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Statewide review: 2016 was like 2008, but not in a good way

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There’s no point in beating around the bush, so I’ll just come out and say it: Despite the excitement about increases in voter registration and heavy early voting turnout. statewide Democratic candidates outside of Hillary Clinton generally did not do any better than their counterparts in 2008. Republican statewide candidates, on the other hand, were generally setting new high-water marks for vote totals. Every statewide Republican other than Wayne Christian topped Donald Trump’s 4,681,590 votes, with all of them but one besting it by at least 100,000. Meanwhile, only Dori Contreras Garza’s 3,598,852 votes exceeded President Obama’s 2008 tally. Overall turnout was up in Texas (in absolute numbers, though not in percentage), but while Dem turnout was better than 2012, it didn’t hit any new heights. I fear we may be at a plateau, as we have been in the off years since 2002.

Why am I not more encouraged by Hillary Clinton’s 3.8 million-plus total? Because I estimate at least 100,000 of her votes came from people who supported Republicans in other races, and because the dropoff from her total to downballot candidates was enough to show no visible growth. For these purposes, I’m using judicial races as my metric, as I believe it is a better proxy for partisan intent. I used as a baseline for comparison between 2012 and 2016 two Court of Criminal Appeals races – the 2012 Sharon Keller/Keith Hampton race, and the 2016 Mike Keasler/Robert Burns race. I believe these contests are low enough profile to draw a relatively small number of crossovers, and in this particular case they were the only such races each year to have just a Libertarian candidate in addition, thus allowing for a more apples-to-apples comparison. I put all the county totals into a spreadsheet and then calculated the difference between the two. From a Democratic perspective, there’s good news, so-so news, and bad news.

I’ll get to the news in a second. You can see the spreadsheet here. I’ve put a list of the 62 counties in which Democrats gained votes from 2012 to 2016 beneath the fold. Take a look and then come back, and we’ll talk about what I think this means.

Ready? Democrats really killed it in the big urban counties. Harris, Bexar, Travis, El Paso, and Dallas combined for nearly 240,000 more Democratic votes in 2016, compared to 83,000 for the Republicans, a net of over 150K. Dems took such a big step forward in Harris County that HD144 might not really be a swing district any more, while HDs 132, 135, and 138 are now in the picture as pickup opportunities, with HD126 a little farther out on the horizon. I’ll have more to say about Harris County beginning tomorrow, but I feel like maybe, just maybe, we’ve finally turned a corner. I know that the off-year turnout issue is a problem until we can demonstrate that it’s not, but I believe it’s getting hard to dispute the assertion that there are just more Democrats in Harris County than there are Republicans. I also believe that national conditions will be different in 2018 than they were in 2010 and 2014. Doesn’t mean they’ll necessarily be better, but they will be different, and when you’ve consistently been on the short end of the stick, having conditions change – even if you don’t know how they will change – is a risk you ought to be willing to take.

Democrats also showed a nice gain in the big Latino counties (Hidalgo, Cameron, and Webb), while netting over 9,000 votes in Fort Bend. I’ll be looking at Fort Bend data later as well, and while this wasn’t enough to push any non-Hillary Dems over the top there, it’s a step in the right direction.

The so-so news is that Dems more or less held steady in most of the big suburban counties, by which I mean they mostly lost a little ground but not that much. Other than Fort Bend, Dems posted a solid gain in Hays County and barely gained more votes in Brazoria County than the GOP did. They had modest net losses in counties like Tarrant, Collin, Denton, and Williamson, such that one might feel we are at or near an inflection point in those counties. In math terms, the second derivative is approaching zero. This is a genteel way of saying that we’re falling behind at a slower pace. Better than falling behind in huge chunks, but still not good news.

The bad news is that in several other suburban counties, and basically all the non-Latino rural ones, Democrats got crushed. Montgomery County continues to be a sucking chest wound, with 21,087 more Republican votes and 8,432 more Dems. Comal County is Montgomery’s little brother, with continued steady growth and a deep red tint that shows no signs of abating. And if you’re old enough to remember when Galveston County was reliably Democratic, well, the score here is 10,335 more votes for the GOP, and 1,521 more for the Dems. So, yeah.

It’s the rural counties where things really become dreary. I said the Dems gained votes over 2012 in 62 counties. That means they lost votes in 192 others. Now, most of these are small counties, and the losses themselves were small in most of them; the average loss was 323 votes. But Republicans gained an average of over 700 votes in each of those counties, and as they say after awhile it adds up. Plus, some of these counties are now more exurban than rural, and like the suburbs are seeing steady growth. Two examples for you are Johnson County, northwest of Travis and home of Cleburne, and Parker County, west of Tarrant where Weatherford is. Those counties saw a combined voter registration increase of about 20,000. Of that, 17,201 were Republican and 449 were Democratic. That right there is enough to negate the Democratic net gain in Dallas County.

The single most eye-catching item in here is Polk County, up US59 between Houston and Lufkin; Livingston is the county seat. Unlike Johnson and Parker, it has about the same number of voters as it did four years ago. The difference is that in 2012 fewer than half of registered voters bothered, while this year nearly everyone did. Turnout in the Presidential race in Polk County was an mind-boggling 89.48%, and nearly the entire increase came from Republicans. In this CCA comparison, Mike Keasler got 12,183 more votes than Sharon Keller did, while Robert Burns improved on Keith Hampton by only 1,845 votes. All this with only 38,530 total registered voters. OMG, to say the least.

So what should we be doing about this? Well, we should keep doing what we’re doing in the urban counties, because it definitely bore fruit this year. I’d like to think we’re starting to maybe get a little traction in the suburbs, at least some of them, but it’s going to take a lot more resources and an effort that doesn’t just gear up at campaign time to really get that going. Mostly, we need to have a way to make sure we’re being heard in these places, because I don’t think we are, not outside of the faithful who are there. If I were a fabulously wealthy person who wanted to move the needle outside the urban counties, I’d throw a bunch of money at the Texas Organizing Project and ask them to figure out (and execute) a way to do for these suburbs and exurbs what they’ve been doing in Pasadena. It’s slow and methodical and just one piece of the puzzle, but we have got to start somewhere.

Data on the counties where Dem turnout grew is beneath the fold. More to come over the next week or so.


County              Rep    Dem      Lib
=======================================
ALL COUNTIES    525,790 385,543 108,798

HARRIS           32,598  81,916  17,453
TRAVIS           16,840  55,491   5,368
BEXAR            18,071  42,255  12,373
EL PASO           2,729  29,936   5,436
DALLAS           12,876  29,834  10,921
TARRANT          28,667  27,616   8,012
COLLIN           30,408  27,085   4,198
FORT BEND        15,108  26,742   2,634
DENTON           28,375  23,437   3,686
HIDALGO           9,449  20,194   2,610
WILLIAMSON       19,453  17,105   2,560
CAMERON           2,538   9,425   2,249
MONTGOMERY       21,087   8,432   2,026
BRAZORIA          6,647   6,665   1,114
HAYS              5,677   6,552     887
WEBB              1,672   5,899   1,052
NUECES            5,375   3,287   1,556
BRAZOS            5,876   3,137     923
GUADALUPE         5,298   2,409     805
BELL              5,443   2,213   1,673
MAVERICK            560	  2,152     323
COMAL             8,436   1,866     472
POLK             12,183   1,845     496
ELLIS             7,501   1,703     683
ECTOR             2,142   1,596     369
GALVESTON        10,335   1,521   1,668
MIDLAND           2,862     986     760
VAL VERDE           544     832     253
ROCKWALL          3,607     828     277
BASTROP           2,870     455     537
KAUFMAN           5,889     455     556
JOHNSON           8,300     433     514
MCLENNAN          4,738     338     562
PRESIDIO             43     335      31
JIM HOGG             27     302      21
KENDALL           2,135     258      89
NACOGDOCHES       1,767     236     204
VICTORIA          2,278     225     229
JIM WELLS           480     202     146
LUBBOCK           6,679     167     966
LASALLE             104     142      27
CROCKETT             85     113      14
TERRY                44     109      29
DIMMIT              143      91      32
UVALDE              391      76      76
KERR              1,190      75     199
KLEBERG             429      74     139
POTTER            1,374      73     405
EDWARDS              79      66      12
CORYELL           1,743      55     235
MOORE               229      46      44
MEDINA            1,283      34     182
WILLACY               0      33     128
ERATH             1,478      25      48
OCHILTREE            25      22      23
GOLIAD              334      21       2
REEVES              186      20      51
STERLING             99      20       6
KENEDY               -4      17       0
PARKER            8,901      16     389
REAGAN               88	     15       3
CULBERSON            -8       8       1

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5 Comments

  1. Neither Here Nor There says:

    I don’t know about the state and to look at all of them in depth would take too much work and programing that I am not to, but. I don’t think that the drop in numbers necessarily means that Republicans are like minded people were voting for Hillary and then voting voting Republican. I believe many were first time voters who did not know how to vote straight party. That sounds simple doesn’t it? It is not, for the first time in my life I voted straight Democrat or straight anything. After choosing that button I was at a loss as to what to afterwards. I looked into the matter and found that it is complicated.

    If the Democrats want to turn Harris County Blue they will need to educate voters on how to vote a Straight ticket. Many voters are non-readers in any language and of course there are voters that need assistance in a language other than English.

    Texas will not turn Blue in 2 years, but if the Democrats can get their act together they can maybe win Texas in four years.

    Trump will be a disaster and the Democrats here in Houston have to start preparing to take advantage of that in four years.

    I am not a Democrat but because of Trump I will be supporting all Democrats regardless of their abilities or lack thereof.

  2. Neither Here Nor There says:

    I am not willing to take time to do or learn.

  3. Doug says:

    Johnson County and Cleburne are south of Tarrant, not near Travis.

  4. Mainstream says:

    Is Polk County where all the voters out traveling in their RVs are registered as a base for voting?

  5. […] Mainstream on Statewide review: 2016 was like 2008, but not in a good way […]

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