Republicans have won 101 straight statewide elections, 106 if presidential elections are included. There are 15 statewide contests this year.

Voters last elected Democrats to statewide office 20 years ago. Every state in the Nation has elected at least one Democrat to statewide office since then, even Idaho and Utah, considered by many to be the reddest states in the country. In terms of support for statewide Republican candidates, Texas has been growing redder for the past decade, fueled by a dramatic increase in straight-ticket voting, huge monetary advantages, and a lack of quality Democratic candidates. In the 2010 cycle, the average statewide Democrat received just 36% of the vote, an 8-point drop from 2008.

Low performing statewide candidates have become a fatal drag on down-ballot Democrats. The farther below 50% the top of the ballot drops, the harder it is for candidates locally to overcome that deficit.

In the Legislature, Democrats have fallen far from their euphoric 2008 election cycle, when they were a mail piece in HD105 away from a 75-75 split in the House. Just two years later, Republicans gained more than two dozen seats, and today hold a 95-55 advantage. The Senate, thanks to a lack of competitive districts, has remained firmly in Republican hands for years.

Redistricting and changing voter attitudes have also wiped away almost all of Texas’ rural and suburban Democratic members of Congress. Two thirds of the U.S. House delegation is Republicans, and both U.S. Senators have been Republicans since Lloyd Bentsen became Bill Clinton’s Treasury Secretary.

Until recently, Democrats still held considerable power at the local level. In the last decade, numerous local elected officials – including entire counties’ slates of office holders – switched parties, and now Texas counties are highly polarized bastions of (mostly) red or blue. A Republican and a Democrat are contesting the office of county judge is just 45 of the state’s 254 counties. In 37 counties, only a Democrat is running for county judge; only Republicans are running elsewhere. For the first time in history, the number of Republican candidates seeking non-judicial county office is more than double the number of Democrats.

In short, Democrats have not given Texans much of a reason to look their way in recent election cycles. This in turn has driven the growth in straight-ticket Republican voting, which in turn makes it harder for Democrats to win. It’s a vicious political cycle that continues to reinforce itself.

There have been some signs of resurgence within the Democratic ranks. Buoyed by her famous filibuster, Sen. Wendy Davis has become a national star and fundraising machine. A significant chunk of that money went to Battleground Texas, a grassroots organizing operation whose mission is to register new voters and mobilize Democrats to vote. There has not been this much interest in a gubernatorial election in Texas in 20 years.

Attorney General Greg Abbott

AG Greg Abbott

Sen. Wendy Davis

Sen. Wendy Davis

Yet, despite the large sums of money, Davis’s national notoriety and hundreds of thousands of hours of volunteers’ efforts, the state’s voters are poised to elect a full slate of Republican officeholders, again. Led by AG Greg Abbott, the slate of Republicans has been able to avoid the kinds of mistakes of cost Clayton Williams to lose to Ann Richards, the last Democrat elected governor.

Abbott has proven himself to be a tireless campaigner and simply the greatest political fundraiser in the state’s history. He entered the 2014 election cycle with $18.0 million in the bank, a figure he built mostly during the previous two years, when he wasn’t on the ballot. Since the end of the 2013 legislative session, Abbott has raised a staggering $45.2 million. Only the largely self-funded Tony Sanchez, who contributed $56.6 million to his own campaign, has had more resources than Abbott.

Together, Abbott and Davis have raised more than $83 million toward their respective campaigns, making this the most expensive general election in the state’s history (Neither candidate had a significant primary opponent.). The figure goes higher if Battleground Texas and the Texas Victory Committee’s net contributions are included.

Candidate 8-day-out Report 2013-14 Cycle
Cash on Hand Contributions Expenditures Contributions Expenditures
Greg Abbott R $12,291,215 $4,257,460 $16,317,657 $45,168,682 $45,836,198
Wendy Davis D $609,823 $7,211,549 $7,924,800 $37,906,586 $29,681,786
Kathie Glass L $3,310 $3,000 $23,092 $131,329 $252,428
Brandon Parmer G $0 $0 $0 $0 $0
Sarah Pavitt W $0 $0 $979 $0 $979
Loan Principal: None. Davis’s totals include only her COH and SPAC accounts. Telegram Reports: Abbott $133,247 (10/29), Davis $754,470 (10/29). Telegram Reports are not included in the totals above.

Yet, despite the hype and the national interest and the candidates’ huge campaign warchests, the needle simply hasn’t moved.

In October 2010, the UT/Texas Tribune poll – one of the few conducted in Texas that year – showed Gov. Rick Perry leading challenger Bill White, 50%-40%, the largest gap between them during the race. Other important findings:

  • The most important issues facing the state were border security (21%), immigration (19%), the economy (14%), unemployment/jobs (12%) political corruption/leadership (8%) and education (5%).
  • 64% said the country was on the wrong track.
  • 45% said the state was on the right track, 37% on the wrong track.
  • President Obama’s approval rating was 35/59 with 53% strongly disapproving.
  • Perry’s approval rating was 45/37.
  • Republicans led all statewide races polled (LTGOV 51-38, AG 55-35, LAND 50-37, AGRIC 50-37, RRC 50-34).
  • 51% supported a Republican for Congress in their district while 33% supported a Democrat.
  • 48% supported a Republican for the Texas Legislature in their district while 33% supported a Democrat.
  • 40% identified themselves as Republicans, with another 12% leaning Republican, and 34% identified themselves as Democrats, with another 6% leaning Democrat.

Four years later, the October UT/Texas Tribune poll shows Abbott leading Davis, 54%-38%, the largest gap between them during the race.

The most important issues facing the state continue to be border security (23%, up 2% from 2010), immigration 18% (down 1%), political corruption/leadership 9% (up 1%), education (7%, up 2%), the economy (6%, down 8%), health care (5%, up 2%) and unemployment/jobs (4%, down 8%). The state’s economy is clearly better than it was four years ago, at least in the view of the electorate.

President Obama’s approval rating is 36/57 with 48% strongly disapproving, virtually unchanged from four years ago. Perry’s approval rating is 46/38, virtually unchanged from four years ago. As for the nation, 65% think the country is on the wrong track, virtually unchanged from four years ago. As for the state, 48% say it is on the right track while 35% say it is on the wrong track, virtually unchanged from four years ago.

Republicans still lead all the statewide races polled (SEN 57-31, LTGOV 52-35, AG 54-34, COMP 49-34, LAND 50-32, AGRIC 47-35, RRC 48-34). Many of those spreads are virtually identical to the races in 2010, despite the fact that every one of them has a different Republican candidate. Support for Republican representatives is also virtually unchanged (53/40 Congress, 55/39 Legislature). Four years later, the Texas electorate is unmoved.

In the 2010 UT/TT poll, only White polled at or above 40%. He ultimately received 42% and was the only Democrat to top 40% (The rest averaged 36%). In the 2014 UT/TT poll, none of the Democrats polled at or above 40%. Davis has not polled above 40% since March, even in an internal poll released by the campaign in September (She was at 38%.).

It is a pattern the Democrats have seen before. Their top candidate may generate buzz and win some converts beyond the Democratic base, but ultimately they fail to break out of a pack of otherwise largely anonymous candidates. It often begins at the top of the ballot, a spot occupied this year by U.S. Senate candidate David Alameel, who is currently polling in the low 30s. Since 1998, the candidates sharing the ticket with the Democratic gubernatorial nominee have not provided any help.

In 2010, White was the Democrats’ top performing candidate, receiving 5.8% more than the average Democratic candidate. It was the fifth-highest amount of crossover support received by a Democratic candidate since 1992. No statewide Democratic candidate has fared more than 10% better than the average candidate since Bob Bullock’s 13.7% in a victorious 1994 campaign.

Spread of Democratic Statewide Candidates

While this is, from a policy perspective, the strongest Democratic statewide slate in three cycles, the down-ballot statewide candidates bring little to the ticket. Collectively, the statewide Democratic candidates have raised $47.6 million, of which candidates not named Wendy Davis account for just 20%. Davis and Sen. Leticia Van de Putte, the nominee for lieutenant governor, together account for 96% of all contributions toward the Democratic ticket. Alameel adds another $4.4 million, not included above, but that is largely self-funded and self-promotional.

The decreasing spread between the top vote getter and the worst performer among Democratic candidates indicates that voters are not distinguishing one from another. It is also evidence of voters’ increasing use of straight-ticket voting in general elections. In 1994, about 35% of all votes cast were straight-ticket Republican or Democrat. By 2012, that percentage rose to more than 60%, and approximately 600K more of them were for Republicans than Democrats.

Straight-ticket Voting, 1992-2012

The chart above shows estimated straight-party and full-ballot votes cast in each general election since 1992. The data quality improves as we get closer to 2012, but we are confident the trend is accurately depicted by the available data.

Nearly 60% of all Texans cast straight-ticket ballots in the last gubernatorial election, far more than in any other gubernatorial election in the modern era. About 60% of those votes were straight-Republican. White, and any other statewide Democratic candidate, would have needed to win 63% of all full-ballot votes cast in order to win that election. He received less than 50%.

Fewer voters are going through the full ballot. Thus, fewer voters are splitting their votes among the parties’ candidates. This makes it even harder for any one candidate to stand apart from the others sharing the ticket. For better or worse, all of one party’s nominees are being seen, and judged, collectively by an ever greater proportion of voters.

So, Democratic candidates need more straight-ticket Democratic voters, but they are not showing up at the polls. There remains a pronounced – even striking – turnout gap among the supporters of the two parties’ candidates. Generally speaking, House district turnout (measured against voting-age population) in the last gubernatorial election was directly related to which party won the seat.

Turnout by Relative Democratic Strength

Each dot in this graph represents a Texas House district. Red dots are districts represented by a Republican, and blue dots are districts represented by a Democrat. Turnout for the vast majority of Republican-represented districts exceeded 25% of the voting-age population, and in all cases it exceeded 20%. The opposite was true for the vast majority of Democrat-represented districts, where turnout was less than 25% of the voting-age population, often less than 20%. Those percentages must be higher, in any election year, for Democrats to turn Texas blue.

The gap is worse in non-presidential election years. For Democrats, the number of 2012 straight-ticket voters was double the number in 2010. Statewide Democratic candidates need presidential-only straight-ticket Democratic voters to turn out in large numbers in order to be competitive in gubernatorial election years. So far, the early voting numbers indicate this is not happening.

Early Voting 1996-2014

Through nine days of early voting, the number of early votes cast in the state’s 15 most populous counties is just 1% ahead of 2010 and 53% below 2012. In-person voting is down nearly 6% from 2010. Returned ballots by mail (BBM) are up 62% over 2010 and just slightly behind 2012.

In recent cycles, BBM voting has been strongly Republican. Battleground Texas made BBM a priority, so it sees the surge in BBM (relative to 2010) as evidence of its efforts. However, it may also be a function of the state’s Voter ID law. A photo ID is not required for a BBM application. For Democrats, this surge in BBM needs to be new voters, at least to gubernatorial election cycles.

All of this leads us to estimate that the average statewide Democrat will receive 38% of the vote, a 1.5% improvement over 2010. We expect Alameel to have the lowest percentage (around 34%) and either AG candidate Sam Houston or one of the judicial candidates to have the highest percentage (around 42%). This projected spread is slightly tighter than in 2010, which we attribute to increased straight-ticket voting.

Accordingly, we project Davis will not match White’s performance in 2010. We theorize that her high negatives, identified in several polls, will dampen the level of crossover support.

Using 38% as our benchmark for Democratic candidate performance, our model produces the following results in key legislative and congressional races:

  • SD10: Burton over Willis, Republican pick-up.
  • HD23: Faircloth over Criss, Republican pick-up.
  • HD27: Reynolds over Hamilton.
  • HD43: Lozano over Gonzalez.
  • HD94: Tinderholt over Ballweg.
  • HD105: Anderson over Motley.
  • HD107: Sheets over Donovan.
  • HD108: Meyer over Bailey.
  • HD113: Burkett over Whitley.
  • HD115: Rinaldi over Stafford.
  • HD117: Galindo over Cortez, Republican pick-up. (Local Republican officials have publicly stated that their base turnout is lower than they expected during early voting. Our model suggests a razor-thin margin for Galindo, so depressed Republican base turnout could tip this to Cortez.)
  • HD136: Dale over Bucy.
  • HD149: Vo over Hoang. (Local Republican officials have publicly stated that the early vote appears evenly split among the two parties, which would make it even harder for Hoang to prevail.)
  • CD23: Hurd over Gallego, Republican pick-up.
  • CD27: Farenthold over Wesley.

In all other races, we expect the candidate of the party currently holding the seat to prevail. Locally, we expect Republicans to increase their hold on county offices.