This is the first of two analyses that will attempt to prognosticate Tuesday’s general election. Here we focus on the overall political climate. Our next, shorter, analysis will look at individual races.
2018’s Place in History
It would be easy to say that we are entering uncharted territory. After all, 2.4 times as many voters cast ballots early this year than in 2014, the last gubernatorial election, and early voting turnout nearly exceeds that of 2006, 2010 and 2014 combined. More people voted early this year than in all of 2014, including Election Day. Voters with no recent primary history cast 42% of early votes through the 11th day of early voting, up from 27% in 2014, and it’s likely to rise slightly when the final early votes are included. Nearly one out of every nine early voters had no recent voting history.
So, in many ways, turnout is record-breaking, extraordinary and unprecedented. In other ways, it’s not record-breaking, nor particularly extraordinary and certain not unprecedented. We aren’t truly in uncharted territory. We’ve been here before. Just not when the governor is on the ballot.
Early voting turnout nearly mirrored 2016, the record-setting presidential election in which 73% of votes were cast early, and resembled 2008 and 2012.
Two years ago, voters with no recent primary history cast 46% of early votes, on their way to casting 47% overall, according to analyses of voter rolls conducted by Republican political consultant Derek Ryan. Voters with no recent voting history – primary or general – cast nearly 16% of early ballots, on their way to casting 18% of all ballots. While not up as dramatically as 2018 compared to 2014, 32% more people cast ballots early in 2016 than in 2012, the most recent presidential election year.
Importantly, a record number of straight-party votes – more than 5.6M – were cast in 2016, up 13% from 2012 and nearly double the number cast in 2014. Statewide, Republicans cast 545K more straight-party votes than Democrats, which was below 2014 (647K), 2012 (629K) and 2010 (602K), but high enough to prove insurmountable for the statewide Democratic candidates.
Nearly 1M more votes were cast in 2016 than in 2012. Donald Trump received just 115K more votes than Mitt Romney, so most of these new voters broke toward Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton (570K) or minor party and independent candidates (290K). If we assume the existing 8M voters stayed in their partisan lanes and voted as they did in 2012, then 34% of “new” voters cast straight Democratic ballots, 26% voted straight Republican, 5% voted straight Libertarian or Green, and the remaining third voted the full ballot. Of those latter individuals, more voted for Libertarian, Green or independent candidates than for Hillary Clinton.
This finding is important. Despite a swath of voters’ reluctance to vote for Trump, a plurality did not want to vote for the Democrat, either, which is indicative of the damage sustained by the Democratic brand.
Comparing 2016 to 2014, 4.25M more people voted. Of that, 1.3M more people voted straight Republican, 1.4M voted straight Democratic and around 75K more voted straight Libertarian or Green. Again, two-thirds of those who did not vote in 2014 cast straight-party ballots with a slight edge going to the Democrats, but not enough to overcome the built-in Republican advantage from 2014 voters.
All of this is a backdrop to evaluating what to make of the huge surge in turnout from 2014.
Subscribers can read the rest of this analysis.
©2018 Texas Election Source LLC