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This will be your last year to vote a straight party ticket

Whether you like it or not. The linked story looks at how this upcoming change, to go into effect in 2020, may affect judicial elections.

Texas elects its judges, leaving the nearly anonymous people in charge of the third branch of state government in the hands of voters who have only the vaguest idea of who they are.

It’s one of the built-in problems of running a big state. Ballots are long. Attention spans are short. Judges are almost as invisible as they are important — a critical part of government located a long way from the noisy and partisan front lines of civics and politics.

The top of the ballot gets the attention. The bottom of the ballot gets leftovers.

When a party’s candidates at the top of the ticket are doing well, it bodes well for that party’s candidates at the bottom — for the time being anyway. For at least one more election, Texans will be able to cast straight-party votes — choosing everybody on their party’s ticket without going race-by-race through sometimes long ballots.

Texas lawmakers decided last year to get rid of the straight-ticket option starting in 2020. It’s a Republican Legislature and governor and straight-ticket Democrats in Dallas and Harris and other big counties have been making early retirees of Republican judges in recent elections.

[…]

When straight-ticket voting comes to an end in Texas, judges will to win by figuring out how to drag their supporters to the bottom of long ballots. For now, they have to worry about how their fellow partisans are doing at the top of the ticket — and whether the big blue counties will spoil their chances.

See here and here for thoughts I have expressed on this subject in the past. No question, turnout for downballot races – not just judicial, but for things like County Clerk and Railroad Commissioner and whatnot – will decrease when the one-button option disappears, though I expect both parties will put a lot of energy into convincing people to vote all the way down. I just want to point out that there’s already more variance than you might think in judicial race vote totals. We’ll see how much that increases in two years, assuming the Lege doesn’t undo itself next year.

Day Seven flood bond EV totals

The word of the week is “slow”.

Fewer than 46,000 ballots have been cast in the first week of early voting on Harris County’s $2.5 billion flood bond referendum, but county officials on Monday said they expect many more voters leading up to the Aug. 25 anniversary of Hurricane Harvey’s landfall.

According to the county clerk’s office, 2,692 voters went to the polls in person Monday. Combined with 575 mail-in ballots returned Monday, the first six days of early voting have seen a total of 45,517 ballots.

“Bond elections don’t usually get voters excited, but there are plenty of days of early voting,” Harris County Clerk Stan Stanart said.

Last week, Stanart estimated that 230,000 to 300,000 voters would cast ballots on the bond referendum. By Monday, he had dropped his projection to 150,000 to 200,000 total votes by the end of the election, even as he expects turnout to increase closer to the one-year anniversary of Harvey, when media coverage and advertisements in support of the flood bond will increase publicity.

[…]

Rice University political scientist Robert Stein said he is skeptical the number of voters will increase come Aug. 25, but he added that low turnout does not necessarily signal a lack of support for the bond plan. He predicted the bond would pass with at least 60 percent of the votes cast.

A University of Houston poll last week put support for the bond around 62 percent.

Stein said low voter turnout is a “free rider” issue for residents who assume their vote does not matter.

“The public believes this (flood control bond) will pass and want it to pass,” he said. “But the assumption is perfectly reasonable that, ‘I’m not going to vote. Someone else will do it.’”

See here for more on that poll. I tend to agree with Professor Stein on both counts here. I suspect that the bulk of the ballots will be cast early, and I don’t see much in the way of opposition, at least not at a level to push people to the polls.

I suspect Stanart’s initial optimism was based on the number of mail ballots sent out. There were about 68K of them sent out for this election; by comparison, there were about 89K mail ballots sent out for the November 2014 election, of which about 71K were returned. More people vote by mail these days, and an election like this is going to be especially heavy with older voters, but that’s still a significant enough number to suggest a level of turnout that’s a decent fraction of a regular November off-year election. It’s just that the in person EV totals have not been consistent with that.

In any event, here are the EV toitals after one full week. If there’s an uptick coming, it has not yet arrived. After seven days, 16,277 people have voted in person and 34,388 by mail, for 54,665 in total. I do think we will see an upward trend in the last few days, as we usually do, but for now we are just toddling along. And as Campos notes, the original idea was for this to have modest-at-best turnout, so I suppose we are more or less where we should have expected to be. Have you voted yet? I figure I will on Friday.

Chron goes on a road trip with Beto

This covers a lot of ground we’ve been over before, along with some anecdotes of interaction with various voters. It also has a nice, concise summary of the nature of the Beto O’Rourke go-everywhere strategy.

Rep. Beto O’Rourke

O’Rourke’s visit came during a sweep of all 254 counties in Texas over the past year. Many of the miles were clocked in a white Dodge Grand Caravan. It was a trip that would have been easy to dismiss as a one-time campaign stunt. But this month, he was back in rural West Texas as he launched a 34-day road trip across the state.

It’s a new playbook, born of Democratic futility in Texas.

The first three days of O’Rourke’s journey took him 765 zig-zagging miles — from a friendly, Latin-flavored send-off in downtown El Paso to sparsely-attended stops in gun-friendly Republican strongholds like Muleshoe, in Bailey County, where he would get quizzed by skeptical locals about the Second Amendment.

The time and effort the El Paso congressman is investing in small-town Texas has become a hallmark of his small-dollar, no-PAC campaign to unseat incumbent GOP Sen. Ted Cruz, a former presidential candidate and conservative icon who won the state by 16 points in 2012.

It also represents a quantum shift in Democratic strategy in the Lone Star State, which has always relied on running up the numbers in the large urban enclaves of Austin, Houston and San Antonio. The desolate cow towns that dot the state’s vast expanses make wonderful backdrops for homey political campaigns, but the resources O’Rourke is throwing at his statewide strategy suggest that it’s about more than creating a Norman Rockwell tableau.

Democrats acknowledge that O’Rourke may not win over conservative rural voters in Archer County, near the Oklahoma state line, but he might be able to wrangle a few more votes here and there, enough to make a difference in a race that some polls say has tightened into single digits.

“You can’t get beat 80-20 in Brownwood, Texas, and get elected to the United States Senate,” said former Texas Land Commissioner Garry Mauro, the last Democrat to win statewide office — in 1994. “You have to show people that you are culturally attuned to them, and for Beto that should be easy. There’s nobody more Texan than Beto O’Rourke.”

[…]

All the same, O’Rourke’s long-shot quest to scavenge votes in the state’s most solidly Republican strongholds has its skeptics.

“You don’t have all the time and money in the world,” said Texas GOP strategist Brendan Steinhauser, who has done campaign work for former House Majority Leader Dick Armey and U.S. Sen. John Cornyn. “You’re looking at winning a statewide election in Texas, and some 8 million people are going to vote, more or less. How is it an efficient use of your scarce time and money to travel to small towns … to pick up five votes here or 10 votes there? The voters, especially Democratic voters, are still in the cities.”

O’Rourke’s answer is that the old playbook hasn’t been working.

“You’ve got this history where a Democrat hasn’t won statewide in more than 20 years,” said campaign spokesman Chris Evans. “You kind of got this question: What hasn’t been going right?”

Let’s be clear up front that both Mauro and Steinhauser are right, though in an off-year election we’re talking more like five million voters, not eight million. I’ve made all of these points before, and they remain the key aspects to the campaign. What we need to see is what effect the Beto strategy has had, in terms of his performance, and to an extent downballot Democratic performance, in places that have been hostile to Dems. The polls so far suggest some of this must be happening, but we don’t really know how much, and so we can’t begin to evaluate the question of how much value Beto got for the effort. And if we do deem this strategy a success in the end, can it be replicated by other candidates, or is O’Rourke essentially a unicorn? There will be much to analyze and argue about when all is said and done.

Two other points to note. One is that O’Rourke isn’t doing this all by himself – he has a large and growing army of volunteers knocking on doors and making calls for him. That’s a big deal, though how much different this is than what previous well-funded candidates like Wendy Davis and Bill White were able to do, and how easily it can be replicated by candidates to come, are questions I can’t answer at this time. And two, as important as it is for Dems to do better in places other than the big cities and the South Texas/Rio Grande Valley where they normally do well, they need to run up big margins in those places as well if they want to have a chance to win statewide. The good news, as we saw in that recent Trib story, is that O’Rourke is doing well in the urban areas. That’s as much a matter of inspiration and enthusiasm as anything else, and as such it’s not something that is endemic to this campaign. Beto has spent plenty of time in the big cities as well – there was a big rally with him in Houston just this past weekend – so again the question is what is the best allocation of resources between the base areas and the areas where improvement is needed. We’ll be finding out about that in November as well.

Ted and Trump

Two lousy tastes that taste worse together.

Not Ted Cruz

U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz has asked President Donald Trump to come to Texas to campaign for him.

During a campaign stop in Seguin [last] Monday, Cruz said he has reached out to his former rival for the White House to help him with his re-election effort against Democrat Beto O’Rourke.

“I would certainly welcome his support, and I hope to see him in Texas,” Cruz said, standing outside the Dixie Grill in Seguin. “I think we are likely to see the president down in Texas before the election.”

Cruz said while his relationship with Trump has had its “ups and downs” due to their 2016 GOP primary battle, he has tried to become an ally to the president. He said he has been in constant contact with the White House and Trump directly to offer his help in getting legislation through the Senate.

“Ups and downs” would be one way to describe it. Cruz is at least smart enough to realize that complacency is his enemy and he really is in trouble if The Base isn’t fired up, so if he needs to swallow a little humiliation to avoid that, he will. Of course, bringing in Trump will also serve to fire up the Dems, so Cruz or any other Republican in his position needs to feel secure that this is a net win for their side, which it may or may not be. I don’t buy the argument that this race is a toss-up – I’m going to need to see at least one poll that has O’Rourke in the lead for that – but Cruz clearly has a small margin for error. That may push him to take some higher-risk actions, of the kind that Greg Abbott would feel no need to do. This is one such action, whether he calculates it that way or not.

The range of Republican anxiety

Some folks are a little scared about all this “blue wave” talk and poll numbers and what have you.

Not Ted Cruz

As Ted Cruz took questions at a Republican women’s event [in Smithville] Saturday evening, Bastrop retiree Ronnie Ann Burt wanted to know: Should she really trust the growing barrage of chatter online that the senator’s re-election bid is in peril?

Cruz’s response: Believe it.

“It’s clear we have a real and contested race where the margin is much too close for comfort,” said Cruz, who’s facing a vigorous, massively funded challenge from U.S. Rep. Beto O’Rourke, D-El Paso.

Cruz’s stop in this small Central Texas town was part of a return to the campaign trail Saturday in which the incumbent cranked up his long-building warnings that Democratic enthusiasm in the era of President Donald Trump should not be discounted, even in a state as red as Texas.

The timing couldn’t have been more fitting: A trio of polls came out this week showing Cruz’s race tightening and a national political forecaster shifted the contest in O’Rourke’s favor. Meanwhile, Cruz launched his first TV ads Friday, including three targeting O’Rourke, and the challenger moved quickly to turn them into a fundraising boon for him.

Appearing Saturday afternoon at the conservative Resurgent Gathering in Austin, Cruz delivered a nearly 10-minute assessment of the uncertain political landscape he faces in November.

“The biggest challenge I have in this race … is complacency,” Cruz said. “People say all the time, ‘Oh, come on, it’s a Texas re-elect. How could you possibly lose?’ Well, in an ordinary cycle, that might be true. But this is not an ordinary cycle. The far left is filled with anger and rage and we underestimate that anger at our peril.”

Cruz added that there is reason to be skeptical of the polls — his campaign has criticized their methodologies — but the trendline “ought to be a cause for concern for everyone.”

[…]

Cruz’s remarks at events Saturday came a day after Gov. Greg Abbott offered a more reassuring forecast for November while addressing the Resurgent conference. He dismissed the idea of a “blue wave” in November as media hype that “sells papers” and reminded the audience that he ended up defeating his much-ballyhooed Democratic opponent, Wendy Davis, by over 20 points in 2014.

“Texas is going to stay red,” said Abbott, whose Democratic opponent, Lupe Valdez, has not caught traction in the way O’Rourke has against Cruz.

Cruz did not sound as sure as Abbott on Saturday — and his supporters appeared to get the message.

Cruz and Abbott are two sides of the same coin here. Cruz is quite right that complacency is a big potential problem for him, for the simple reason that if Republican turnout is less energetic than it has been in recent elections, Democrats have a smaller hill to climb to catch them. I’ve talked multiple times about how I’m hoping for Republicans to have a 2006-style year for turnout, as that would mean some 200K to 300K fewer votes than they got in 2014. This is Cruz’s main concern as well, and his message is simply “Don’t take this for granted”.

Abbott, on the other hand, is not wrong to observe that even with the recent polls, Cruz is still in the lead, and that other Republicans (most notably himself, not that he’s bragging or anything) are doing better than Cruz, that one UT/Trib poll result for Ken Paxton aside. Until such time as we start seeing poll results with one or more Dems in the lead, one can quite confidently say that the Republicans are ahead and thus favored to win. While that may run a bit counter to Cruz’s “we have to have a sense of urgency” message, Abbott is aiming at the media (to get them to run something other than a positive story about Beto O’Rourke and Democratic enthusiasm) and also at Dems, to say basically “don’t bother getting your hopes up, you still can’t win”. I don’t think he’s going to demoralize anyone, but it can’t hurt to try.

Finally, a word on the polls. Republican pollster Chris Wilson complained bitterly about that Lyceum poll, saying they had the samples all wrong. I don’t know if he has the same complaint about Quinnipiac and PPP and everyone else who has put out a result on this race, but I do know that he himself hasn’t published a result lately. Maybe he’s just lying low to let us all fall into a false sense of security, I don’t know. The average of all these poll suggests a six-point race, more or less, so go argue against that if you want to. It is certainly possible that pollsters are misreading the electorate this year, and thus skewing the numbers because they’re not polling the right mix of people. It’s also possible that Chris Wilson is one of those misguided pollsters.

Day Two flood bond EV totals

Sorry I wasn’t able to post the Day One totals yesterday, but here are the Day Two EV totals for the flood bond referendum. So far 4,984 people have voted in person, with almost exactly the same number on Monday as on Tuesday, and 28,660 mail ballots have been returned, with 26,856 of them coming in as of Day One. That’s 33,644 total votes two days in. Some 68,014 mail ballots were sent out, so a bit more than 40% have been returned so far. I have no idea how to handicap any of this, but I feel sure y’all want to see me pull a number out of the air, so my initial wild-ass guess is about 150K total votes. Needless to say, I reserve the right to amend the hell out of that as we go along. To put this another way, we are likely to fall short – possibly well short – of 10% turnout. I get the reasons for having this now, but I can’t shake the feeling that we’re doing it wrong, no matter what the outcome winds up being. I’ll have more of these as we go along.

Poll shows flood bond referendum in good shape

Standard caveats apply.

A majority of Harris County voters say they will support a $2.5 billion flood infrastructure bond at the polls later this month, according to University of Houston research released Monday.

Sixty-two percent of residents who said they are certain to vote said they will support the bond, compared to 55 percent of all respondents. Just 10 percent said they oppose the bond, while one-third remain unsure.

“People see flooding as a Houston and Harris County problem, not a problem affecting only certain neighborhoods or people,” Jim Granato, executive director of UH’s Hobby School of Public Affairs, said in a statement. “They believe the region’s future will be decided, at least in part, by how we respond.”

[…]

Residents who sustained property damage from Hurricane Harvey were slightly more likely to support the bond than those who remained dry, 60 percent to 52 percent.

Partisanship appears to play little role in residents’ views on the bond, as 58 percent of Republicans and 63 percent of Democrats support the proposal, which has wide support elected officials from both parties.

Sixty-nine percent of college-educated residents said they’ll vote yes, while the poll found residents 65 and older support the bond to the tune of 58 percent. Seniors whose homes are worth less than $200,000, as well as residents who are disabled, would not see their taxes rise because of the bond.

Just 18 percent of the youngest polling cohort, residents 18 to 25, said they support the bond, though 59 percent professed they remain unsure.

Harris County residents found most agreement when asked whether Austin should help the region’s recovery by tapping into the state’s Rainy Day Fund. Almost 88 percent said the Abbott administration should.

You know the drill: It’s one poll, polling local races is always tricky because the turnout model can vary wildly, nobody knows who is going to show up for a weirdo August election. That said, the fact that 55% of all adults were in favor of the bond, with the number climbing to 62% for the self-proclaimed likely to vote, is a positive sign. At the very least, it suggests that the people who are paying more attention are also more likely to favor the bond. The low numbers for those who are against it, much lower than those with no opinion, also augur well. I think this poll is probably correct about the outcome, though getting the exact numbers right is anyone’s guess. Early voting starts Wednesday – you know, tomorrow – so we’ll know soon enough. How are you voting on this? Since I was asked in an earlier post, I’ll state that I am voting for it. What about you?

Gallego versus Flores in the SD19 runoff

Get set for a noisy runoff.

Pete Gallego

Republican Pete Flores and Democrat Pete Gallego are headed to a runoff in the special election to replace convicted former state Sen. Carlos Uresti, D-San Antonio.

With all precincts reporting Tuesday night, Flores led Gallego by 5 percentage points, 34 percent to 29 percent, according to unofficial returns. At 24 percent, state Rep. Roland Gutierrez of San Antonio came in third in the eight-way race, and he conceded in a statement. The five other candidates were in single digits, including Uresti’s brother, outgoing state Rep. Tomas Uresti of San Antonio.

The first-place finish by Flores, who unsuccessfully challenged Carlos Uresti in 2016, is a boon to Republicans in the Democratic-leaning district. In the home stretch of the race, he benefited from a raft of endorsements from Texas’ top elected officials including Gov. Greg Abbott, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and U.S. Sens. John Cornyn and Ted Cruz.

[…]

Flores, a former Texas game warden, was the best-known of three Republicans on the ballot Tuesday. He received 40 percent of the vote against Carlos Uresti two years ago in SD-19, which encompasses a 17-county area that starts on San Antonio’s East Side and sprawls hundreds of miles west.

Flores is being given a lot of credit for finishing first and for leading the vote on Tuesday, likely helped by the late endorsements he got from Greg Abbott and Dan Patrick. That said, he was (barely) in third place after early voting, and the overall partisan tally was 59.3% to 39.6% for the Democratic candidates combined versus the Republicans. That’s in a district that went for Carlos Uresti 55.9 to 40.4 in 2016 (and Uresti was the best-performing Dem in 2016), and was basically 50-50 in 2014. In other words, Dems outperformed their 2016 baseline by four points (more like seven points if you compare to other races) and outperformed their 2014 baseline by about 19 points. Call me crazy, but that doesn’t look like a bad result to me.

Now of course, the Republicans are going to pour a bunch of money into the runoff, in part because Flores made a decent showing and in part because winning that seat (which won’t come up for election again until 2020) would give them a commanding 21-10 margin in the Senate pending any Democratic pickups this November. This seat has a lot of value, in both real and symbolic terms. Pete Gallego is the favorite, but nothing can be taken for granted here. I don’t know exactly when the runoff will be, but this is the race you need to be paying attention to right now.

Checking in on SD19

Election Day is Tuesday.

Carlos Uresti

Long before the seat opened up here in Texas Senate District 19, state Rep. Roland Gutierrez was traveling the massive district, making friends as far west as Big Bend National Park’s Brewster County in anticipation of the fate that would ultimately meet the embattled incumbent, Carlos Uresti.

Late Thursday morning, though, Gutierrez found himself much closer to home, knocking on doors in the heart of his House district on San Antonio’s southeast side, where he encountered a number of familiar faces. He reminded them he has represented them for 13 years — three as their City Council member, 10 as their state representative.

Gutierrez is going to need all the support he can get in the area Tuesday, when voters head to the polls in the eight-way race to replace Uresti, who resigned last month after being found guilty of 11 felonies including securities fraud and money laundering. Gutierrez’s toughest opponent is fellow Democrat Pete Gallego, who entered the abbreviated special election with loads of name recognition as a former congressman and longtime state lawmaker from West Texas.

“I don’t think there’s any doubt in anyone’s mind that we’re the underdog in this thing,” Gutierrez said in an interview, noting the millions of dollars that have been spent in Gallego’s congressional races building his name ID in the area. “At the end of the day, you need more than that. You need certainly all of the elements of character and integrity and desire, but you’ve got to put in the work.”

Complicating the dynamic between Gallego and Gutierrez is a growing Republican effort to unify behind a single candidate — Pete Flores, who ran against Uresti in 2016 — and send him to a runoff in the Democratic-leaning district. That movement became clearer than ever Thursday when Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick jumped into the fray, endorsing Flores over his two lesser-known GOP rivals.

“We feel like we’re likely in the range and we have a good chance to be in a runoff,” said Matt Mackowiak, a Republican strategist working for Flores. “We’re doing more this week than we’ve ever done.”

[…]

Gutierrez outspent Gallego more than 2 to 1 in the first 21 days of July — $251,000 to $97,000 — working to overcome his disadvantages, according to their latest filings with the Texas Ethics Commission. Part of Gutierrez’s spending went toward a TV buy attacking Gallego as a “career politician,” telling voters they “fired him from Congress, and now he wants to bring his tired ideas to our Texas state Senate.”

Gallego, for his part, is more than okay with being the known entity in the race, a steady presence after the stormy waters of the recent Uresti era. The former state senator was sentenced to 12 years in prison last month in the fraud case, which stemmed from his work with a now-defunct oil field services company that was found to have perpetrated a Ponzi scheme.

“The experience, the roots, the knowledge — all of those, I think, make me the best candidate,” Gallego said in an interview. “I think people want a familiar face. These are really difficult times.”

See here for some background. Carlos Uresti won re-election over Pete Flores in 2016 by a 55.9 to 40.4 margin, and Uresti was the best performer among Democrats. It’s entirely plausible to me that Flores will make it to the runoff, and honestly I’m a little surprised that Republicans hadn’t lined up behind him before now; Patrick’s endorsement came after the end of early voting. A Pete Gallego-Roland Gutierrez runoff is also possible – I’d very much prefer that – but as is always the case with special elections it depends on who shows up. As has been the case with the other two specials so far, this one has felt pretty quiet so far, but a D-versus-R runoff would change that. If you’re in the district, how has this race looked to you?

Republicans and Independents

Something to ponder.

The good news for President Trump in the latest NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll — half of which was conducted before and the day of the Helsinki presser with Putin, half of which was conducted afterward — is that his standing with the GOP base is stronger than ever.

Eighty-eight percent of Republican voters in the poll approve of Trump’s job — the highest of his presidency — and 29 percent of all voters strongly approve of his performance, which is another high for him. “The more Trump gets criticized by the media, the more his base seems to rally behind him,” says Democratic pollster Fred Yang, who co-conducted the NBC/WSJ poll with the Republican team from Public Opinion Strategies.

Trump’s approval rating in the poll is 45 percent among all registered voters (up 1 point from June), while 52 percent disapprove, including 44 percent who do so strongly.

The bad news for the president is that his standing — plus the GOP’s — is now worse with independents than it was a month ago. Just 36 percent of independents approve of Trump’s job (down 7 points from June). What’s more, independents prefer a Democratic-controlled Congress by more than 20 points, 48 percent to 26 percent. In June, the Dem lead among indies was just 7 points, 39 percent to 32 percent.

As you know, I’ve been looking for signs of Republican disapproval with Trump as a potential catalyst for lower turnout among GOPers this year. That does not appear to be happening, though voter enthusiasm (as noted in this poll as well) continues to tilt towards Dems. However, there is a potential alternate explanation for the durability of Trump’s support among the Rs:

Voters have to identify themselves with a political party, and that identification isn’t stable; it ebbs and flows with events and circumstances. Trump might win high marks from most Republicans, but the pool of Republican voters might be smaller than in the past. Far from standing tall over the entire GOP, Trump’s base may have eroded significantly from where it was at the beginning of his administration.

According to the Pew Research Center, Republican Party identification fell 3 points, to 26 percent, from 2016 to the end of 2017. The number of self-identified independents increased at the same time, from 34 percent to 37 percent, while the number of Democrats remained steady. Gallup shows a similar change: From November 2016 to November 2017, there was a 5-point drop in the number of people who called themselves Republicans, from 42 percent to 37 percent. Democratic self-identification remained unchanged at 44 percent.

The sheer size of the United States makes it easy to find vocal support for anyone and anything, and Donald Trump has his vocal supporters. But their staunch commitment overshadows the reality: a shrinking base for a president who won by the skin of his teeth, reliant on a small group of voters in just a handful of states. His scandals and outrages—controversies and improprieties—have had an effect. Even rank-and-file GOP reactions to Helsinki are revealing; according to CBS, 21 percent of Republican voters disapproved of the president, a striking number given typical partisan loyalty.

Charles Franklin had a Twitter thread about this, for which the short version is that this isn’t really a sign of long-term decline in the number of Republicans compared to Democrats. But the data is volatile, so when there is a dip in the cycle it could have an effect on Texas. I return now to that Gardner Selby piece about the Civiqs polling data:

O’Rourke’s camp didn’t offer a comment about the poll’s claim. But Chris Wilson, who conducts polls for Cruz’s campaign, drew on a Moulitsas-tweeted illustration breaking out the demographics of the results to suggest by phone that Republican respondents to the poll outnumbered Democrats by insufficient percentage points. [director of Civiqs Drew] Linzer separately told us the results imply that 31 percent of respondents identified as Democrats, 36 percent as Republicans and 33 percent as independents.

Wilson said that considering Republicans’ prevalence in statewide races since 1994, any poll projecting fall results should query more Republicans — perhaps making the sample 40 percent Republican, 30 percent Democratic and 20 percent independent.

Linzer said that the poll reflected the partisan mix of Texas registered voters.

I don’t know how good anyone’s state-levevl data is, but it is the case that some of the poll variance we’ve seen is rooted partially in the partisan mix the pollster used. Beyond that is another question I bring up a lot. How much do the national trends affect Texas? It sure seems like the answer is “in a proportionate fashion”, as we saw in the Dem direction in 2006 and 2008 and in a Republican direction in 2010 and 2014, but every year is its own universe. If there is a trend towards fewer self-identified Republicans, to what extent is that the case here? Or is it the case that the Texas GOP has some level of insulation from these slings and arrows? Obviously, the answers to those questions affect not only the assumptions one makes when polling, but ultimately the final result. I just want to make sure we’re thinking about that.

If we actually wanted to increase voter participation

Here’s what we’d do, courtesy of the Center for American Progress:

This report examines the problem of low voter participation in America, which includes structural barriers that keep Americans from having their voices heard as well as widespread disillusionment with the political process. As this report shows, obstacles to voting and distrust in government have repercussions for representational democracy, leading to participation gaps across demographics as well as elected bodies that are unrepresentative of the broader population of American citizens.

To increase voter participation and expand voting opportunities for eligible voters, states have a number of tools available, including those detailed in this report. Taken together, the policies and practices explored in the sections below are proven to increase voter participation and make voting more convenient. The success of these programs depends largely on states’ commitment—as well as that of campaigns and grassroots organizations—to inform eligible voters of their availability, how to use them, and why exercising their power as voters can make a difference in their lives. In addition to analyzing the contributing factors to low voter turnout and the effectiveness of pro-voter policies in increasing participation, this report examines the impact of civics education and voter engagement work.

This report also outlines the following recommendations to drive voter participation and make the process of voting more convenient for eligible Americans:

  1. Streamline voter registration with automatic voter registration, same-day voter registration (SDR),11 preregistration of 16- and 17-year-olds, and online voter registration
  2. Make voting more convenient with in-person early voting, no-excuse absentee voting, and vote-at-home with vote centers
  3. Provide sufficient resources in elections and ensure voting is accessible
  4. Restore rights for formerly incarcerated people
  5. Strengthen civics education in schools
  6. Invest in integrated voter engagement (IVE) and outreach

This report also highlights the success of these policies based on existing literature. Where possible, gains in voter participation were projected using current impact data. Of course, demographics and voting cultures differ across states and even by jurisdiction, so these projections are not exact. However, they do provide an idea of how many of America’s missing voters could be engaged through these policies. There were some policies for which the authors were unable to project gains because key data points were unavailable. For these policies, more research must be done to determine their potential impact on voter participation in future elections.

There’s a lot more, so go read the rest. For obvious reasons, none of the things that we don’t already have in Texas (namely, in-person early voting) are going to happen here while we are governed by the regime that is now in charge. We can sure start a push for them at the federal level, though, and all of these items should be on the agenda in the states where they are doable. You know how Greg Abbott likes to bloviate about calling a constitutional convention? Well, my fantasy do-over Constitution contains an affirmative right to vote that jackasses like Greg Abbott can’t arbitrarily screw with. All the resisting we’re doing is great, but if we’re not also thinking about the things we want to accomplish after we win, we’re doing it wrong. The Current has more.

And now we’re going to fight about when elections can be

I have thoughts about this.

School districts and other local governments are intentionally holding elections at odd times this summer to drive down turnout in hopes it will help them win voter approval for tax increases and bond issues, state lawmakers say.

Local government leaders say they don’t set elections on odd days in hopes of a more favorable outcome at the ballot box, but the issue is fast becoming a new tension point in the sometimes adversarial relationship between local government agencies and the Republican-led Texas Legislature.

“There will be a response from the Legislature,” pledged State Sen. Paul Bettencourt, a Houston Republican.

Just last month the Klein Independent School District in Harris County held a tax increase election on June 16 — a Saturday. That was three weeks after Texas voters took to the polls for statewide runoff elections on May 22. And three weeks before that, the city of Houston held a special election on May 5 to fill a city council vacancy.

Next up: South San Antonio Independent School District is holding an election on Aug. 14 in an attempt to raise the district’s property tax rate by 13 cents per $100 of taxable value, which would increase school taxes by $130 a year for the owner of a $100,000 home.

And on August 25, Harris County will ask voters to approve a $2.5 billion bond issue to cover the cost of flood control projects. That same day, voters in Floresville ISD, just outside of San Antonio, are being asked to approve a tax increase.

“It is preposterously bad public policy to spend taxpayer money to hold special elections in the dog days of summer that almost always have a low voter turnout,” Bettencourt said.

Harris County Judge Ed Emmett shot back. “People who live in Senator Bettencourt’s senate district were affected by the flooding. He should be doing more to help them instead of worrying about election dates,” he said.

[…]

Klein ISD superintendent Bret Champion said the district wasn’t playing games with the June election. The district was looking for the earliest possible date in order to have time to prepare for the next school year budget, whether the measure passed or failed.

If the district had waited until November, he said, the election would have been two months into the budget year and its failure would have forced adjustments with the school year already well underway.

“It was a budgetary reason, not a political one,” Champion said.

As a matter of principle, I too would rather see elections generally held in November and May, when people expect them to be. It’s what I wanted for the flood bond referendum, as you may recall. It’s not just a matter of being more democratic, it’s also that I believe higher turnout is generally better for issues and candidates I care about. Not all the time, of course (Exhibit A: the year 2010), but more often than not. There’s a reason I care about things like registering voters and making it easier and more convenient to vote. I’ll admit it can be a tossup for things like the Klein ISD tax ratification election, where only the most interested will participate and it’s not obvious who those people will be, but give me a choice and I’ll take the higher turnout scenario.

That said, I have some sympathy for school districts that are only holding these dumb elections because legislators like Paul Bettencourt forced them to as a way to impose a low-tax low-revenue orthodoxy on them, and I can understand the rationale for the August flood bond election date even if I disagree with it. It’s especially rich to hear Bettencourt sing the praises of higher turnout, given his long career in the Harris County Tax Assessor’s office of purging the voter rolls as a tool of voter suppression, not to mention his party’s enthusiastic embrace of voter ID. Tell you what, Paul I’ll support your push for May and November-only elections if you’ll support online and same-day voter registration. You want to encourage higher turnout in elections, put your money where your mouth is.

Kinder Institute profiles Lisa Seger

Not sure what prompted them to pay attention to this particular race, but Lisa Seger is a good subject for such a profile.

Lisa Seger

In November, Seger will become the first Democratic candidate to challenge Republican Cecil Bell of Magnolia for his seat as the District 3 Representative in the Texas Legislature since the boundaries were redrawn in 2010. The only other challenger the three-term incumbent has faced was B. Larry Parr, a Libertarian who lost 91 percent of the vote to Bell in 2014.

Seger knows her run is a long shot, but she felt she didn’t have a choice.

Women like Seger have never known equal representation, at the state or national level. Texas has sent just seven women to the House of Representatives, where 19.3 percent of lawmakers are women. Only one woman in Texas’ history has represented the state in the Senate, where 23 percent of lawmakers are women. As a state, Texas is reflective of these trends. Women currently hold 37 seats, or 20.4 percent, in the state Legislature.

Seger joins the fray amid a wave of female candidates running for office across the country. Of the 344 women running nationwide for a seat as a Democrat or Republican in Congress, 20 are from Texas. Meanwhile, 79 women, including Seger, are running as a Democrat or Republican for a seat in the Texas State Legislature.

Even if all of those women are elected, there are still not enough female candidates to correct the gender imbalance in Congress. Still, this election cycle could result in an unprecedented number of women in office.

For Seger, the decision to run was simple. “I didn’t have anyone to vote for. There were no people running that stood for the things I stood for,” she explains.

Running on what she describes as a civil rights campaign, the farmer is driven by the same sense of duty that motivated her to make organic dairy products.“I’m one of those people that if nobody is doing it and I think it needs to be done, I’m just going to do it. That was about sustainably and ethically raising protein” says Seger, but also about running for office.

[…]

Seger’s policy priorities make her a blue needle in a red haystack. The likelihood that the right-leaning constituency of HD-3 share Seger’s liberal views is slim, and her chances of winning the election reflect that.

“It’s impossible for a Democrat to win HD-3,” says Mark Jones, leader of the Texas Politics Program at the Baker Institute and a Kinder Fellow. “It’s like playing football where the other team starts with five touchdowns.”

But the run isn’t for nothing. “This is exactly what the Democratic Party needs if it’s going to return to the majority status,”says Jones. A Democratic candidate gives voters an alternative and political analysts say that’s better than leaving a race uncontested.

Of the 150 state House races in Texas, 18 are without a Democratic challenger, according to filing reports from the Secretary of State’s Office. Seger’s name may be a drop in the well, but it’s more advantageous for the party than leaving voters to write in their favorite liberal cartoon. “You have to start somewhere,” says Jones.

Most Democrats will struggle in Texas, but their name on the ballot can shore up votes in the closely watched race for U.S. Senate. Jones explains: “If [Seger] is able to convince 5 percent more of HD-3 residents to vote Democratic, that’s not going to lead her to defeat Cecil Bell but that’s going to help Beto O’Rourke close the gap with Ted Cruz.”

We’ve discussed this before, and I agree with Mark Jones’ analysis. Having decent candidates up and down the ballot is surely better than not having them. There is a counter-argument to running candidates in districts that are not particularly competitive, and that’s that it makes the other guys run real campaigns instead of coasting, which can drive up their turnout in a way that’s a net negative for your side. In that scenario, and to continue the Jones argument, having Lisa Seger on the ballot just serves to bring out more Ted Cruz voters. I don’t buy it, but even if there is some short-term cost, the fact remains that people need reasons to vote, and having candidates they can meet and make connections with is a good way to give them a reason. You can’t beat something with nothing, but if you start with some good somethings like Lisa Seger, you can at least compete.

Trump trade war troubles

I have three things to say about this.

There’s a Chinese proverb: Sow melons, reap melons. Sow beans, reap beans.

In other words, expect tit for tat.

President Donald Trump — and by extension many of the nation’s farmers — is seeing that lesson in action after he launched a bevy of tariffs against China on Friday, prompting the People’s Republic to retaliate with its own tariffs on imports from the United States. Among those American goods are some key Texas exports, including cotton, corn and sorghum. Some of the Chinese goods targeted in Trump’s tariffs are vital parts for Texas’ agriculture industry, such as livestock equipment.

“No question, it’s going to hurt,” said Gene Hall, a spokesperson for the Texas Farm Bureau.

[…]

“You couldn’t pick a worse time for agriculture to be in a trade dispute,” said Hall, the Texas Farm Bureau spokesperson, pointing to a 50 percent decline in agricultural income since 2013. He said the farm bureau always supports negotiating trade disputes over gratuitous tariffs — but that many farmers hope the president’s actions will force China, which has historically acted in ways that have harmed Texas agriculture, to the negotiating table.

“There is some patience in the agricultural community for what the president’s doing, but there is some angst as well,” Hall said.

1. Clearly, the well of “Trump Supporters Continue To Support Trump Even Though He Keeps Doing Things They Don’t Like” stories has not yet run dry.

2. I’ve been keeping an eye on Trump’s approval rating among Republicans for signs that they may be less engaged than usual in November. While Democrats are super enthusiastic, Republicans have stuck with their man, which if nothing else has kept the bottom from falling out. I wonder sometimes if Trump’s high levels of approval among Republicans is in part a sign that the GOP has shrunk, so that the disapprovers are mostly not calling themselves Republicans any more, but I have no way to know that. I feel pretty confident saying that Dems will turn out in stronger numbers than usual this year. I have no idea yet where turnout will be on the R side. I’m still hoping for something like 2006, but there’s no real evidence of that at this time.

3. Gotta say, after all the harm that has been inflicted on so many people by Trump, the fact that his staunchest supporters are feeling the pain as well gives me no small measure of grim satisfaction. Maybe if they feel enough of it, we’ll finally be able to get the country back on the right track.

On enthusiasm and fundraising

RG Ratcliffe engages the “can Lupe Valdez be competitive” question.

Lupe Valdez

Valdez will almost certainly lose to Greg Abbott in November. Yet if she inspires Hispanic voters to turn out, she could help Democratic candidates in tight down-ballot races and make a big difference in the U.S. House of Representatives and the Texas House.

That scenario assumes that Valdez can significantly increase Hispanic turnout. But not everyone is certain she can. “I see the value of having Lupe Valdez running for governor,” [Julian] Castro said at the Blue Star pub. “She’s a great candidate, and her experience as Dallas County sheriff, her life experience, and the issues that she is addressing speak to a lot of Texans. Whether having her at the top of the ticket would impact the Latino vote . . . that’s hard to tell.”

Valdez, after all, has significant deficiencies as a candidate. She’s unpolished as a speaker and has demonstrated little command of statewide issues. She’s also underfunded—her latest campaign finance report showed she had a little more than $115,000 cash on hand, compared to Abbott’s $43 million. That has forced her to forgo campaign fundamentals such as an internal vetting process, in which the campaign looks for skeletons in its own candidate’s closet. Two days after Valdez won the Democratic runoff, for example, the Houston Chronicle revealed that she owed more than $12,000 in unpaid property taxes. A vetting would have prepared her better to respond when a Chronicle reporter asked about it; instead, a campaign spokesman tried to blame Abbott for allowing property taxes to rise.

In short, Valdez may not be the transformational figure many Democrats hope for. In the March 6 primary, Democrats turned out a million voters—their best primary showing since 1994—30 percent of whom had Hispanic surnames. But that high turnout seems to have been in spite of Valdez’s presence on the ballot. In several South Texas counties, thousands of voters cast ballots in the U.S. Senate contest and various local races but skipped voting for governor entirely. In Hidalgo County, Valdez failed to capture even half the voters with Hispanic surnames. One prominent South Texas Democrat told me that when Valdez campaigned in the area, her lack of knowledge of state issues turned off a lot of local voters. “We’re not blind,” he said. He also admitted that many conservative Hispanics just would not vote for a lesbian.

[…]

At her Blue Star Brewing event, Valdez turned the sanctuary cities bill into a major talking point, emphasizing her belief that Republicans only control Texas because many people—especially Hispanics—don’t vote. “Texas is not a red state,” Valdez intoned. “It’s a nonvoting state.”

Perhaps. But this is still Texas; even if Valdez manages to help a few of her Democratic colleagues, that doesn’t mean she’ll be able to help herself. There was tremendous enthusiasm for Wendy Davis four years ago too, and she was crushed by Greg Abbott by 20 points. Democratic enthusiasm this election cycle is, arguably, even greater, thanks to anti-Trump fervor. But to capitalize on that, Valdez will have to pull off something that no other Democrat has done: awaken the sleeping giant of Hispanic voters. And right now the giant seems content to catch a few more z’s.

Ratcliffe spends some time discussing the three highest-profile Congressional races and their effect, which I appreciate. There’s been too much coverage of the Governor’s race that seems to think it exists in a vacuum. It was Ratcliffe’s mention of enthusiasm levels that caught my eye, though. While he acknowledges that enthusiasm is high this year, which anyone who can read a poll knows, he cites 2014 as an example of high enthusiasm not translating to good results. I admit that’s something I worry about as well, but I can think of three factors that make this year different:

1. I feel like the enthusiasm in 2014 peaked when Davis announced her candidacy, with a bounce when Leticia Van de Putte followed suit, but trended steadily downhill after that, while this year enthusiasm has remained high and if anything has intensified. Maybe peak 2014 compares favorably to 2018, but I’d be willing to bet that June 2018 is well ahead of where June 2014 was.

2. There are a number of reasons why enthusiasm trended downward in 2014, including gripes about how Davis ran her campaign – remember when she said she favored open carry? – and concerns about just what the hell Battleground Texas was doing. I don’t think you can underestimate the effect the national atmosphere had on the enthusiasm level here, though. Say what you want about Davis and her campaign, she was far from alone in underperforming that year, and the national mood, which was strongly in the Republicans’ favor, was a big part of that. That’s just not the case this year, and it’s something I continue to believe that the pundit class here has not grappled with.

3. I’ll get into this more in a minute, but the full top-to-bottom slate of candidates that are working hard and raising money has an effect that we haven’t figured out how to quantify yet, too. The number of spirited Democratic challengers to Republican incumbents, in places both traditional and pioneering, is much greater this year.

I’m not arguing that the political world as we know it is about to be turned upside down. It may well be that Texas Republicans are better engaged than Republicans elsewhere, or that Democratic enthusiasm is overstated, or that Democratic weaknesses in organization and infrastructure will limit the potential gains from the positive factors that we have. We could look back on this in December and wonder what we were thinking. I’m willing to stand by the assertion that conditions are different now than they were four years ago and in ways that tend to favor Democrats. Beyond that, we’ll see.

On a related note:

Fundraising can be a reliable indicator of support for a candidate, and Valdez has struggled to raise money. Some analysts say she’ll need to raise $10 million to compete against Abbott in the general election. At last report in May, she had $115,000 on hand.

O’Rourke has raised $13 million from small-dollar donors, which worries Republicans because he’ll be able to go back to those people for more. He may also share those donors with other Democrats in the future.

Valdez, lieutenant governor candidate Mike Collier and other statewide candidates’ fundraising efforts, though, have paled in comparison. Collier warned that raising money for statewide races alone does not guarantee success.

Democrats watched gubernatorial candidate Wendy Davis raise tons of money in 2014 but fail to turn out voters. This election year, there was a concerted effort to field more candidates even in tough red areas. That way dozens of candidates will be using money to turn out Democrats instead of just hoping the top of the ticket will take care of everything.

“It has to come from the bottom up,” said Collier. “It can’t be top down.”

For what it’s worth, Wendy Davis had raised about $13 million across three campaign accounts as of the June 2014 finance report. Beto had raised $13 million as of April, though to be fair he had been running for Senate longer than Davis had been running for Governor by then. I expect he’ll have a few million more when the June quarterly report hits. Beyond Davis in 2014, Leticia Van de Putte had raised $1.2 million as of June, but the well got empty pretty quickly after that. Whatever Lupe Valdez and Mike Collier and the other statewides do – I’ll bet Justin Nelson has a decent report – I think we can conclude that Beto and crew will have raised more as of June than Davis and VdP and their squad.

But of course there’s more to it than that. I keep coming back to the Congressional fundraising because it really is so completely different than what we have seen before. Here are the final reports from the 2014 cycle. Pete Gallego raised $2.6 million in his unsuccessful defense of CD23, Wesley Reed raised $300K for CD27, and no one else in a potentially competitive race broke the $100K mark. As of this April, three Democratic Congressional challengers – Lizzie Fletcher, Joseph Kopser, Gina Ortiz Jones – had surpassed $1 million, with Colin Allred right behind them. Todd Litton and MJ Hegar are well on their way to $1 million. Dayna Steele and Jana Sanchez should break $500K. Sri Kulkarni and Lorie Burch are past $100K, with Julie Oliver and Mike Siegel not far off. At this level, it’s not even close, and that’s before we factor in outside money like the DCCC. And we haven’t even touched on legislative or county races.

Now of course Republicans are going to raise a bunch of money, too. Greg Abbott by himself probably has more cash on hand than what all these people will raise combined. What I’m saying, again, is that Dems are in a better position than they were in 2014, and that you shouldn’t focus on the Governor’s race to the exclusion of everything else. It would be nice if Lupe could raise more money. Maybe she’ll surprise us on her June report. Nonetheless, Dems just aren’t as dependent on one statewide candidate raising money as they were four years ago.

The CD27 special election is almost upon us

It’s on Saturday, to be specific.

Blake Farenthold

Voters in the 27th Congressional District are preparing to go to the polls for a third time this year on Saturday for a sleepy special election in which both parties are working to rally their fatigued troops behind a single candidate in the nine-person field to replace former U.S. Rep. Blake Farenthold, R-Corpus Christi.

Farenthold abruptly resigned in April amid the fallout from sexual harassment allegations and an ethics investigation by the House Ethics Committee. He had announced four months earlier that he wouldn’t run for re-election, creating an open race to succeed him.

Saturday’s election is to determine who completes Farenthold’s current term, which ends in January, and it’s separate from the November election, the winner of which will take over the seat for a full two-year term after that.

Despite nine candidates on the ballot, Republicans are hoping their general election nominee, Michael Cloud, can win outright Saturday and avoid a runoff that would keep the seat empty for at least two more months and leave the counties with the bill for yet another election this year. Democrats, meanwhile, believe the crowded race provides an opening for their consensus candidate — Eric Holguin, also his party’s pick for the fall — to advance to a second round.

Even if Holguin makes the runoff, few are predicting the solidly red district could flip. Still, Democrats view it as an opportunity to at least build some momentum in the run-up to the November elections, and Republicans acknowledge there is an inescapable element of uncertainty in the low-turnout environment.

“I think the odds are highly favorable of [Cloud] winning the special election at least in a runoff, but the turnout’s so low, anything can happen,” said Michael Bergsma, the Republican Party chairman in Nueces County.

See here for the background. There’s more to the story, but that’s the main idea. With nine candidates it should be difficult to win a clean majority, especially since one of the lower-tier Republicans is actually spending money for the right to be a slightly longer-tenured Shelley Sekula Gibba, but it’s at least possible. Dems would love to get Eric Holguin into a runoff, and of course we’ll all be watching to see what the relative levels of turnout look like. Dems have generally overperformed by about thirteen points on average in special elections over the past year and a half, though there’s a wide range of outcomes. I’ll have the result from this one on Sunday.

And on a side note:

Texas officials are fuming over the tab for the upcoming special election to replace former Republican Rep. Blake Farenthold.

The cost of the June 30 election to replace Farenthold, who resigned in April amid reports he had used $84,000 in taxpayer money to settle a sexual harassment lawsuit, is expected to be at least $157,000 — and many of the 13 largely rural counties holding the election say they can’t afford their share of the bill.

Worse, they argue, the special election is a pointless and needlessly costly exercise since the contest is likely to go to a September runoff — meaning the eventual winner will likely serve in Washington for less than 90 days.

“We’re all not happy,” said Wharton County Elections Administrator Cynthia Richter. “It is what it is, it’s just crazy.”

After announcing the special election date, Republican Gov. Greg Abbott wrote the millionaire former congressman to request that Farenthold pay for the special election costs himself. Farenthold had originally said he would pay back the $84,000 he used to settle the harassment claim; the governor asked that he apply that money to the local counties to cover the costs of the special election.

Farenthold’s response? No.

“In my opinion, as well as many other county officials I have heard from, a special election was not warranted and should not have been called,” wrote Farenthold in a letter addressed to Abbott. “However, that was your decision based upon the advice you were given. Since I didn’t call it and don’t think it’s necessary, I shouldn’t be asked to pay for it.”

[…]

County officials say expenses associated with a special election are forcing them to reach into their contingency funds — accounts set up to cover government emergencies — or significantly downsize their operations.

“We have done everything we can to introduce cost-saving methods,” said Bastrop County Elections Administrator Bridgette Escobedo, whose county is expected to shell out $12,000 in special election expenses. “We’ve consolidated locations, reduced election workers; we’re running minimum crews for no overtime; we’re all paper and ordered minimum ballots.”

The counties aren’t alone in their frustration. The governor points his finger directly at Farenthold.

We’ve seen this before. I sympathize with the counties, who have no control over this stuff, but I supported the decision to have this election now rather than in November, and I stand by that. That said, the Governor has some discretionary funds at his disposal, in which $157K would make only a tiny dent, so it seems to me he could help these counties cover the cost of the choice he made if he wanted to. (I could be wrong about this, in the sense that I don’t know how “discretionary” these funds are. He may not be allowed to tap into them for this purpose.) He could also support an item in the next budget to make the state shoulder the cost of special elections like this. Sending an invoice to Farenthold makes for a good show. Doing something effective makes for good government. I’m just saying.

UT/Trib: Cruz 41, O’Rourke 36, part 2

We pick up where we left off.

Republican Ted Cruz leads Democrat Beto O’Rourke 41 percent to 36 percent in the general election race for a Texas seat in the U.S. Senate, according to the latest University of Texas/Texas Tribune Poll.

Neal Dikeman, the Libertarian Party nominee for U.S. Senate, garnered 2 percent, according to the survey. And 20 percent of registered voters said either that they would vote for someone else in an election held today (3 percent) or that they haven’t thought enough about the contest to have a preference (17 percent).

In the governor’s race, Republican incumbent Greg Abbott holds a comfortable 12-percentage-point lead over Democratic challenger Lupe Valdez — the exact same advantage he held over Democrat Wendy Davis in an early-summer poll in 2014. Abbott went on to win that race by 20 percentage points. In this survey, Abbott had the support of 44 percent to Valdez’s 32 percent. Libertarian Mark Tippetts had the support of 4 percent of registered voters, while 20 percent chose “someone else” or said they haven’t made a choice yet.

[…]

The June UT/TT Poll, conducted from June 8 to June 17, is an early look at the 2018 general election, a survey of registered voters — not of the “likely voters” whose intentions will become clearer in the weeks immediately preceding the election. If recent history is the guide, most registered voters won’t vote in November; according to the Texas Secretary of State, only 34 percent of registered voters turned out in 2014, the last gubernatorial election year.

The numbers also reflect, perhaps, the faint rumble of excitement from Democrats and wariness from Republicans who together are wondering what kind of midterm election President Donald Trump might inspire. The last gubernatorial election year in Texas, 2014, came at Barack Obama’s second midterm, and like his first midterm — the Tea Party explosion of 2010 — it was a rough year for Democrats in Texas and elsewhere. As the late social philosopher Yogi Berra once said, this year could be “Déjà vu all over again.”

Accordingly, voter uncertainty rises in down-ballot races where even previously elected officials are less well known. Republican incumbent Dan Patrick leads Democrat Mike Collier in the contest for lieutenant governor, 37 percent to 31 percent. Kerry McKennon, the Libertarian in that race, had the support of 4 percent of the registered voters surveyed, while the rest said they were undecided (23 percent) or would vote for someone other than the three named candidates (5 percent).

“As you move down to races that are just less well known, you see the numbers drop,” said Daron Shaw, a government professor at the University of Texas at Austin and co-director of the poll. “They drop more for the Republicans. Part of that reflects the visibility of those races, and of those candidates.”

Henson said Patrick and other down-ballot incumbents work in the shadow of the governor, especially when the Legislature is not in in session. “That said, he’s still solid with the Republican base, though he lags behind Abbott and Cruz in both prominence and popularity,” he said. “There’s nothing unusual about that.”

And indecision marks the race for Texas attorney general, where Republican incumbent Ken Paxton has 32 percent to Democrat Justin Nelson’s 31 percent and 6 percent for Libertarian Michael Ray Harris. Four percent of registered voters said they plan to vote for someone else in that race and a fourth — 26 percent — said they haven’t chosen a favorite.

Nelson and Harris are unknown to statewide general election voters. Paxton, first elected in 2014, is fighting felony indictments for securities fraud — allegations that arose from his work as a private attorney before he was AG. He has steadily maintained his innocence, but political adversaries are hoping his legal problems prompt the state’s persistently conservative electorate to consider turning out an incumbent Republican officeholder.

“If you’ve heard anything about Ken Paxton in the last four years, more than likely you’ve heard about his legal troubles,” said Josh Blank, manager of polling and research at UT’s Texas Politics Project. Henson added a note of caution to that: There’s also no erosion in Ken Paxton support by the Republican base. This reflects some stirrings amongst the Democrats and Paxton’s troubles. But it would premature to draw drastic conclusions for November based upon these numbers from June.”

Shaw noted that the support for the Democrats in the three state races is uniform: Each has 31 percent or 32 percent of the vote. “All the variability is on the Republican side, it seems to me,” he said. When those voters move away from the Republican side, Shaw said, “they move not to the Democrats but to the Libertarian or to undecided.”

Trump is still getting very strong job ratings from Republican voters — strong enough to make his overall numbers look balanced, according to the poll. Among all registered voters, 47 percent approve of the job the president is doing, while 44 percent disapprove. Only 8 percent had no opinion.

See here for yesterday’s discussion. Before we go any further, let me provide a bit of context here, since I seem to be the only person to have noticed that that Trib poll from June 2014 also inquired about other races. Here for your perusal is a comparison of then and now:


Year    Office  Republican  Democrat  R Pct  D Pct
==================================================
2014    Senate      Cornyn   Alameel     36     25
2018    Senate        Cruz  O'Rourke     41     36

2014  Governor      Abbott     Davis     44     32
2018  Governor      Abbott    Valdez     44     32

2014  Lite Guv     Patrick       VdP     41     26
2018  Lite Guv     Patrick   Collier     37     31

2014  Atty Gen      Paxton   Houston     40     27
2018  Atty Gen      Paxton    Nelson     32     31

So four years ago, Wendy Davis topped Dems with 32%, with the others ranging from 25 to 27. All Dems trailed by double digits (there were some closer races further down the ballot, but that was entirely due to lower scores for the Republicans in those mostly obscure contests). Republicans other than the oddly-underperforming John Cornyn were all at 40% or higher. The Governor’s race was the marquee event, with the largest share of respondents offering an opinion.

This year, Beto O’Rourke leads the way for Dems at 36%, with others at 31 or 32. Abbott and Ted Cruz top 40%, but Dan Patrick and Ken Paxton are both lower than they were in 2014, with Paxton barely ahead of Justin Nelson. Only Abbott has a double-digit lead, with the other three in front by six, five, and one (!) points.

And yet the one quote we get about the numbers suggests that 2018 could be like 2010 or 2014? I must be missing something. Hey, how about we add in some 2010 numbers from the May 2010 UT/Trib poll?


Year    Office  Republican  Democrat  R Pct  D Pct
==================================================
2014    Senate      Cornyn   Alameel     36     25
2018    Senate        Cruz  O'Rourke     41     36

2010  Governor       Perry     White     44     35
2014  Governor      Abbott     Davis     44     32
2018  Governor      Abbott    Valdez     44     32

2010  Lite Guv    Dewhurst       LCT     44     30
2014  Lite Guv     Patrick       VdP     41     26
2018  Lite Guv     Patrick   Collier     37     31

2010  Atty Gen      Abbott Radnofsky     47     28
2014  Atty Gen      Paxton   Houston     40     27
2018  Atty Gen      Paxton    Nelson     32     31

There was no Senate race in 2010. I dunno, maybe the fact that Republicans outside the Governor’s race are doing worse this year than they did in the last two cycles is worth noting? Especially since two of them were first-time statewide candidates in 2014 and are running for re-election this year? Or am I the only one who’s able to remember that we had polls back then?

Since this cycle began and everyone started talking about Democratic energy going into the midterms, I’ve been looking for evidence of said energy here in Texas. There are objective signs of it, from the vast number of candidates running, to the strong fundraising numbers at the Congressional level, to the higher primary turnout, and so on. I haven’t as yet seen much in the poll numbers to show a Democratic boost, though. As we’ve observed before, Beto O’Rourke’s numbers aren’t that different than Bill White or Wendy Davis’ were. A bit higher than Davis overall, but still mostly in that 35-42 range. However, I did find something in the poll data, which was not in the story, that does suggest more Dem enthusiasm. Again, a comparison to 2010 and 2014 is instructive. In each of these three polls, there’s at least one “generic ballot” question, relating to the US House and the Texas Legislature. Let’s take a look at them.

If the 2010 election for [Congress/Lege] in your district were held today, would you vote for the Democratic candidate, the Republican candidate, or haven’t you thought enough about it to have an opinion?

2010 Congress – GOP 46, Dem 34
2010 Lege – GOP 44, Dem 33

If the 2014 election for the Texas Legislature in your district were held today, would you vote for the Democratic candidate, the Republican candidate, or haven’t you thought about it enough to have an opinion?

2014 Lege – GOP 46, Dem 38

If the 2018 election for [Congress/Lege] in your district were held today, would you vote for [RANDOMIZE “the Democratic candidate” and “the Republican candidate”] the Democratic candidate, the Republican candidate, or haven’t you thought about it enough to have an opinion?

2018 Congress – GOP 43, Dem 41
2018 Lege – GOP 43, Dem 42

Annoyingly, in 2014 they only asked that question about the Lege, and not about Congress. Be that as it may, Dems are up in this measure as well. True, they were up in 2014 compared to 2010, and in the end that meant nothing. This may mean nothing too, but why not at least note it in passing? How is it that I often seem to know these poll numbers better than Jim Henson and Daron Shaw themselves do?

Now maybe the pollsters have changed their methodology since then. It’s been eight years, I’m sure there have been a few tweaks, and as such we may not be doing a true comparison across these years. Even if that were the case, I’d still find this particular number worthy of mention. Moe than two thirds of Texas’ Congressional delegation is Republican. Even accounting for unopposed incumbents, the Republican share of the Congressional vote ought to be well above fifty percent in a given year, yet this poll suggests a neck and neck comparison. If you can think of a better explanation for this than a higher level of engagement among Dems than we’re used to seeing, I’m open to hearing it. And if I hadn’t noticed that, I don’t know who else might have.

Abbott sets July 31 special election date in SD19

One way or another, we’ll have that slot filled in time for the start of the next session.

Carlos Uresti

Gov. Greg Abbott has scheduled a July 31 special election to replace state Sen. Carlos Uresti, D-San Antonio.

Uresti announced his resignation Monday, four months after he was found guilty of 11 felonies. The resignation is effective Thursday.

The filing deadline for the special election is Monday, and early voting will start July 16, according to Abbott’s proclamation. The document also outlines Abbott’s reasoning for calling what is known as an emergency special election, noting Uresti’s District 19 has been “without effective representation” for over a year due to his legal troubles and it is important to fill the seat as soon as possible.

Abbott had the choice of setting the special election for the next uniform election date — Nov. 6 — or at an earlier date. Uresti had asked Abbott to slate the special election at the same time as the Nov. 6 elections, saying it would “save the 17 counties and taxpayers thousands of dollars.”

At least two Democrats are already running to finish Uresti’s term, which ends in 2021: former U.S. Rep. Pete Gallego of Alpine and state Rep. Roland Gutierrez of San Antonio. Pete Flores, a Republican who unsuccessfully challenged Uresti in 2016, has also announced a special election run.

See here for the background. Our summer of constant elections continues. Why would Abbott set the date earlier instead of having it in November? Assuming as I do that Abbott is motivated first and foremost by politics, my guess would be that a summer special election, followed most likely by a summer special election runoff, offers the better odds of electing a Republican. SD19 is a Democratic district and I’d expect it to be pretty blue in November, but it went both ways in 2014 and could certainly be competitive in a lower-turnout environment. No guarantee of that, of course, and I’d expect Democrats to be more motivated to vote even in July this year than they were four years ago. Flores lost to Uresti 55.9% to 40.4% in 2016, for what it’s worth. Be all that as it may, this is going to be quite the sprint for the campaigns. Buckle up.

More details on the flood bond referendum

This is the longer version of the original story.

Through at least two-dozen public meetings across the county’s watersheds, County Judge Ed Emmett said residents have a crucial role to play as they provide feedback for the projects they think most will benefit their neighborhoods.

“As that comes in, Flood Control can make adjustments,” Emmett said. “You could have some projects just completely dropped. You could have some projects added we hadn’t thought about.”

The bond vote is an all-or-nothing gamble by Commissioners Court, whose members hope residents will commit to strengthening flood infrastructure after Harvey flooded 11 percent of the county’s housing stock this past August. If the bond passes, Harris County will have access to as much as $2.5 billion to make, over the next 10 to 15 years, the largest local investment in flood infrasctructure in the county’s history. If the bond fails, engineers will be limited to the flood control district’s annual operations and capital budgets, which total a paltry $120 million in comparison.

“This is the most important local vote I can remember in my lifetime,” Emmett said. “We either step up as a community and say we are going to address flooding and make our community resilient, or we kind of drib and drabble on, and it wouldn’t end well for anyone.”

A preliminary list of projects includes $919 million for channel improvements, $386 million for detention basins, $220 million for floodplain land acquisition, $12.5 million for new floodplain mapping and $1.25 million for an improved early flood warning system.

Also included is $184 million, coupled with $552 million in outside funding, to purchase around 3,600 buildings in the floodplain – more than the flood control district’s buyout program has bought in its entire 33-year history.

The draft list includes $430 million — nearly a fifth of the total — for contingency funding and “opportunities identified through public input.”

[…]

The bond would not finance the construction of a third reservoir in west Houston, but does include $750,000 to study, with the Army Corps of Engineers, whether another reservoir is necessary.

Other line items call for de-silting channels that lead into Addicks and Barker reservoirs, or possibly providing funding to the Army Corps to remove silt and vegetation from the reservoirs. Addicks and Barker are managed by the Army Corps, not Harris County, leaving any decisions about the future of those basins in the hands of the federal government.

The flood control district plans to work through the summer on the list of projects the bond would fund, and Emmett has pledged to publish a complete list by the time early voting begins in August. Until then, Emmett said plans may continue to change based on input from residents.

See here for the background. The county has a lot of work to do to finalize what the to-do list is, and to educate voters about it. Of course, first they have to make sure that the voters even know this is on the ballot in the first place, in August, at a time when no one has cast a vote in recent memory. I’m going to keep harping on this, because while I understand the reasons for expediting the election, I remain skeptical that it was a wise idea. I just don’t know, and neither does anyone else. It’s going to be fun trying to guess what turnout will be, I’ll say that much.

County officially puts flood bond referendum on the ballot

Here we go.

Harris County Commissioners Court on Tuesday unanimously agreed to place a $2.5 billion flood infrastructure bond before voters on Aug. 25, the one-year anniversary of Hurricane Harvey. If passed, the bond would be the largest local investment in flood mitigation since the storm flooded 154,000 homes across the county.

“I think the whole nation is going to be watching us,” County Judge Ed Emmett said of the region’s approach to flooding post-Harvey. “Everyone is saying Houston, Harris County, the whole region — we have the chance to do it right.”

[…]

Emmett last month said the number of projects to be included in the bond issue would be in the hundreds. He has said he hoped to publish a complete list of projects to be funded with bond proceeds by the first week of August, when early voting begins.

Three residents spoke in favor of the bond proposal Tuesday. Belinda Taylor of the Texas Organizing Project said the nonprofit would support the bond only if it includes projects that benefit northeast Houston, around Mesa and Tidwell, in the Greens Bayou watershed.

Taylor also said residents who volunteer their homes for buyouts should be able to move to comparable housing in drier areas.

“Any buyouts … must leave people with the same kind of housing, no additional debt and in non-flooding neighborhoods,” Taylor said.

Precinct 1 Commissioner Rodney Ellis said that a priority for bond funds must be communities that are less likely to benefit from federal assistance. He said that the federal government uses a formula for dispersing disaster recovery money that places a premium on increasing property value rather than assisting the most people, which Ellis says skews unfairly toward wealthy neighborhoods.

See here and here for the background. The 2018 Harris County Flood Control District Bond Program webpage is here, the proposed project list is here, and the schedule and locations for the remaining public engagement meetings is here. Don’t worry, I plan to do some interviews to help you make sense of this. I’ll need to for myself, too. I agree with Judge Emmett that the country will be watching as we vote. I’m sure the first thing they’ll say if this fails to pass will be “What the heck were you thinking, having this in August?” There doesn’t appear to be any organized opposition to this yet, but as we’ve discussed before, that doesn’t matter. Unless there’s a strong pro-referendum campaign, it’s at best a tossup. We’ll see how that goes.

Looking back at 2010 and 2014

I’ve talked a lot about polls in the past week, so I thought I’d take a minute and look back at the polling data that we had as of this time in the 2010 and 2014 elections, to see if we can learn anything. The polls those years were about Governor’s races while this year is focused on the Senate race, but that’s all right. I’m not intending for this to be a straight apples-to-apples comparison, just more of a general feel. So with no further ado:

PPP, June 2010: Perry 43, White 43
UT/Trib, May 2010: Perry 44, White 35
Rasmussen, May 2010: Perry 51, White 38
Rasmussen, April 2010: Perry 48, White 44
UT/Trib, Feb 2010: Perry 44, White 35
PPP, Feb 2010: Perry 48, White 42

Avg: Perry 46.3, White 39.5

Boy, were we optimistic in the early days of 2010. Bill White was a top-notch candidate, coming off a successful tenure as Mayor of Houston with high popularity numbers and a strong fundraising apparatus. The polls supported that optimism, with that June result showing a tied race. Rick Perry, in the meantime, was coming off a 39% re-election in 2006 and a bruising primary win over then-Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison. There were lots of reasons to think that people had gotten tired of Perry and his schtick after a decade in office, and the enthusiasm from the 2008 election was still felt and seen as a harbinger of things to come.

We know how this movie ended. The thing was, it wasn’t apparent that it was headed that way till the final days. Polls from September and early October continued to show a tight race. It wasn’t really until early voting had started and the last polls were published that we began to see the downward trends. It wasn’t a lack of Democratic enthusiasm that doomed White and the rest of the ticket – turnout was up from 2006, not that that was saying much – but Republican turnout was off the charts, swamping Democratic boats across the country and wiping out large swaths of the Democratic caucus in the Legislature. We didn’t know it in June, but there was a very ill wind about to blow.

UT/Trib, June 2014: Abbott 44, Davis 32
PPP, April 2014: Abbott 51, Davis 37
Rasmussen, March 2014: Abbott 53, Davis 41
ECPS, March 2014: Abbott 49, Davis 42
UT/Trib, Feb 2014: Abbott 47, Davis 36

Avg: Abbott 48.8, Davis 37.6

There are a lot of ways in which 2014 was like 2010 – initial excitement and optimism, high-profile candidate who drew national attention and had good fundraising chops, all ending in a gut-wrenching wipeout. One major way in which things were very different is that the early polls did not support that initial optimism in 2014. I distinctly remember writing a lot of words about why 2014 was going to be different and not at all like 2010. We were so young and innocent then. We also had a lot more warning about the impending doom we faced, as the next poll result after this one had Abbott up by 16, and in only two of the last seven polls was Davis within single digits. I was right about one thing – Republican turnout was in fact down from 2010. It’s just that Democratic turnout was as best flat from 2010, despite the endlessly-hyped presence of Battleground Texas, and that all added up to roughly a 2002-style outcome.

PPP, June 2018: Cruz 48, O’Rourke 42
Quinnipiac, May 2018: Cruz 50, O’Rourke 39
Quinnipiac, April 2018: Cruz 47, O’Rourke 44
PPP, Jan 2018: Cruz 45, O’Rourke 37

Avg: Cruz 47.5, O’Rourke 40.5

I discussed these last week, when that PPP poll hit. I’m dropping the Wilson Perkins result from this calculation, as it was done in the latter days of 2017, but if you insist on including it the averages change to Cruz 48.4, O’Rourke 39.2. That’s not as good as the 2010 average – if you just take these four polls, it’s basically even with 2010 – but it’s about two points better than 2014, three points better without the outlier. We don’t know how this one will end, of course, and it remains to be seen where the polls go from here. I just wanted to provide some context, so there you have it.

From the “Only negative results apply” department

There’s one paragraph in this story about Beto O’Rourke finishing a quest to visit all 254 counties in Texas that really makes me grind my teeth.

When he’s not behind the wheel, O’Rourke has proven to be a formidable fundraiser, regularly outperforming his more famous opponent. In the first quarter of 2018, he raised $6.7 million, more than any other Democratic candidate for U.S. Senate raised over the same period. But his performance in the Democratic primary in March was disappointing: Even as he coasted to a 38-point victory over challenger Selma Hernandez, O’Rourke lost several key counties along the Mexican border to the Houston activist. And a Quinnipiac University poll released last month found Cruz leading O’Rourke by 11 percentage points.

Yes, that Quinnipiac poll happened. It was also preceded by another Quinnipiac poll that gave Cruz a three-point lead, and followed a week later by a PPP poll that had it at six points. There are also clues from other polls, as well as from Congressional forecasting models that indicate a closer-than-expected state environment. But hey, mentioning that one poll showing the widest spread is good enough, because it provides a sense of “balance” or something. Pardon me for a minute while I bang my head on the desk.

As for the rest of the story, it’s fine. The subject of O’Rourke’s journey around Texas and his more in-person campaign style has been told before and will surely be told again. And as I’ve said before, we don’t really know if this is a more-effective strategy than what has been done before, but it’s not like the standard practice has a stellar track record, and this seems like as good a year as any to try something a little different. It also may be the case that this is the best method, but it is still destined to fall short. I just want us to learn the right lessons from it, whatever the outcome.

Checking in on the Congressional forecast

Now that our November lineups are finalized, I thought I’d check in once again on the 2018 Congressional race forecast, from G. Elliott Morris of The Crosstab. I last wrote about this in December, at a time when the generic ballot preference was consistently showing a double-digit lead for Democrats. The polls are closer now but the Dems still have a sizable lead. Here’s how things project in Texas, according to this model:


Dist  Flip%  Margin  16 Marg  14 Marg
=====================================
CD02  14.3%   -10.6    -18.6    -33.7
CD03   7.4%   -14.4    -25.1    -37.1
CD06  19.2%   - 8.7    -16.0    -21.3
CD07  49.1%   - 0.2    -11.5    -31.4
CD10  19.0%   - 7.5    -16.1    -22.6
CD14   5.5%   -13.8    -20.7    -22.8
CD17   4.6%   -14.7    -22.4    -28.9
CD21  19.3%   - 8.6    -18.6    -26.0
CD22  18.6%   - 7.7    -16.0    -33.3
CD23  86.8%     9.7    - 0.5    -15.5
CD24  26.1%   - 5.5    -16.4    -30.9
CD25  11.3%   -10.5    -21.1    -22.5
CD27   4.3%   -17.1    -23.6    -30.3
CD31  10.8%   -10.7    -19.5    -27.7
CD32  39.9%    -2.2    -12.1    -23.7

These data points are from Sunday; there are daily updates, which move things a bit one way or the other. “Flip% is the probability that the Democratic challenger will win that district. “Margin” is the difference between the projected Republican share of the vote and the projected Democratic share, so a positive number is a Democratic win and a negative number is a Republican win. (Obviously, that’s a point within a range, not a gospel truth, hence the Flip% probability.)

“16 Marg” and “14 Marg” are my additions, as earlier versions of this table had similar values. As with the Margin column it’s the difference between Republican and Democratic performance. However, while Margin compares Congressional candidate percentages, we can’t reliably do that for 2016 and 2014, since some of these races were unopposed. As is my custom, I used Court of Criminal Appeals races – CCA3 for 2014, CCA6 for 2016. This provides another illustration of my point from that post about the CD07 poll. You can’t have tighter Congressional races up and down the ballot and not have tighter statewide races. It may be that Morris’ model is wrong, and it may be that the totality of statewide polling data will make it clear that he’s being too bullish on the Dems. All I’m saying is that stuff like this has to be taken into account as well.

The differences in the margins fascinate me. For the 2014 to 2016 shift, most of that reflects the kind of turnout pattern we have been used to seeing in Presidential versus non-Presidential years lately. The effect is much more pronounced in urban areas, and in this case it was greatly enhanced by the Trump effect, with a side of demographic change and voter registration efforts. Projected shifts from 2016 to 2018 are nearly all about the national atmosphere. It’s kind of amazing to me that the district projected to be the most flippable outside the top three is CD24, which has gotten maybe one percent of the attention that even some of the second-tier districts have gotten. Maybe that’s a blind spot in reporting, and maybe it’s a non-optimized opportunity on the Dems’ part. CDs 06, 10, and 22 all had smaller 2016 margins than CD24, so maybe they’ll catch up when all is said and done.

I’ll check in on this again in August or so. In the meantime, here’s a story about G. Elliott Morris, the guy who’s doing these projections. One way or another, his work will be closely scrutinized on November 7.

DCCC poll: Culberson 47, Fletcher 45

Game on.

Lizzie Fletcher

The U.S. House race between GOP incumbent John Culberson and Democratic challenger Lizzie Pannill Fletcher is generally expected to be closer than most in this traditionally Republican enclave of west Houston and the Harris County suburbs.

Now an internal Democratic poll of the 7th Congressional District shows it to be a statistical tie. The poll of district voters, released Friday by the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, found Fletcher within 2 points of Culberson, 45 percent to 47 percent. That is within the poll’s 4.9 percent margin of error.

[…]

The DCCC poll shows Fletcher leading Culberson by 8 points among women (50 percent to 42 percent), 20 points among independents (52 percent to 32 percent), and by 28 points among voters under 50 (57 percent to 29 percent).

Further proof that that the district could be in play: The poll found that a generic Democrat is within striking distance of a generic Republican – 46 percent to 47 percent. That’s tighter than the difference between Fletcher and Culberson, but still within the margin of error.

The Democratic poll also gave Culberson a net-negative favorability rating, with 32 percent of voters having a favorable view of the congressman, compared to 39 percent who don’t. Similarly, the poll found that 35 percent of voters approve of Culberson’s job performance, while 39 percent disapprove.

Meanwhile, Trump also remains underwater in a district, which he lost by 1.4 points in 2016. In the DCCC poll, 50 percent of Seventh District voters disapprove of his job performance, while 42 percent approve.

I first heard about this poll via G. Elliott Morris’s Twitter feed, but this story adds some details. Internal polls are generally treated with skepticism – scroll down to see the responses to that tweet for a couple of examples – and I want to talk about why that is first. The main reason why internal polls are looked at differently is because when an internal poll is released, you have no way of knowing how many other polls that particular campaign or committee might have done that they did not choose to release. In other words, the poll that gets released may be the most favorable of the bunch, cherry-picked to present a sunny view of the situation. Media and tracking polls are public, with all their results out there to be seen, so when there’s an outlier it tends to stand out. You just don’t know if an internal poll is an outlier or not.

The other reason why internal polls are different is that they are sometimes used for specific purposes like testing a message or attracting financial support. Polls that take the measure of a race, then “inform” the respondents about one of the candidates and re-ask the original question again at the end, are a common example of this. The Justin Nelson poll from December is in this category. There’s nothing wrong with this – it’s a valuable campaign tool – but since the result comes from an idealized scenario – in a real campaign, both candidates get to “inform” voters, assuming they have the resources to do so – these polls are not very useful as predictive tools.

For those reasons, and because full poll data is often not available, poll aggregators and election modelers tend to give internal polls less weight. All that said, this poll is an example of one we can probably take more seriously. For one thing, given that the runoff was less than two weeks ago, there very likely have not been any other polls done by the DCCC since Fletcher became the nominee. There’s (again, probably) nothing to cherry-pick from. The DCCC, which has now added Fletcher to its Red to Blue group, generally doesn’t try to convince funders to invest in a particular race, and for them to want to include CD07 as a race to target they’ll want accurate horse-race numbers. None of this means that they couldn’t have made optimistic assumptions about turnout or the makeup of the electorate – we don’t have the internal poll data, so who knows what they sampled from – but all pollsters have to make those judgments.

All things considered, I believe we can take this poll more or less at face value. Which is to say, it’s a data point, and we hope to see more of them to get a fuller picture of what may be happening. Given that, the way to think about this is not just for this race, which we believe will be close and competitive, but for how it fits into the bigger picture. For one thing, Democrats swept Harris County in 2016 while John Culberson was winning in CD07 by 12 points. If we’re in an election year where CD07 is truly a tossup, then that strongly implies an even better year for Democrats in the county. Even more than that Lina Hidalgo poll, this should be encouraging for Dems, and downright terrifying for Republicans.

But it’s not just Harris County. There are two big reasons why CD07 is and has been seen as a top pickup opportunity. The main reason is because Hillary Clinton carried the district in 2016, but as we have discussed here before, some of that was because of crossover voters. Like I said above, Culberson still won the district 56-44. The other, equally important, reason is that the national atmosphere is one that favors Democrats and strongly indicates that the Republican advantage in districts like CD07 will be greatly diminished. Put another way, we expect that more Democrats and fewer Republicans will vote than in other similar election years. And that’s not just true in CD07, and in other battleground districts like CD23 and CD32. It’s true across the board, and it’s factored into every election prediction model, like the Morris model. Scroll down to the “Forecasts for every House seat” section and compare his projected margin in each Congressional district to the actual margins from 2016 and 2014.

This is something that I don’t think has been absorbed by media outlets and pundits in this state, all of which comes very much to the fore when a statewide poll like the second one from Quinnipiac comes out. Greg Abbott, who carried Harris County by five points in 2014, carried CD07 by a 60-38 margin in 2014; Culberson won that year by a 63-35 score. Again, if we are in an election where CD07 is a tossup, then the effect of that will be felt statewide, not just countywide. More to the point, if we are in that election, then the same effect will be felt in every Congressional district in Texas. It will be felt more in some districts than in others, and in specific races with specific candidates with strengths and weaknesses that may counter or enhance the national mood. But it will be felt.

The point I’m making is that a poll like that second Quinnipiac poll may be right, and polls like the DCCC CD07 poll and the Hidalgo Harris County poll may be right, but they can’t all be right. If the Q-poll is right, the other two are almost certainly too optimistic about Democratic chances, and if the latter two are right, then that Q-poll is almost certainly understating Democratic statewide support. I wish the people who write about these things would take that into consideration when they do. We don’t know yet which view is right. The fact that these conflicting polls exist is almost certainly because everyone has a different idea of what that national atmosphere will be like, and how big its effect on Texas will be. If you’re skeptical of any effect here you need to explain why. For now at least, all I’m saying is that polls like these don’t exist in a vacuum. Don’t evaluate one without taking into consideration the others.

Harris County poll: Hidalgo 53, Emmett 47

From the inbox last week:

Lina Hidalgo

The Lina Hidalgo campaign for Harris County Judge today released the results of its first county-wide poll, showing the Democratic challenger leading the Republican incumbent by a stunning six percentage points; among Harris County voters who plan to vote in the County Judge race, 53% plan to vote for Lina Hidalgo and 47% say they will vote for Ed Emmett.

The poll, conducted by Texas Democratic Party-authorized polling firm, Change Research, surveyed more than 1700 registered voters in Harris County on May 11, 12, 13, 19, and 20, and has a margin of error of +/- 3%.

“This poll supports what I am hearing as I travel to every corner of Harris County – that people are ready for new, authentic leadership for the future,” said Hidalgo. “In spite of the poll’s heartening results, I plan to campaign every day as if we are six points down, not six points up. I will work my heart out to make sure that every voter in Harris County feels heard and included.”

Other poll findings of note include:

94% of Harris County voters report feeling more interested (56%) in or equally as interested (38%) in the 2018 election as they have felt about prior elections.

President Trump is viewed unfavorably by 60% of Harris County voters

Voters report that the three issues that will drive their voting behavior most in November are:

1. Government transparency
2. Education
3. Jobs

Like me, you probably had a lot of questions when you saw this. I went ahead and emailed the Hidalgo campaign to get more information about the poll, and they graciously provided me this executive summary and this spreadsheet with the questions and answers broken down by race/age/gender/etc. I think the best way to present the fuller data set and discuss the points I want to raise are to go through the questions and responses in the spreadsheet. So with that said, here we go.

Question: Which of the following best desribes you? “I live in Harris County, am registered to vote, and identify as a”:


               All  Trump  Clinton  No vote
===========================================
Democrat     41.6%   1.2%    74.9%    23.2%
Republican   33.5%  78.9%     2.0%    14.2%
Independent  24.9%  19.9%    23.1%    52.6%

Question: Do you plan to vote in the November 6, 2018 elections?


               All  Trump  Clinton  No vote
===========================================
Yes          81.4%  89.9%    87.9%    56.8%
Maybe        16.5%   8.8%    11.4%    30.0%
No            2.2%   1.2%     0.7%    13.2%

Question: How interested are you in the election in 2018 compared to previous elections?


               All  Trump  Clinton  No vote
===========================================
More         56.3%   46.5%   69.1%    39.8%
Same         38.0%   50.4%   26.2%    37.4%
Less          1.9%    2.2%    0.8%     9.5%
Unsure        3.7%    0.9%    3.8%    13.3%

First things first, all responses are given as percentages rather than number of respondents. You can reverse engineer that, of course, but I think it’s more illustrative to provide both. That will especially be the case with some later questions. I sent a separate email to the contact for the polling firm about that; I’ll update if I get a response.

In the questions above, “Trump” and “Clinton” refer to the subset of people who said they voted for Trump or Clinton in 2016, while “No vote” are the people who said they didn’t vote in 2016. There isn’t a question asking why someone did not vote in 2016, so it could be the case that they were not eligible – too young, or not yet a citizen – or not registered. Basically, this says there are more people who identify as Democrats in Harris County – I don’t think that is a surprise to anyone – and a larger share of self-identified Republicans voted for Trump than Dems voted for Clinton. As for questions 2 and 3, it sure seems like everyone is excited to vote this fall, with Democrats perhaps more so. Needless to say, that remains to be seen. How true these sentiments are will be the million dollar question for candidates, pollsters, and loud-mouthed pundits.

Question: In the 2016 election, did you vote for:


Trump      36.8%
Clinton    48.7%
Johnson     2.8%
Stein       2.4%
No vote     9.4%

As a reminder, 53.95% of voters in Harris County actually voted for Hillary Clinton, while 41.61% voted for Trump. Gary Johnson took 3.03%, while Jill Stein had 0.90%, which means this poll oversamples Jill Stein voters. Make note of the date, you may never see that again. Another 0.43% wrote in Evan McMullin, and a further 0.09% wrote in someone else. If you go back to question 1, that’s why the Trump/Clinton/No vote subsets didn’t add up to 100%.

(Yes, I’m jumping around a little. This is how I want to present the data.)

Question: On a scale of 1-10, how do you feel about President Donald Trump today? 1 = strongly oppose, 10 = strongly support


               All  Trump  Clinton  No vote
===========================================
1            39.7%   0.3%    71.8%    35.5%
2            10.0%   0.0%    18.3%     3.5%
3-8          20.3%  15.2%     9.5%    47.9%
9             5.6%  14.2%     0.0%     4.3%
10           24.4%  64.1%     0.4%     8.8%

Allow me to point to this tweet by Amy Walter of the Cook Political Report to explain what this means.

90.1% of Clinton voters have the strongest negative feelings about Trump, while 78.3% of Trump voters have the strongest positive feelings about him. ‘Nuff said. Oh, and the non-voters mostly don’t like him, too.

Question: For whom do you plan to vote in the 2018 election for US Senate?


                 All  Trump  Clinton  No vote
=============================================
Ted Cruz       42.0%  93.4%     3.6%    31.2%
Beto O'Rourke  49.3%   2.1%    90.5%    52.2%
Neal Dikeman    1.9%   1.1%     0.7%     4.1%
Bob McNeil      6.9%   3.4%     5.2%    12.5%

Neal Dikeman is the Libertarian candidate. Bob McNeil is an independent who could be fairly classified as farther to the right than Cruz. He’s also not yet officially on the ballot yet, as he has to turn in some 47K petition signatures to the Secretary of State by June 21. Good luck with that. His presence in the question is basically noise, so don’t be too distracted by it. There won’t be a Green Party candidate. The 3.6% of Clinton supporters for Cruz is a reminder that there were a non-trivial number of Republicans who crossed over to vote for Clinton in 2016. Note here that all the numbers add up to 100, which is something that never happens in polls. You will see a possible mechanism for this in the next section.

Oh, and as for that Quinnipiac poll, don’t try to reconcile these two results. I think it is unlikely that O’Rourke could win Harris County by seven points while losing the state by double digits, but that doesn’t imply in any way that one poll is more “valid” or “correct” than the other. They are their own separate data points.

Question: For whom do you plan to vote in the 2018 election for Harris County Judge?


                 All  Trump  Clinton  No vote
=============================================
Ed Emmett      34.3%  74.9%    13.9%    14.0%
Lina Hidalgo   33.5%   2.8%    63.5%    30.4%
Won't vote     32.2%  22.4%    22.7%    55.6%

Question for undecided voters: If you had to choose for whom to vote for Harris County Judge in the 2018 election, who would you select?


                 All  Trump  Clinton  No vote
=============================================
Ed Emmett      24.7%  67.9%     9.8%    14.6%
Lina Hidalgo   44.7%  14.8%    74.7%    45.1%
Won't vote     30.7%  17.3%    15.5%    40.4%

Totals excluding undecided voters:


                 All  Trump  Clinton  No vote
=============================================
Ed Emmett      47.2%  93.7%    16.7%    28.5%
Lina Hidalgo   52.8%   6.3%    83.3%    71.5%

And here is how we get to the headline number. I don’t care for this construction. Having “won’t vote” as a choice rather than the more standard “don’t know” is a weird decision, one that casts some doubt on the “enthusiasm for voting” question. Regardless, any way you look at it, one may reasonably conclude that these voters as a group may be less likely than those who picked a name. As such, you can’t add them together. It’s my presumption that the pollster went through a similar exercise in the US Senate question (this might help explain the bizarrely high percentage for the candidate who probably won’t be on the ballot, who I’d bet none of the respondents had ever heard of – basically, he’s the “none of the above” choice), though they didn’t show the individual steps for how they got there.

I mean look, Ed Emmett has to be the best-known politician in the county, while Lina Hidalgo – who was unopposed in March and didn’t have much money as of January – surely has low name recognition. The fact that she was within a point of him in the first question, assuming the sample is reasonable, is pretty encouraging on its own. It’s a reflection of the partisan split in Harris County – remember, Emmett gets a significant number of crossovers – and demonstrates that Hidalgo has a lot of room to grow, as surely a decent number of those “won’t vote” respondents are actually likely Dems who just don’t know who she is yet. I don’t understand the need to push it further than that. And in thinking about it, I’m a little concerned that the O’Rourke/Cruz first-question numbers were a few points closer, with the “but if you had to choose” question being the reason for the larger gap.

So what do I make of this? As I say, it’s a data point. Maybe it will be in line with others – I’m sure we’ll see other polls – and maybe it won’t. I expect we’ll see plenty of conflicting results – again, so much of this depends on who shows up in November, and right now no one knows how that will look. We’re guessing. Some will guess better than others, and will base their guesses on better data. I think this particular result is optimistic, but reasonably so. Plausibly so. I’ll feel better if and when I see more results like it, or results from other races that correlate with it. But it’s one result, and the Quinnipiac experience reminds us again to not put too much stock in any one result.

Post-runoff thoughts

I suppose one’s view on Democratic primary runoff turnout is a matter of perspective. I wrote that it was way more than the turnout of any primary going back to 2006 – indeed, more than double the turnout of any year other than 2012. The Trib saw it differently:

As of 11 p.m. Tuesday, just 415,000 Democrats had cast ballots in the gubernatorial runoff. For reference, that’s a decline of almost 60 percent from the 1 million Texans who cast ballots in the March Democratic primary.

That’s the largest primary-to-runoff decline — and the smallest number of ballots cast — in the 14 Democratic gubernatorial primary runoffs held since 1920. That year, 449,000 Democrats voted, according to Texas Election Source‘s analysis of Texas State Historical Association data.

They also used words like low-key and abysmal. I have no idea what they were expecting, but I guess this wasn’t it. The DMN calls is “historically low”, with extensive quotes from the guy behind Texas Election Source, though he does allow that there are other ways of looking at this.

As for me, I was comparing turnout in any statewide primary, while the Trib and the DMN limited themselves to gubernatorial primaries. Which means that their most recent example is 1990, the year Ann Richards topped Jim Mattox in a vicious, nasty runoff. I think we can all agree that the Texas of 1990 was a little different than the Texas of 2018 is; I’m not even going to comment on the Texas of 1920. Be that as it may, here’s another look at runoff turnout:


Year     Runoff      March  Runoff%
===================================
2018    432,180  1,042,914    41.4%
2016    188,592  1,435,895    13.1%
2014    201,283    554,014    36.3%
2012    236,305    590,164    40.0%
2008    187,708  2,874,986     6.5%
2006    207,252    508,602    40.7%
2002    620,301  1,003,388    61.8%

Here I went back to 2002. In all cases, I took the number of votes cast in the busiest primary for that given year’s primary to the busiest runoff for the same year, which in some cases was the only statewide runoff. As such, we’re comparing races for President, Senate, and Governor to races for Senate, Governor, and Railroad Commissioner. Not perfect, I suppose, but at least it gives me data points from this century. You can make what you will of all this, as clearly it’s in the eye of the beholder, but I have a hard time lining up the Trib’s words with the numbers before me.

The primary wins by Veronica Escobar and Sylvia Garcia ensures that Texas will have at least two more women among its Congressional delegation. Gina Ortiz Jones and Lizzie Fletcher, and to lesser extents Jana Sanchez, MJ Hegar, Jan McDowell, Lorie Burch, and Julie Oliver could increase that number. They’re all Dems; thanks to Bunni Pounds’ loss in CD05 there will be no more Republican women in Congress from Texas.

Republicans may increase their female membership in the House, as Cynthia Flores won the right to succeed Rep. Larry Gonzalez in HD52 and Lisa Luby Ryan ousted Rep. Jason Villalba in HD114. Both will be favored in November, Flores more so. Democrats are actually down one in the House; Jessica Gonzalez ousted Rep. Robert Alonzo, but Trey Martinez-Fischer came back at Rep. Diana Arevalo’s expense, and Carl Sherman will succeed the retiring Rep. Helen Giddings. Dems do have something like 35 female candidates running against male Republican incumbents, and about a dozen of them have a chance to win that ranges from “top tier pickup opportunity” to “if the gods are truly smiling on us”. So, the story is far from over, but there are no guarantees.

As for the Senate, the Dems have two female candidates running in the swingiest districts, but both of them have female incumbents. There are also two female candidates running against male incumbents, in districts that are not as swingy. The single best chance of adding a female member to the Senate is in SD08, with Angela Paxton. Let that serve as a reminder that having more women in a particular group is not by itself an assurance of improvement.

Overall I’d say I’m happy with how things turned out. I was rooting for Fran Watson in SD17, but it’s not like Rita Lucido is an unsatisfactory choice. We have a strong slate, and statements from Watson and Laura Moser in support of unity will help us all get past the increasingly tiresome “establishment/outsider” narrative. By the way, about an hour after polls closed on Tuesday I got a press release from the Harris County GOP with “Far Left Lizzie” in the subject. So you know, that narrative didn’t quite take hold everywhere.

UPDATE: I had a slightly outdated turnout total for 2018, probably because I started writing this when there were still some precincts out. The number in there now is what is on the SOS election night returns page.

2018 primary runoff results: Governor

Here are the results. Before we begin, some numbers of interest:


Year      Total
===============
2018    428,933 (inc)
2016    188,592
2014    201,283
2012    236,305
2008    187,708
2006    207,252

There were at least 241,120 early votes cast in 2018 (that number kept increasing), meaning that turnout in this year’s runoff was already higher than every other years’ runoffs before a single ballot was recorded on Tuesday. As of just before 10 PM some 380,413 votes were tallied; that number rose to 406,021 by 11 PM, with ten percent of precincts still out. I’d estimate the final number will be around 420K, depending on where the stragglers are. Which isn’t that much in absolute terms, but as you can see more than double the total of any year other than 2012. (There were no statewide runoffs in 2010.)

And as of 10 PM, the race was being called for Lupe Valdez. She had a 21K lead with 5,788 of 6,978 precincts reporting. It was a tight race all evening, with the lead swinging back and forth as different counties checked in. Congratulations to Lupe Valdez, the first Latina and LGBT person to be nominated for Governor in Texas. Thank you to Andrew White for running a good and spirited campaign. Please do stay involved, we need you.

UPDATE: Got up this morning and the vote total had climbed to 428,933, surpassing my estimate from last night, with a handful of precincts still to report.

2018 primary runoff results: Harris County

Here are the election night results, with a handful of precincts still not in as of 11 PM. Most of these races were basically decided once the early voting numbers were in, but one was neck and neck all night. The winners:

District Clerk: Marilyn Burgess
County Clerk: Diane Trautman
County Treasurer: Dylan Osborne
HCDE Position 3 At Large: Richard Cantu (probably)
HCDE Position 6 Precinct 1: Danny Norris
JP Precinct 7: Sharon Burney

Cantu was leading by a score of 25,427 to 25,026 for Josh Wallenstein, with 965 of 1012 precincts reporting. This one swung back and forth – Wallenstein was leading by a few votes as of the 10 PM update – and could still swing again.

Turnout was a smidge over 55K, which is higher than I expected, as about 36% of votes were cast on Tuesday. On the Republican side, turnout was at 50K with 981 of 1012 precincts reporting. One race, for 295th Civil District Court, was too close to call as Michelle Fraga led Richard Risinger 23,477 to 23,419. One bit of good news is that actual public servant Jeff Williams will retain his JP bench in Precinct 5, defeating the troglodyte Michael Wolfe. The downside to that is that Wolfe will remain on the HCDE Board of Trustees, but at least we can fix that in 2020. Congratulations to all the winners. Onward to November.

UPDATE: Got up this morning and Richard Cantu was still the winner in the at large HCDE race, 26,041 to 25,780. That’s a lead that will almost certainly hold up after overseas and provisional ballots are counted. Oh, and final Dem turnout was 57,237, compared to 50,716 on the R side.

2018 Runoff EV report: Final totals

Here are your final early voting totals for the 2018 primary runoffs, and here is a handy table with comparisons to previous years.


Year      March   Runoff    Pct
===============================
2018 R  156,387   33,768  21.6%
2018 D  167,982   33,706  20.1%

2016 R  329,768   39,128  11.9%
2016 D  227,280   30,334  13.3%

2014 R  139,703   96,763  69.3%
2014 D   53,788   18,828  35.0%

2012 R  163,980  136,040  83.0%
2012 D   79,486   29,912  37.6%

2010 R  159,821   43,014  26.9%
2010 D  101,263   15,225  15.0%

2008 R  171,108   40,587  23.7%
2008 D  410,908    9,670   2.4%

2006 R   82,989   10,528  12.7%
2006 D   35,447   13,726  38.7%

Democrats had more mail ballots – 18,106 to 15,837 – while more Rs showed up in person, 17,931 to 15,600. Based on recent primary runoffs, I’d say somewhere between two thirds and three quarters of the vote has already happened, so figure the final turnout numbers to be in the 45,000 to 50,000 range. Democrats did surpass their high-water mark for primary runoff turnout during the EV period as expected, while this looks like a more or less normal year for Republicans. If you are voting on Tuesday, check to see where your polling place is before you head out. I’ll have results from the final vote on Wednesday.

2018 Runoff EV report: Primary runoff turnout totals don’t much matter

Hey, have you been wondering how early voting has gone in the primary runoffs so far? Well, wonder no more, for here is the daily report through Wednesday. You have today and tomorrow to vote early, and then you’ll need to find a precinct location on Tuesday the 22nd. In the meantime, here’s a look at how this year so far compares to past runoffs:


Year      March   Runoff    Pct
===============================
2018 R  156,387   24,172* 15.5%*
2018 D  167,982   24,567* 14.6%*

2016 R  329,768   39,128  11.9%
2016 D  227,280   30,334  13.3%

2014 R  139,703   96,763  69.3%
2014 D   53,788   18,828  35.0%

2012 R  163,980  136,040  83.0%
2012 D   79,486   29,912  37.6%

2010 R  159,821   43,014  26.9%
2010 D  101,263   15,225  15.0%

2008 R  171,108   40,587  23.7%
2008 D  410,908    9,670   2.4%

2006 R   82,989   10,528  12.7%
2006 D   35,447   13,726  38.7%

The starred 2018 values are incomplete, obviously. So what have we learned? One, there’s basically zero correlation between primary turnout and primary runoff turnout. This shouldn’t be a surprise, since in theory there need not be any runoffs in a given year. When there’s a Dewhurst-Cruz or a Dewhurst-Patrick, you may have good runoff turnout. When there isn’t – in 2008, the Dems had runoffs for Railroad Commissioner, a district court judge, and a Justice of the Peace; in 2010, they had three district court judges plus a JP – turnout falls off accordingly. Nor does turnout in either the primary or the runoffs predict November outcomes. Maybe that will begin to change, if Democrats have more contested primaries and put more emphasis on them. Maybe it will continue to be random. Ask me again in eight or ten years.

As far as 2018 goes, the Democratic edge comes from a nearly 2,000 vote advantage in absentee ballots. Republicans have had more in person voters each day, but not enough to close that gap. As is usually the case, I expect today and Friday to be heavier on the in person votes – I myself will be voting Friday – so we’ll see if that pattern holds. Note that after three days of early voting, the Dem turnout level is already above the final totals except 2016 and 2012, and I think it’s safe to say those will be topped when all is said and done. Again, there’s no evidence to suggest this has mattered historically, but you can at least have all this in your back pocket for when you see the inevitable carping about runoff turnout. This is where we are now. I’ll report back after the final EV totals are in.

The crossover question

From G. Elliott Morris, reviewing the recent AZ-08 special Congressional election:

The second thing to learn from AZ-08 helps explain the first: if Democrats aren’t winning because of differential turnout (or, not solely because of differential turnout), why are they? The only explanation is that Republicans are crossing over to vote for Democrats](https://twitter.com/geoffreyvs/status/988982464524750853). This is clear as day in the early voting numbers from Arizona’s 8th.

Here are the data: In the 155,000 early/absentee mail-in ballots cast in last night’s contest, Republicans ran a 21-point margin in party registration. One would assume (perhaps naively, as candidates from one party aren’t wed to that candidate) that this would give them a 21-point margin in actual ballots cast for either ticket. As I explained on my blog this assumption could go wrong for many reasons:

Early voting data are not “real results,” per se, despite what some analysts would have you believe, since partisanship does not equal vote choice. Though they are very correlated in modern America it is not a safe bet to assume all GOP ballots are for GOP candidates, and vice versa for Democratic voters and candidates. Such assumptions would have led us quite astray in the Texas primaries where Democrats cast more early votes than Republicans for the first time since 2010, but cast just 40% of total votes in the D or R primaries.

Indeed, the early vote did mislead. Debbie Lesko won these “R+21” early votes by just a 6-point margin, meaning there was enough persuasion of Republicans to Tipirneni’s side to move the needle fifteen points. That is certainly (or, at the very least, it ought to be) enough to make many Republican elected officials shake in their boots.

There is an extra point to be made here: even in a contest where 75% of ballots are cast early, our analysis of those results can often go wrong. Stick (though not exclusively) to the polls, folks; Emerson College pegged Lesko’s lead at 6 points. She won by 6.

Hold that thought, because Harry Enten was thinking along similar lines.

Republicans turned out in this election. The relative difference between Democrats and Republicans in registration among those who voted was about equal to overall registration figures. The number of people who voted in the special is fairly close to the number who voted in the the district during the last midterm election, in 2014. That’s not surprising because it is easy to vote early and by mail in Arizona. This allowed Republicans, who perhaps might have be been uninspired, to cast ballots without too much hassle.

It also means, however, that poor turnout is not an excuse for Republicans in this race. One common reason to be cautious of the special election results so far has been low turnout. Yet this election, like Pennsylvania 18 last month, saw turnout close to or exceeding 2014 levels, and Republicans trailed greatly behind the partisan baseline of these districts.

Finally, Republicans had a good candidate in Lesko. She had no major scandals and raised plenty of money. One of the excuses in previous elections that Republicans lost like Alabama US Senate (with Republican Roy Moore) and Pennsylvania 18 (with Republican Rick Saccone) was that the Republican was either scandal plagued or didn’t know how to raise funds. Lesko wasn’t either of those, and there was still a significant shift to the left.

Martin Longman and Ed Kilgore also discuss this evidence from the special elections that some non-trivial number of people who had identified (or registered, in the states that do that) as Republicans have not been voting for Republican candidates. Kilgore notes that national polling indicates that independents are pretty heavily negative on Donald Trump, which I will note is in line with that Quinnipiac Texas poll that had some people loudly complaining.

Now as always, it’s hard to say how much the national atmosphere applies to Texas, though it’s pretty clear that the state was an accurate reflection of said mood in 2006 and 2010 and 2014. To the extent that Democrats have a shot at winning races here that they haven’t won before, the formula starts with a boost in base turnout, because being outvoted by a million people statewide is not a good recipe for success. But if more Democrats showing up can put certain candidates in range, then a sufficient number of crossovers could put them the rest of the way over the top. To cite two recent examples, about 300,000 people who otherwise voted Republican voted for Hillary Clinton in 2016, and for Bill White in 2010. Neither candidate won, but in a context where base Democratic voting was higher, they could have.

How much of this happens this November, statewide and in the various specific districts of interest, is anyone’s guess right now, but may become clearer as we get more polling results. The point I’m making here is that there is evidence of it happening with Republicans elsewhere, and that this has been a part of the Democratic improvement in recent elections. In the absence of more polls like that Q-pac poll we can’t assume it’s happening here, but in the absence of more polls that aren’t like that Q-pac poll we can’t assume it’s not happening, either.

Early voting ends for May 5 elections

Go vote Saturday if you haven’t voted yet.

Voters across southwest Houston will head to the polls Saturday to vote on a replacement for late District K Houston City Councilman Larry Green who died unexpectedly from a drug overdose in his home last month.

The special city council election comes amid more than 70 across the county, in which voters will decide on new school trustees, city council members, municipal utility and other special district representatives, as well as a handful of bond issues and at least one property tax increase.

It will be first of two election days in the month of May. Runoffs from the March primaries for Democrats and Republicans will be held May 22.

In Houston’s District K special election, nine candidates are vying to replace Green, who was the only person to ever hold the seat, which was one of two added after the 2010 Census. The district covers a slice of southwest Houston between Almeda Road in the east and Beltway 8 in the west, Brays Bayou in the North and Beltway 8 in the south, with a portion in Fort Bend County.

[…]

Other elections in the Houston area on Saturday include:

Clear Creek ISD
Deer Park ISD
Hedwig Village
Hilshire Village
Humble ISD
Jersey Village
Katy
Katy ISD
La Porte
New Caney ISD
Pearland
Pearland ISD
Spring Branch ISD
Galena Park

See here for previous information about the May 5 election. The two listed above that are in italics were added by me, the others (along with a brief description of each) were in the original story. Here’s the early vote report for District K in Harris County; there’s a piece of the district in Fort Bend, so there have been more votes cast than the 3,427 showing in that report. I don’t know about the other elections that are happening. Are you someone with a vote to cast? Leave a comment and let us know. I’ll report on results on Sunday.

The timing of a Harvey bond referendum

How does August grab you?

Harris County Commissioners Court on Tuesday will consider calling a special election for August 25 — the one-year anniversary of Hurricane Harvey — to ask voters to OK a massive bond referendum for flood control projects.

The amount of the referendum has yet to be determined as the county continues to assess its needs and as other funds, including as federal grants, become available. At least three members of Commissioners Court said Friday they envision a measure that could reach $2.5 billion.

[…]

The referendum could help finance property buyouts, as well as a range of infrastructure projects, such as the widening and deepening of bayous or the construction of a much-discussed third reservoir in northwest Harris County.

Tuesday’s vote follows months of wrangling over the logistics of holding the bond election, including the cost of holding a special election and the ideal date to ensure voters turn out to support the measure.

Precinct 1 Commissioner Rodney Ellis on Friday said he supports presenting the bond referendum to voters during the November general election, when turnout is expected to be considerable as voters weigh in on mid-term congressional elections.

“Without evidence of a clear path to victory for a summer-time bond election, which is likely to have low turnout, I have serious reservations about the proposed August date,” Ellis said. “The future of Harris County hinges on the success of this flood bond.”

It also is not yet clear what the bond referendum will include. Harris County Flood Control District Director of Operations Matt Zeve said that would be determined after Tuesday’s discussion at Commissioners Court.

County officials have said the necessity for bond money grows as federal grants pour in to prepare the Houston area for future floods or to recover from Harvey, many of which require a sometimes hefty financial match from local governments.

“The risk is that they may allocate the funds elsewhere and, thus, become unavailable for our region,” Emmett states in the proposed letter to Abbott.

See here, here, and here for the background. I get the reason for wanting to do this as quickly as possible, as grant money may get grabbed up by other places before we could approve a November referendum. August is a weird time for an election – looking at the County Clerk election result archives, the only August date I see is in 2014, for a special election runoff in SD04, which is only part of the county.

The last election that wasn’t in March or May or November that included the entire county was the 2003 Constitutional Amendment special election, which included the infamous tort “reform” measure and which was done in September specifically to reduce turnout from the Houston area, since we had an open seat Mayoral race that November. Turnout for that, which was a state election and not a county election, was 238,334, or 13.38% of registered voters. We have more registered voters now, but that percentage would still put us south of 300K. Compare that to the November 2014 general election, which had 688,018 voters, which was still only 33.65% turnout. I’d bet on November this year being closer to 800K voters, and likely a lot more Democratic than either of those other two contexts.

So on the one hand, you’ve got a need to get this done, and the one year anniversary of Harvey as a rallying cry, but a smaller electorate that may be more likely to not support any kind of spending measure. You also need Greg Abbott’s approval to hold this election, which you’ll probably get but is still an unknown factor. On the other hand, you could have a November vote with a bigger and likely friendlier electorate, but you risk losing out on some grant money, and maybe that much farther away from Harvey people will feel less of a sense of urgency to do something, or at least something that may be historically big. All things considered, my preference is still November, but we’ll see what Commissioners Court decides.

Quinnipiac: Cruz 47, O’Rourke 44

Pretty good poll result, with the ever-present proviso that it’s just one result.

Rep. Beto O’Rourke

The closely watched U.S. Senate race in Texas is too close to call, with 47 percent for Republican incumbent Sen. Ted Cruz and 44 percent for U.S. Rep. Beto O’Rourke, his Democratic challenger, according to a Quinnipiac University Poll released today.

There are wide party, gender, age and racial gaps, the independent Quinnipiac (KWIN- uh-pe-ack) University Poll finds:

  • O’Rourke gets 87 – 9 percent support from Democrats and 51 – 37 percent backing from independent voters, as Republicans go to Cruz 88 – 6 percent;
  • Men back Cruz 51 – 40 percent, while women go 47 percent for O’Rourke and 43 percent for Cruz;
  • Voters 18 to 34 years old go Democratic 50 – 34 percent, while voters over 65 years old go Republican 50 – 43 percent;
  • White voters back Cruz 59 – 34 percent, as O’Rourke leads 78 – 18 percent among black voters and 51 – 33 percent among Hispanic voters.
  • Sen. Cruz gets lackluster grades, including a 47 – 45 percent job approval rating and a 46 – 44 percent favorability rating. O’Rourke gets a 30 – 16 percent favorability rating, but 53 percent of Texas voters don’t know enough about him to form an opinion of him.
  • Texas voters “like Ted Cruz as a person” 47 – 38 percent. Voters “like Beto O’Rourke as a person” 40 – 13 percent with 47 percent undecided.

“Democrats have had a target on Sen. Ted Cruz’s back, and they may be hitting the mark. Once expected to ‘cruise’ to reelection, the incumbent is in a tight race with Democratic U.S. Rep. Beto O’Rourke,” said Peter A. Brown, assistant director of the Quinnipiac Poll.

“The key may well be independent voters. O’Rourke’s 51 – 37 percent lead among that group is key to his standing today. But Texas remains a strong GOP state so O’Rourke will need the independent strength to pull the upset.”

[…]

In the Texas governor’s race, Republican incumbent Gov. Greg Abbott tops former Dallas County Sheriff Lupe Valdez 49 – 40 percent and leads entrepreneur Andrew White 48 – 41 percent.

Voters approve 54 – 33 percent of the job Gov. Abbott is doing and give him a 51 – 33 percent favorability. His challengers are largely unknown as 65 percent don’t know enough about Valdez to form an opinion of her and 72 percent don’t know enough about White.

“Gov. Greg Abbott has a modest lead over each of the two people vying for the Democratic nomination. But what is significant is that governors with 54 percent job approval ratings rarely lose,” Brown said.

Texas voters disapprove 52 – 43 percent of the job President Donald Trump is doing. Republicans approve 85 – 13 percent. Disapproval is 90 – 8 percent among Democrats and 64 – 28 percent among independent voters.

President Trump will not be an important factor in their U.S. Senate vote, 43 percent of Texas voters say, while 26 percent say their vote will be more to express support for Trump and 27 percent say their vote will be more to express opposition.

The poll was of “1,029 Texas voters”, which I assume means registered voters. For comparison, the earlier poll results we have re:

PPP: Cruz 45, O’Rourke 37
Wilson Perkins: Cruz 52, O’Rourke 34

Not too surprisingly, this one has one of the lower approval ratings for Donald Trump, which is no doubt correlated to the overall numbers. What stands out the most to me is that all three Democratic candidates score at least forty percent even though their name ID is quite low – in the questions about favorability, the “haven’t heard enough about them” choice is 53% for Beto, 65% for Valdez, and 72% for White. I’d usually expect that to be in conjunction with a “vote for” number at best in the low 30s. The fact that it’s higher suggests to me this is another piece of evidence for the higher level of engagement.

Another thing that would suggest more engagement will be poll numbers that are consistently at least in the high thirties and forties. That may not sound like much, but look on the sidebar at the numbers from 2014 and 2016. I did a little figuring, and I found that Hillary Clinton had a 38.53% poll average across 19 polls,with a high score 46 (twice) and a low score 30. Wendy Davis in 2014 had a 36.87% poll average across 15 polls. Her high score was 42, and her low score was 32 (twice). One poll number above those totals doesn’t mean anything – remember, the first two results we saw in the Senate race had Beto and 34 and 37 – but a string of them would.

I say all that as a way of trying to put this into perspective. I’ve seen some good poll results before – again, look at that sidebar. It’s just that for each good one, there are four or five not so good ones, so we fixate on the good ones. These are good numbers, but if you read the whole poll memo, you see that Cruz beats O’Rourke in all the “who do you prefer on this issue” questions, and Abbott as noted has a shiny approval rating. Plus, you know, we Texas Democrats don’t exactly have a track record for turning out in the off years. By all means, take this as something positive, but for crying out loud don’t take it as gospel. The Observer, the DMN, RG Ratcliffe, Mother Jones and the Trib have more.