We continue our look into straight ticket voting trends in competitive or potentially competitive districts by exploring one of the highest turnout districts in Texas: HD134. The district is comprised of the Houston neighborhoods of Braeswood Place, Lazybrook, River Oaks, Timbergrove and Upper Kirby and the cities of Bellaire, Southside Place and West University Place. More than 81K district residents cast votes in 2012.
Republican candidates have the advantage in straight-ticket voting, but the sheer number of full-ballot voters can easily overcome such advantages if the voters are so inclined. We normally think of low turnout districts as being unpredictable. In the case of HD134, it is the high turnout that makes its electorate capable of producing surprise results.
For example, every Republican candidate running in HD134 in 2014 had a nearly 6,000-vote advantage in straight-ticket voting. Yet, Greg Abbott carried the district by fewer than 1,200 votes over Wendy Davis. Meanwhile, Rep. Sarah Davis’s margin over her Democratic opponent was more than 11,700. Republican Sarah Davis received 62% of the full-ballot vote, and the same voters gave Democrat Wendy Davis 60% of the vote – almost, but not quite, enough to carry the district.
Four years earlier, Bill White won what is now the district over Rick Perry by 3 points, but a Republican candidate would have won the House seat by around 6 points had HD134 been in its current configuration. Davis was first elected to the House that year. She carried the precincts that are currently part of HD134 by about 2,400 votes. She lost the precincts currently outside HD134 by around 1,700 votes, resulting in her 701-vote win.
Davis is seeking her fourth term. She is opposed by Democrat Ben Rose, a Houston attorney, and Libertarian Gil Velasquez Jr., a Houston public relations specialist who received 2% of the vote in a 2014 race for SD15.
HD134 has largely elected Republicans to the House of Representatives, but it chose Democrat Ellen Cohen in 2008, when Democratic straight-ticket voting peaked. Even at its peak, only a little over a fifth of voters cast Democratic straight-ticket votes. In the last three general elections, about a third of voters have cast Republican straight-ticket votes.
Estimates of the number of straight-ticket and full-ballot votes cast in the 2000, 2004 and 2008 presidential elections and the actual number of those votes in the 2012 presidential election are shown below.
- Straight Republican – 18,500 43% 43%
- Straight Democratic – 11,300 26% 26%
- Full Ballot – 43,500 100% 100%
Republican Advantage: ~7,200 votes
- Straight Republican – 24,400 56% 56%
- Straight Democratic – 15,800 36% 36%
- Full Ballot – 39,800 91% 91%
Republican Advantage: ~8,600 votes
- Straight Republican – 23,200 53% 53%
- Straight Democratic – 17,100 39% 39%
- Full Ballot – 42,300 97% 97%
Republican Advantage: ~6,100 votes
- Straight Republican – 27,382 63% 63%
- Straight Democratic – 15,468 36% 36%
- Full Ballot – 38,807 89% 89%
Republican Advantage: 11,914 votes
HD134 exhibits one of the lowest overall rates of straight-ticket voting for an urban district. Straight-ticket voters have represented a majority of the district’s voters in only the last three general elections, but full-ballot voters remain, by far, the largest bloc. For the most part, the full-ballot voting bloc prefers Democratic candidates to Republican ones, or at least Democratic candidates fare better with full-ballot voters than straight-ticket voters.
The toggles below show how the full-ballot vote differed from the overall vote in what is today’s HD134 for presidential and state representative races since 2000.
Presidential Election Results in Today’s HD134
All voters: George W. Bush 61%, Al Gore 39%
Full-ballot: George W. Bush 61%, Al Gore 39%
All voters: George W. Bush 57%, John Kerry 43%
Full-ballot: George W. Bush 53%, John Kerry 47%
All voters: John McCain 53%, Barack Obama 47%
Full-ballot: Barack Obama 51%, John McCain 49%
All voters: Mitt Romney 57%, Barack Obama 43%
Full-ballot: Mitt Romney 50.3%, Barack Obama 49.7%
State Representative Results in Today’s HD134
All voters: Republican 54%, Democrat 46%
Full-ballot: Democrat 53%, Republican 47%
All voters: Republican 55%, Democrat 45%
Full-ballot: Democrat 51%, Republican 49%
All voters: Democrat 54%, Republican 46%
Full-ballot: Democrat 66%, Republican 34%
All voters: Sarah Davis 55%, Ann Johnson 45%
Full-ballot: Ann Johnson 56%, Sarah Davis 44%
As we noted, Davis carried the full-ballot vote in 2014, but she lost it in 2010 and 2012. In both of those years, Republicans enjoyed the largest straight-ticket voting advantages since at least 2000 (and likely ever).
Based just purely on the historical numbers, one could reasonably determine that HD134 is not in play this year. However, the presence of Donald Trump atop the Republican ticket and the district’s demonstrated predisposition of full-ballot voters toward Democratic candidates could simultaneously reduce Republican straight-ticket voters and increase the volatility of full-ballot voters.
There were 12K more Republican voters than Democratic voters in this year’s presidential primaries in HD134. Hillary Clinton, facing just one major competitor, received 69% of the vote in the Democratic primary. Facing multiple rivals, Trump received 22% of the Republican primary vote, finishing third behind Marco Rubio (31%) and U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz (30%). Because of these partisan dynamics, Clinton received about 4,500 more votes than Trump in HD134.
Slightly more people voted in each party’s primary in 2016 than cast straight-ticket votes for those parties’ candidates in 2012. The difference in turnout between the parties in 2016 is nearly identical to the difference between the parties’ straight-ticket vote totals in 2012.
The likelihood voters could flip HD134 may come down to whether the election more closely tracks the 2012 election (Republican advantage: 11,914) or the 2008 election (Republican advantage: ~6,100). Full-ballot voters gave a slight edge to Democrats in 2012 but a significantly larger one in 2008, which coincidentally was the last year a Democrat was elected to represent the district.
We will be taking additional close looks at this race through the summer and fall.