In a state where single-punch, straight-party voters continue to gain influence in determining election outcomes, it was the voters who work their way through the whole ballot that swung HD115 last year. By just over a thousand votes, Rep. Matt Rinaldi (R-Irving) won re-election in a district that Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton won by more than 4,700 votes.
Rinaldi received in excess of 3,800 more votes than Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump, making him one of the highest vote-getters in his district’s precincts not named Clinton, and he was one of just four legislators to win despite facing a deficit in single-punch voting.
Rinaldi defeated Carrollton attorney Dorotha Ocker, 53%-40%, among the district’s “full-ballot” voters. His double-digit margin was consistent with other down-ballot Republicans, but it diverged significantly from the top of the ballot. Clinton defeated Trump, 49%-36%, among those same voters.
That Ocker came close to winning, and Clinton won outright, this northwestern Dallas Co. district – long a Republican stronghold* – is indicative of how far the Democratic Party has come here. For the first time in recent history, more straight-party Democratic votes were cast in HD115’s precincts than straight-party Republican votes.
Ocker received in excess of 8K more votes than the Democrat** who ran for the seat four years earlier, and voters cast 39% more straight-party Democratic votes than in 2012. When we last explored straight-party voting in HD115, we noted that the district “remain[s] friendly to Republican candidates despite recent inroads made by Democrats. Republicans still won the district, but the gap has narrowed greatly, at least in presidential election years.
Overall, single-punch, straight-party voters accounted for 63% of all ballots cast in HD115 last year, which is consistent with recent years. The chart below shows the estimated number of single-punch, straight-party votes cast in the district’s current precincts going back to 2000.
Democrats have been gaining ground – or at least treading water – consistently since 2000, when Republican candidates had a greater than 11K-vote advantage in straight-party voting. The number of Republican straight-party votes cast in a presidential year peaked in 2004 and has fallen each of the three presidential elections since. Roughly the same number of people cast straight-party Republican votes in 2016 as in 2000.
The number of straight-party Democratic votes has increased in each cyclical election since 2000/2002 with the exception of a slight dip in 2012 from 2008. In 2016, 183% more people case straight-party Democratic votes than in 2000.
Republicans’ high-water mark for a gubernatorial year was in 2010, but they have maintained a significant margin over the Democrats in gubernatorial years. The gap has closed, but it was still around 5K in 2014. In the last four gubernatorial election cycles, Republican straight-party turnout has fallen an average of 36% from the previous presidential year, while Democratic turnout has fallen an average of 47%.
If those trends hold, Rinaldi would have some level of straight-party voting advantage in 2018. The table below shows the estimated straight-party vote advantage under a variety of scenarios of changes in turnout – all declines – from the 2016 totals based on the last four gubernatorial election cycles.
Scenarios are based upon the highest, average and lowest declines in the last four gubernatorial elections relative to the preceding presidential election, and the midpoints between those values, for each party. For example, if you assume that the decline in Republican straight-party voting will be the average of the last four gubernatorial elections, and the Democratic decline will be midway between the average and the lowest for those elections, then the resulting 2018 Democratic advantage would be 68 votes, a dead heat. If both parties saw an average decline in turnout from 2016, then the resulting 2018 Republican advantage would be 1,146 votes.
Rinaldi won a majority of full-ballot voters in both of his general election races so far. In 2014, his margin among full-ballot voters was considerably smaller than in 2016, but he had a nearly 5K-vote advantage in straight-party voting, giving him a much more comfortable victory than last year.
Ocker has confirmed she is running again in 2018.
It’s also worth noting that a Libertarian candidate received 999 votes (811 from full-ballot voters) in 2014, which likely affected Rinaldi’s total more than his Democratic opponent’s. No one ran as a Libertarian in 2016. The presence of one could have made that race much closer. Democrats have won several races in Dallas Co. (and elsewhere) in the last decade with less than 50% of the vote in part because of the presence of Libertarian candidates.
©2017 Texas Election Source LLC
* A Republican has been elected to represent most of the geography that is now HD115 since 1972, when District 33B occupied the northwestern corner of the county. From 1983 until 2001, much of current HD115 was HD99.
- Al Korioth (R-Dallas), 1973-1977
- Bill Blanton (R-Carrllton), 1977-1987
- Kenny Marchant (R-Carrollton), 1987-2003
- Jim Jackson (R-Carrollton), 2003-2013
- Bennett Ratliff (R-Coppell), 2013-2015
- Matt Rinaldi (R-Irving), 2015-present
The last Democrat to represent this portion of Dallas Co. was Rep. Jack Blanton (D-Carrollton), who was elected to his third and final term in 1970.
** HD115 was slightly redrawn in 2013, so several precincts currently in the district were part of HD103 in 2012. For purposes of this analysis, we added the votes received by Rep. Rafael Anchia (D-Dallas) to the total received by HD115 nominee Mary Clare Fabishak and deducted votes Fabishak received from precincts that are no longer part of HD115.
Because of redistricting and shifts in precinct boundaries over time, we can only estimate straight-ticket voting prior to the last time the district was drawn (2013). We estimated straight-ticket vote totals by applying the current district boundaries backward in time to the precincts as they existed in each general election. The farther back we go, the more estimating is required. We use mapping software to identify which voting precincts were located entirely or partially in the current boundaries of HD115 in each even-year general election. We used precinct-level results from each general election to calculate the straight-party vote for each year. For each election prior to 2014, we allocated 100%, 75%, 50% or 25% of the votes cast in those precincts to today’s districts based on the approximate geographic area of the precinct within the district. We totaled the resulting precinct- and split precinct-level data to estimate district-wide straight-ticket votes. For 2014 and 2016 general elections, we were able to use the current voting precincts within the current districts without the need to allocate votes across split precincts. Because we could use complete precincts, we chose to provide the accurate vote totals. We thank the Texas Legislative Council for providing the shapefile data necessary to conduct this analysis. We obtained precinct-level election results data from county election officials.