Sunday, October 21, 2018

What A Texas Blue Wave Might Look Like

Texas Democrats have been losing midterm elections by more or less a two-to-one turnout margin since Ann Richards lost her 1994 Gubernatorial re-election to George Bush. Democrats can chalk up their long losing streak to one thing: Only about one in three Texans registered to vote have cast ballots in midterm elections over the last quarter century, and it's Democrats who haven’t been turning out at the polls.

Texas is tied for lowest voter turnout in the nation with Washington D.C., a non-state where residents have no representation in the Congress. Turnout is depressed because the lion’s share of more progressive-minded younger Texans have grown up with a mindset Texas is such an overwhelmingly red conservative Republican State that has been so gerrymandered by Republicans their vote will never count, so they don’t vote. That’s why Texas Democrats have adopted the saying, “Texas is not a red state. It's a non-voting one.”
With a crush of last minute voter registration applications submitted to county election offices in last 30 days before the October 9th registration deadline, a record 15,793,257 Texans are registered for this midterm election. That is a 4 percent increase over the 15.2 million who were registered for this year’s March primaries and an increase of nearly 13 percent (1.8 million) over the last midterm year of 2014. The registration increase for this midterm outpaces the 6 percent (1.4 million) overall voting age population (VAP) increase across Texas.
In the last four midterm elections, between 33.6 percent and 38 percent of registered voters actually showed up to vote. If this year’s turnout is within those bounds, 5.2 million to 5.9 million Texans will vote.

That would break the 5-million-vote mark for the first time, but it would still mean that 9.7 million to 10.4 million registered voters in the state of Texas — slightly less than two-thirds of them — signed up to vote without actually getting themselves to the polls. And that would be bad news for Democrats, because it means their voters stayed home for yet another election.

To win Texas, Democrats must get their voters to turnout in a midterm election year for the first time. Beyond the traditional turnout levels of 33.6 percent to 38 percent of registered voters, Democrats must change the electoral math to get more than one in ten registered voters to vote for Democrats rather than their usual Republican choice, or stay home and not vote Republican as usual, or vote for the first time in a midterm, or be a first time ever voter — or all the above.

Since Texas Democrats saw their southern conservative voters switch enmasse to the Republican Party in the 1980’s and 1990’s, they have been convince the only way to again win elections was to woo those voters back to voting for Democrats. As Texas Democrats largely chased those increasingly confirmed Republican voters to the right election after election, they left the growing population of younger progressive Texans feeling forgotten and on the sidelines of Texas politics.

Democrats can never convince enough traditional right-leaning older Republican voters to switch parties to win. The only way Democrats can win Texas is by convincing center-left and left-leaning progressive non voters to vote. In other words, they must increase the overall election turnout by turning out younger more left-leaning Texans to vote — Latino, Black, Asian, Anglo, et al.
To win the state, Democrats must increase the midterm turnout rate from the usual 33.6 percent to 38 percent of registered voters to at least 46 percent. Thanks to Pres. Trump, that might just happen.

Historically, midterm elections have been a mix of local issues, local candidates, and partly a referendum on the sitting president. Unlike presidents of yesteryear who downplayed the idea the midterm election is a presidential referendum, Pres. Trump has willingly embraced it.

This year, Pres. Trump has intentionally nationalized the midterm congressional elections hoping to boost Republican turnout; but, polling data across the board shows he is just as effectively spurring Democratic voter turnout. Trump’s name will not appear on the Nov. 6 ballots, but, he will clearly be front and center in the minds of voters, and the midterm results could determine the future of his presidency. This is likely to boost midterm election turnout numbers this year to levels approaching presidetial year turnout.
Philip Bump writes at The Washington Post people are searching for voter registration info at presidential-year levels. Tracking search metrics for election related information like, “register to vote,” is a proven way to gauge the level of interest voters have about the election. Averaging the data across all states, the pattern is obvious; 2018 does not look like 2010 or 2014 in terms of searches for voter registration information, it looks more like 2016.
Given every poll conducted this year shows unusually high voter enthusiasm for a midterm year, the astronomical fundraising numbers reported by Democrats, the remarkable number of ballots cast in this year’s special elections and primaries, and the exceptionally high voting turnout in states where early voting started last week, there’s plenty of reason to believe this is going to be a uniquely high turnout midterm election.
One way to compare relative voter enthusiasm Election to Election is to look at the percentage of voting age population (VAP) that registered to vote ~ 2004: 81.5% — 2006: 78.5% — 2008: 76.5% — 2010: 71.0% — 2012: 74.6% — 2014: 74.2% — 2016: 78.2% — 2018: 79.4%.

Democrats could get a boost during the 2018 midterm elections from historic young voter turnout, according to a new poll. About 1-in-3 young people are "extremely likely" to vote as part of November's midterm cycle, a Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement survey released last week. The surge, unusual for midterm elections, favors Democratic congressional candidates. This is because the center's study also found 45 percent of young people would vote for a Democratic House candidate as opposed to just more than 25 percent who would support a Republican vying for a congressional seat. The upward trend in young voter turnout appears to be driven by 18 to 21-year-olds who weren't eligible to vote in 2016, according to the poll. Many of those young people have been inspired to participate in the political process by the latest anti-gun movement sparked by February's high school shooting in Parkland, Fla.

Midterm voter enthusiasm is not only up across all segments of the electorate compared to 2014, it is absolutely surging among the demographics most inclined to send Trump and the Republican Party a message. Pew Research saw a surge of voting in the primaries by more than 50 percent over the 2014 midterms. The certainty of left-leaning voters to vote is up 18 points, independent certainty is up 13 points, and Republican certainty is up just 4 points. Certainty to vote is up 32 points among women younger than 40, compared with 2014.

Among men and women ages 18 to 29, turnout enthusiasm has risen 17 points. Among nonwhite registered voters, 72 percent are now certain to vote, up from 48 percent in Post-ABC polling in October 2014. White men without college degrees, who heavily skewed toward Republicans in 2016, are less certain than usual about voting this year and their urgency to vote is lagging behind other groups.

Certainty among white women with college degrees—a segment skewing even more heavily Democratic this year—has risen 15 points since 2014, and it's risen 12 points among white women without college degrees.

Trump won independent voters by 4 points in 2016, but independents favor Democratic candidates by 14 points going into the final weeks before Election Day 2018. Independent women have gone from voting for Hillary Clinton by 5 points to favoring Democrats by 33 points, and white college educated women who voted for Hillary by 7 points now favor Democrats 15 points.

All that national demographic data seems to also foreshadow a blue wave turnout that may well extend into the State of Texas, and even historically red Collin County, Texas, given its demographic alignment with national demographics.
On Wednesday, the first day of early voting in Tennessee, more than 120,000 people voted, which is nearly four times the number of people that voted on the first day of early voting in 2014 midterm, according to the Tennessean. In Hamilton County, Indiana, just north of Indianapolis, voters have cast ballots at a rate 10 times higher than four years ago and almost as high as during 2016 election, the Indianapolis Star reported. In Minnesota, the number of ballots cast has surpassed the turnout at the same point in the 2016 general election, when the presidency was on the ballot. Early voting in Georgia, New Mexico and Virginia have also seen similar surges in early voting.

Based in part on the high rates of turnout where early voting is already underway, University of Florida professor Michael McDonald, who runs the United States Election Project blog, expects that some 45-50 percent of eligible U.S. voters will participate in the midterms—a figure not seen in a midterm election since 1970. In the 2014 midterms, slightly over a third of eligible U.S. voters, or 37 percent, cast ballots.

In Texas, more people vote early than on Election Day. Sometimes, it’s far more people; in 2016, for instance, 73.5 percent of the total votes cast were cast before Election Day. In 2012, the presidential election year before that, 63 percent of the voters cast their ballots before Election Day rolled around.

Midterm voting early is also more popular than Election Day voting, but less so the in presidential election years. In the last midterm election in Texas in 2014, Republican Greg Abbott, then the attorney general, faced Democrat Wendy Davis, then a state senator, in an open race for governor. The early vote tally was 54.1 percent — a smaller portion than in presidential years but still more than half of overall turnout.

The same was true in 2010, when a governor’s race between Republican Gov. Rick Perry and Democrat Bill White, a former Houston mayor, topped the ballot: Early turnout accounted for 53.1 percent of the vote.

However, the turnout split between early voting and Election Day for the 2018 midterm may look more like a presidential year than a typical midterm year.

How will Texas Democrats know if a blue wave is washing over the state as early voting progresses? We will see three early voting indicators that Democrats might have cause to celebrate after polls close on November 6th.

First, we’ll see much higher daily turnout numbers. Second, we’ll see a significant number of people voting early every day who have never before voted in midterm elections, or who have never regularly voted in any election. Third, younger voters will be voting at a rate higher than in past midterms, and perhaps voting at a rate as high as in presidential election years. We may also see a fourth indicator of a decrease in turnout or straight party voting among older more moderate Republicans turned off by Trump and the increasing extremism of the Republican incumbents.

Through early voting, I’ll update comparative year turnout charts, like the one at right, and report on the rate of turnout across Texas’ 15 largest counties, with detailed reporting on turnout in conservative Republican Collin County, Texas. The blue dashed line charted for 2018 shows a projected blue wave turnout rate of registered voters.

Collin County’s population mix of younger men and women who have received college degrees or completed some level of college level coursework fits the model of voters that polling data shows are highly motivated to send a message to Republicans and Pres. Trump. If polling data is at all accurate, we should see the proof of it in this heretofore very Republican voting county.

Turnout in Collin County, Texas, and the other 14 largest Texas counties, will give us a good view of a Texas Blue Wave, should it begin to build and crest toward the Election Day beach. To win red Collin County, Democrats must increase midterm turnout of left-leaning voters by at least 10 points, from the typical midterm turnout of 36 percent of registered voters to at least 46 percent.

The daily cumulative in-person and mail ballot cast rate from registered voters in Texas’ 15 largest counties must look something like the dashed line turnout rate in the chart for Collin County above, to suggest a blue wave might be washing over the state.

A look back at 2014 election results:

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