Today we continue our exploration of districts that may be in play in the general election by looking at districts held by Republicans but carried by Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton in 2016.
National news outlets and pundits have used the 2016 presidential election results to identify districts where Republicans may be in trouble in the mid-term elections. Nationally, there were 25 congressional districts won by Republicans where Clinton received more votes than Donald Trump. Three are in Texas:
- CD23, held by U.S. Rep. Will Hurd (R-San Antonio), where Clinton received 52% of the vote head-to-head against Trump
- CD32, held by U.S. Rep. Pete Sessions (R-Dallas), where Clinton received 51% of the vote head-to-head against Trump; and
- CD7, held by U.S. Rep. John Culberson (R-Houston), where Clinton received just under 51% of the vote head-to-head against Trump.
National pundit Charlie Cook has CD7 and CD32 rated as “toss ups,” and he has rated CD23 as “lean Republican.” All three races have been targeted by the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.*
Eleven legislative seats – one Senate, 10 House – are held by Republicans but were won by Clinton in 2016. In addition to these 14 seats, Clinton received at least 47% of the vote head-to-head against Trump in another 10 legislative districts (2 Senate, eight House).
Before we go any farther, we should point out that Trump underperformed the rest of the Republican statewide ticket by more than 3 percentage points, and Republican legislative incumbents frequently received more votes, sometimes many more votes, than Trump in their districts. For example, Trump received less than 42% of the vote head-to-head against Clinton in HD134, which is held by Rep. Sarah Davis (R-Houston). The rest of the Republican statewide candidates averaged 54% head-to-head against their Democratic opponents. Davis received 34% more votes than Trump in the district.
We should also point out that the 2016 presidential election results in these districts varied sharply from recent presidential elections. Candidate Barack Obama carried just one of these districts – CD23 – in 2008 over John McCain. President Obama carried none of them over Mitt Romney in 2012, and he received 40% or less head-to-head against Romney in nine of them.
So, using a district’s 2016 presidential vote as the single marker for competitiveness is misguided. However, it is a marker, which, when combined with others, gives us a sense of which districts are more likely to be in play than others. Eight of the 10 Republican-held districts where Clinton fared best over Trump are also among the 10 bluest Republican-held districts from our previous analysis.
What we find important, particularly as we remain in the era of high straight-party voting, is that just enough voters in these otherwise Republican friendly districts are still willing to vote for either the right Democrat or against the wrong Republican. These split tickets are not the products of straight-party voters, but instead they arise from how full-ballot voters break for each race.
We’ll look at straight-party voting trends soon, but today we want to highlight how full-ballot voters broke for Clinton or Trump in these districts in 2016. We define “full-ballot voters” as those individuals who do not cast a single-punch, straight-party vote, regardless of whether they check any boxes below the presidential line (or any other line of their choosing). Full-ballot voters broke for Clinton in all but one of the districts we’re examining today, in some cases overwhelmingly.
In HD134, full-ballot voters broke for Clinton, 73%-27%, and for Davis, 58%-42%, measured head-to-head against their major party opponents, which means that about a third of full-ballot voters in HD134 voted for Clinton and Davis. In HD114, Clinton received 64% of the vote from full-ballot voters while Rep. Jason Villalba (R-Dallas) received 68% of the vote over his Democratic opponent. Again, about a third of full-ballot voters in HD114 voted for Clinton and Villalba. Davis is on the general election ballot again in 2018, but Villalba is not. He was defeated in the Republican primary by a more conservative candidate, Lisa Luby Ryan.
CD23 was the only Republican-held district that went for Clinton overall but where full-ballot voters broke for Trump. In the district, Trump could not overcome a nearly 16K-vote deficit in straight-party voting, but Hurd did when he received 60% of the vote from full-ballot voters.
The point of today’s analysis is to demonstrate an electorate’s – or at least a slice of the electorate’s – willingness to break from the political tribe and support a candidate of another party. We’ve focused on head-to-head matchups between the two major parties, but these splits in support between one party’s candidate and the rest of the ticket opens the door for Libertarian candidates to overperform their typical statewide averages. Some voters can’t bring themselves to support a candidate from the other party, but they could support a candidate from another party.
This series will continue.
* The DCCC has also targeted CD21 open, currently held by U.S. Rep. Lamar Smith (R-San Antonio), and CD31, held by U.S. Rep. John Carter (R-Round Rock). These are excluded in our discussion here because Clinton received 45% and 43% in those districts, respectively, head-to-head against Trump.
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