For much of the past decade-plus, Harris Co. experienced a phenomenon I called “partisan mood swings.” Democrats running countywide – potentially all of them – tended to win in presidential election years. Republicans running countywide – often all of them – tended to win in gubernatorial election years. The best, and only, explanation: straight-party voting.
More Democrats cast straight-party votes than Republicans in 2000, 2008, 2012 and 2016. More Republicans cast straight-party votes than Democrats in 2002, 2010 and 2014. The exceptions to this yoyoing pattern were:
- 2004 (Republicans by 45K), generally thought of as the nadir of Texas Democrats statewide (John Kerry lost by 23 points, and Democrats contested only three statewide offices and left scads of Republican-held offices unchallenged)
- 2006 (Democrats by 8K), the year Carole Keaton Strayhorn and Kinky Friedman’s independent gubernatorial bids siphoned off straight-party voters weary of Gov. Rick Perry (R) and indifferent to former one-term U.S. Rep. Chris Bell (D-Houston); and
- 2018 (Democrats by a record 105K).
Democrats swept all 42 countywide races in 2016 and all 87 of them in 2018. Republicans swept all 83 of them in 2014. Looking just at the countywide judicial races in 2012, Republicans won 21 and Democrats won 19, making it the only truly competitive year recently. In 2010, Republicans won 81 out of the 82 countywide races. The exception was Perry’s narrow loss to former Houston Mayor Bill White. In 2008, Democrats won all but eight of the countywide races.
If the county’s political mood was imagined as a yoyo, then the 2018 election broke the string. A record number of Democratic straight-party votes (516K) was cast that year, 32% more than in 2008. A record number of Republican straight-party votes (411K) was also cast in 2018, but the percentage increase since 2008 was a little more than half (18%) the Democrats’ gain, and the change since 2012 was negligible.
This significantly stronger growth in Democratic straight-party voting was spread across the county. The straight-party advantage shifted toward the Democrats in all but four of the county’s 25 state House districts, and all four of those districts were already held by Democrats.
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