Texas: No Enthusiasm Gap?

I have been analyzing the available early/absentee vote totals from the first three days of voting in Texas.  Texas makes the cumulative early vote and absentee vote totals for the 15 most populous counties available, and also has day-by-day breakdowns available from previous years, providing great data for analysis.


Early vote numbers are up in every county.  So being that the numbers aren’t release by party, how can we tell who is turning out?  My choice was to arrange the 15 counties according to the performance of Barack Obama in the county, to get a rough idea of how Democratic the county is (arranging by Kay Bailey Hutchinson’s performance in 2006 gave a nearly identical inverse arrangement).  Then, I compared the 2010 vote so far to the vote in the county at this point in 2006, to see if there was a correlation between increased turnout this cycle and how Democratic the county was.  I then adjusted it for change in voter registration between 2006 and 2010.

This chart shows that the average county has so far cast 1.8 votes for every vote cast in 2006.  The counties on the left voted more strongly for Obama, and the counties on the right voted more strongly for McCain.  There is a spike in the middle for two counties: Harris and Fort Bend, near Houston, which were both roughly split in the vote in 2008.  If you ignore them for now, and look at the turnout in Obama counties (52% or more Obama vote), in these counties 1.57 votes have been cast for every vote in 2006.  In the McCain counties (47% or less Obama vote), 1.65 votes have been cast for every vote in 2006.

These numbers indicate that the advantage in Republican counties in Texas compared to Democratic counties is very slight, an advantage of 0.08 votes in 2010 for every vote in 2006.  No indication of Democrats getting crushed here.  What’s going on in Harris and Fort Bend?  My assumption is that these counties, being from the Houston area, are influenced by the presence of former Houston Mayor Bill White in the Governor’s race.  Whether people are coming out to vote for or against him, I can’t say.  I have seen it mentioned that turnout has been heavier in parts of Harris County that are more Republican-leaning, though I can’t confirm that, and it doesn’t seem to be part of a statewide trend.  Voters in urban, conservative Tarrant County are turning out at lower rate than urban, liberal Travis County.

The turnout numbers as a percentage of registered voters seem to indicate that the partisan make-up of the county has little effect on turnout, so far.  In short: no enthusiasm gap.  There is one gap, though.  Among the top 15 most populous counties in Texas, the ones that voted for Obama (counting Harris) have cast 284,635 votes so far.  The ones that voted for McCain (counting Fort Bend) have cast 149,764 votes.

UPDATE: Here is the graph with the 4 Houston metro area counties removed.  It’s clear that Bill White is having an effect on turnout in these counties, so I think comparing other areas of the state make a more clear apples-to-apples comparison.

In the non-Houston counties, we have 1.57 votes in 2010 for every vote in 2006 in the Obama counties, and 1.47 votes in the McCain counties.  An enthusiasm gap which slightly favors Democratic counties!

35 thoughts on “Texas: No Enthusiasm Gap?”

  1. The Republican counties that are voting more heavily this time around, Galveston and Montgomery, are also in the Houston area, and the “Houston effect” that you’re seeing in Harris and Fort Bend is probably also affecting these counties and skewing the totals in the favor of the Republican.

    If you try to get away from the Houston effect and just compare the inland urban areas of Travis and Dallas to Tarrant and Denton, the difference is more noticeably negligible, and actually in leaning in favor of Democrats.

  2. Overall, my impression is that, so far, we are either doing slightly better than what we could be doing. Certainly, this varies by state, and in each county in each state, but from non-partisan voices (i.e. not the Iowa State Democratic or Republican Parties), the numbers seem slightly positive for Democrats. What’s happening in Texas seems to confirm this, although I am not particularly sure why.

    It’s also interesting because, either in the next election or in 2016, I think Texas will be a swing state. It hasn’t seen a real race in several decades. It’s growing, especially because of immigration, and that just adds to the millions of people who are potential voters in the state but who aren’t being targeted. I remember reading that because of the intense focus from each side, something like 90-92 percent of potential voters in Ohio are registered. That will change each presidential election, since people move in, die, or turn 18, but it’s only going to go up until there’s simply nobody left who wants to register to vote. I can only imagine something similar is happening in other Midwestern states. It’s probably less true, but only somewhat less true, in the blue-trending areas of the South and Southwest. But once there’s almost nobody left to register, the efforts will go elsewhere, and Texas is a pretty untapped resource for votes. If they win this state, the Democrats will probably have a lock on the Electoral College, assuming we still have it, for many years, so I hope there’s someone at the DNC mining this data about where to target voters first.  

  3. I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again, Bill White is our best candidate in the entire country.

    He has immense respect in the Houston metro area. He received 63% of the vote for mayor in his first election and 91% and 87% in his subsequent campaigns.

    Mind you, Houston is not a firmly Democratic city. Barack Obama barely carried Harris County in 2008.

    Additionally, he has endorsements from many of Kay Bailey Hutchison’s supporters from the “country club” wing of the Republican party.

    I previously wrote about Bill’s chances here:


    You never know, a Bill White win could lead to a future presidential campaign, something I truly hope bears fruition.

  4. Not that most pollsters would necessarily agree. I just happen to think the GOP-over-Dem advantage won’t grow much at all from ’08. I’m thinking…

    GOP – 38%

    Democrat – 36%

    Independent – 26%

    Perry – 88/8/52 = 50%

    White – 12/92/48 = 50%

    Arguably, this is a very Dem-friendly model, given Texas Independents tend to skew conservative, plus Republicans often tend to siphon-off a hefty, double-digit # of Dems. Alas, I think Perry’s a far weaker brand than “generic Republican.” We’ll see, though. If I were a betting man, I’d still say Perry eeks it out.

  5. in the first week of early voting in Texas. Dems vote the second week and on election.  If we are slightly behind even or ahead in turnout now, it means that the turnout models used by pollsters were probably wrong and that this race has been much closer all along.  just goes to show how great of a field game Bill White is running right now.

  6. Especially because we still haven’t been able to nail down Florida–by a longshot.

    In my view, Florida is more gettable as a solid D state than TX is as a marginal D state. In the next 10-15 years, that may change.  

  7. But, if someone really spent the money to register latino voters and if Rubio isn’t the 2016 nominee, then, yes, Texas can become competitive.

  8. …the fire in the warehouse containing all of the county’s voting machines?  If my precinct had to impmlement Plan B on a few months’ notice, I’d sure consider voting early.

  9. that a lot of the Republican areas in Harris County are outside the city of Houston.  Inside Houston, there’s the west side (which is actually trending Democratic), but there aren’t a lot of other Republican vote sinks in the city.  The most Republican areas are outside the city, particularly in the Katy and Cypress areas.

  10. The Blue Dog types mostly just call themselves independents or Republicans these days, so I actually find it a little hard to believe that White wouldn’t be able to carry around 90 percent of Democrats.  The bigger problem is that yes, the independents in Texas tend to skew conservative (McCain won them 62-36), but like you said Perry is a fairly weak brand name.

  11. You should include Glass on there. I don’t see Shafto, the Green, making much of a difference, but the Libertarian Glass could definitely end up deciding the election.

  12. I would say that comparing 2008 (Presidential year) to 2010 (off-year) is comparing apples to oranges, for one thing.

  13. which I think is fair.  He’s saying that GOP areas were a smaller slice of the pie in 08 than they are this year…which, unfortunately, shows an enthusiasm gap.

  14. To back up the areas he names being “strong Republican” or “strong Democratic”.  Some commenters on the blog post dispute his classification as being out of date with trends in the area.  I can’t really say for sure.

    What I can say for sure is that if you ignore the Houston area, which is complicated by the warehouse fire and Bill White on the ballot, and just look at the rest of the state, areas with a high number of Republicans (such as Tarrant County) have increased turnout a little less than areas with a high number of Democrats (such as Travis County).

    If, in general, Republicans in the state were turning out at a higher rate, and especially if they were turning out at a much higher rate, the numbers would be a linear correlation between the number of Republicans in a county and the increase in turnout, sloping upward in the more Republican counties, which is clearly not the case from available data.

  15. You have to compare midterm-to-midterm, that’s apples-to-apples.  It’s not valid to compare a midterm to a Presidential.  It’s a given that a Presidential has a more Democratic electorate than a midterm in most places, perhaps even everywhere.  So “Republican areas” having a higher vote share this time is what SHOULD be happening.

    This is why, for example, Jon Ralston analyzes Nevada early voting by comparing current numbers to comparable 2006 numbers, not 2008.

    There’s a second factor that Reid Wilson noted in a piece on Hotline On Call earlier this week.  That is that Democratic early voters procrastinate more than Republican early voters, so that the GOP often has an edge early that shrinks as the early voting period approaches the the end.

    Here is the link to the Hotline On Call piece:  http://hotlineoncall.nationalj

    And, here arek the key grafs:

    Democratic strategists are not worried about areas where their early vote is lagging, thanks to an old political rule of thumb: Their partisans take their time getting to the polls. Democratic voters tend to show up at early voting sites later than Republicans, and absentee ballots received on Election Day are more likely to be Democratic votes than Republican; the first absentee ballots received nearly always tilt Republican. Some political professionals like to say Republicans vote in the morning and Democrats vote in the afternoon.

    But Democrats have recognized the importance of closing early gaps with Republicans. The Democratic National Committee has pledged $50 million in cash and services aimed at turning out the party’s base. So far, they have given nearly $6.7 million each to the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee and the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, and another $6.9 million divided among 15 state parties. That money has largely gone toward turnout operations the party hopes can make a difference in close races.

  16. I was just throwing what he said out there because I read it yesterday and wanted to see what you had to say.  Lets hope for the best!

  17. as competitive as some others states, certainly not in the next ten years but perhaps ever, but if it’s in same category as Florida in the next few elections, a pretty big shift has happened. Besides, if Florida is as likely as Minnesota or Washington is for us, then it’s likely we won’t ever need Texas to win the White House.

  18. going on offense in 2012, which they should be, there’s no reason not to try to pick up Texas. There’s some deep animosity there towards him, but that’s nothing different than what you’d probably find in North Carolina, Virginia, or even Florida or Ohio. But there’s also a lot of voters, quite literally millions, who simply aren’t being targeted. You have to think that a good portion of them are open to hearing his message.

    Think of it this way. Virtually all campaigns make changes as election day nears. If at some point during summer it looks like a mistake, or if changes aren’t happening fast enough, they can simply scale back or pull out entirely. The resources of the campaign can then be spent in other states. But if they can start seeing some real gains in voter registration–and if they start early enough with enough volunteers, they should–it’ll be a huge boon to the Democrats now and going into the future. I imagine that the GOTV efforts for Democrats in that state are abysmal compared to those of Ohio or Iowa Democrats, and registering more voters means that the contact information will be much better. It’ll force Republicans to spend money to modernize their efforts. Even if the end result is a five-point loss instead of a 12-point loss, they will be making an enormous investment for 2016, 2020, and so on. Plus, there’s also the image of being on offense rather than being on defense, which will be a huge boon to the Democratic enthusiasm that year.  

  19. A proper evaluation requires a precise apples-to-apples comparison.  That means you can’t compare a midterm to a Presidential, and you can’t compare the first week of early voting now with TOTAL early voting in a preceding election.

    Unfortunately a lot of political reporters and bloggers like the one to whom you linked don’t realize this, and their early voting conclusions are sloppy.  The Poltico piece that was up earlier this week, for example, was very sloppy work with incorrect conclusions in saying early voting was going against Harry Reid.

    Every indication so far is that many states, our early voting is holding up OK.

    I worry a little more about Iowa, but even there it looks like Loebsack’s and Boswell’s districts are enjoying a relatively good early turnout.  And making an apples-to-apples comparison much harder is that the Republicans there are making strong efforts at early voting that they didn’t make in 2006, which means we have no idea how many Republican early voters are habitual voters who would have showed up on election day anyway because they’ve always done so.

  20. If you’re right, Texas could actually go blue this year. That would be huge.

    White is tremendously impressive and he gives off this “genuinely great guy” vibe that Gov. Perry, well, doesn’t. There are plenty of major Democratic candidates who don’t have it either (Sen. Boxer, Treasurer Giannoulias, Atty. Gen. Blumenthal, Cedric Richmond, Libby Mitchell, Frank Caprio, Atty. Gen. Cuomo, etc.), but White is really one of the truly good ones.

  21. going really strongly for White, and I’m guessing with the high early vote, the lack of voting machines won’t be a big problem. I’ve really heard of no other Houstonian who actually dislikes White, and the ones that won’t vote for him do it out of pure partisanship. However, many Republicans don’t really like Perry either. Purely anecdotal, but when you lose conservative business owners who listen to Rush Limbaugh every day, you’ve got problems. My guess is that Bill White wins somewhere between 60% and 65%. Fort Bend will definitely do a bit better (as most of the population are pretty well integrated into Houston) for White, whereas I expect a smaller improvement in the rest of the metro area.

  22. 60% in Harris County would be huge.  If Bill White can pull that off and dampen the GOP vote in West and East Texas relative to ’08 and keep all the other major counties like Obama did (Dallas, Bexar, Travis, El Paso, Hidalgo) then very well might be Governor White :)

  23. Perry won Harris County in ’06, so a shift that big in the most populous county in the state would be huge.

  24. that 64% of the voters did not vote for Rick Perry.

    Certainly, some of those voters would have voted for Perry in a two-candidate race, but there were some who were voting anti-Perry more than anything else, and Bell was a pretty weak Democratic candidate (who still managed to get 34% of the votes in Harris County, by the way.)

  25. There was Strayhorn, the conservative Independent who siphoned off many Perry votes. She had about 18% of the vote. Add that to Perry’s 39% and you get 57% for the Republicans.

    BTW: Chris Bell is from the Houston area.  

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