90%    1,286      982   56.70%   43.30%
421       11     19   36.67%  63.33%       45      169   21.03%   78.97%
431       38     40   48.72%  51.28%      309      867   26.28%   73.72%
432       35     55   38.89%  61.11%      158      402   28.21%   71.79%
434      176    128   57.89%  42.11%      657      319   67.32%   32.68%
435      303    304   49.92%  50.08%    1,515      716   67.91%   32.09%
436	 257    215   54.45%  45.55%    1,232      762   61.79%   38.21%
491      144    123   53.93%  46.07%      680      438   60.82%   39.18%
567       78    109   41.71%  58.29%      280      748   27.24%   72.76%
569      184    219   45.66%  54.34%    1,192      910   56.71%   43.29%
570       38     90   29.69%  70.31%      414      484   46.10%   53.90%
684        7      4   63.64%  36.36%       58       38   60.42%   39.58%
809        1      2   33.33%  66.67%       10       17   37.04%   62.96%
839       36     37   49.32%  50.68%      113      464   19.58%   80.42%
902      165    246   40.15%  59.85%      869      576   60.14%   39.86%
								
Total  6,621  5,773   53.42%  46.58%   29,314   18,439   61.39%   38.61%
Harvin Moore

Harvin Moore

Did that upend your view of this race? It upended mine. Before I get into what this may mean for the candidates, let’s try to answer the question why Republican turnout improved so much more in the Presidential year – or if you want to look at it more chronologically, why it deteriorated more in the off year. Here are a few thoughts about that.

It’s important to keep in mind that odd year elections are different from even year elections, in that there generally isn’t much in the odd years for Republicans in Houston. Bill King last year was the first serious Republican candidate for Mayor since 2003, and he wasn’t running on the kind of culture-war issues that tend to boost Republican turnout in even years. There wasn’t much to draw Republican voters to the polls in 2013, at least in these precincts, so their turnout lagged more compared to 2012 than Democrats’ turnout did.

Along those lines, Anne Sung ran a campaign that strongly identified her as a Democrat and a progressive, which may have helped her draw some people out, or at least ensure that some of the people who had come out anyway continued down the ballot to vote for her. Harvin Moore is a Republican, but he doesn’t have a Republican brand, if you will. You wouldn’t know he was a Republican unless you paid close attention. The difference in branding may have affected some voters in a way that benefited Sung.

Of course, it’s not always about partisan labels. Moore was a strong supporter of former Superintendent Terry Grier; in fact, Moore was the trustee who proposed extending Grier’s contract more than a year before it was to expire. Sung was a critic of Grier’s, and identified herself as such in the campaign. It may be that the closeness of the race was more a reflection of that dynamic than anything else.

Anyway. The point I’m making here is that the higher turnout we’ll see in this race does not necessarily accrue to Anne Sung’s benefit, which is not what I had originally thought. Before I looked at the numbers, I would have said that her best bet to win would have been to achieve a majority in November and avoid a runoff, where turnout would be miniscule. Think Chris Bell in the special election for SD17 in 2008 as a parallel, or what I had thought would be a parallel. In reality, given what we saw in these numbers, I’d say Sung’s job is just to make it to the runoff, then try to drum up enough turnout among friendly voters in that race to win. Conversely, each of the three Rs should want to be the other person alongside Sung in that runoff, and reap the advantage of the district’s natural Republican lean. An R-versus-Sung runoff is preferable to them than an R-versus-R runoff, which will be more about persuasion than turnout.

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One Comment

  1. Greg Wythe says:

    Looking at the voter data, the partisan score for the 2013 voters isn’t significantly different than the 2016 outcome. That suggests that the difference in outcomes was a function of Rs voting for Anne more than turnout differential among Rs and Ds.

    It’s also worth noting that the candidates don’t have party labels on the ballot for these contests. Partisan signals help, but the % of voters that are receiving these signals is always much lower than candidates would like to believe.

    I’m also curious if we’ve got examples of HISD or other school board races held in a Presidential year. The dropoff in vote should be substantial and there’s an unknown variable to calculate – which downballot candidate would see the least/most dropoff. This area is also home to the least “straight-party” electorate in the county and has shown other instances of crossover winners in the past (Ellen Cohen, Bill White, and LVdP swing voters being recent examples).

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