May 20, 2018

It Won’t Happen Here—At Least Not This Year

Dr. Malcolm Cross

Democrats dream of a great blue wave crashing over the political landscape come November, washing away countless Republican officeholders and leaving Democrats instead.  But according to the Sunday Fort Worth Star-Telegram, “Texas Republicans believe they’ve stopped the ‘blue wave.’”  The Republicans are probably correct, at least concerning Texas, and for the time being. 

Democratic hopes for a “blue wave” are not unfounded.  Usually, the party that controls the White House loses seats in Congress, as well as state and local offices, in an off-year election.  The theory is that voters dissatisfied with the incumbent president will take out their frustration and anger on his party’s candidates for office.

Republican losses may not be as bad as Democrats hope for.  Public happiness with the state of the economy as well as with the Republican tax cuts may reduce Republican losses, and successful negotiations with North Korea will help the GOP as well.  Still, actual Republican gains this November are less likely than Republican losses.

Yet here in Texas, there seems little prospect that the Democrats can hope for the blue wave.  They’ve taken some hope from the fact that Democratic voter turnout in the primaries is higher than normal.  But the primary election returns actually indicate that 2018 will be another banner year for the Texas GOP.  You can check out the election returns at several websites, including https://enrpages.sos.state.tx.us/public/mar06_325_state.htm, https://enrpages.sos.state.tx.us/public/mar06_324.htm, and https://www.nytimes.com/elections/results/texas-primary-election.

Consider the results of the Texas Democratic and Republican primaries to nominate candidates for U. S. Senate.  To the surprise of nobody, Ted Cruz and Beto O’Rourke each won his respective party’s nomination.  But what is truly significant is that of the more than 2.5 million votes cast in the Republican and Democratic primaries, Cruz won over 51%.  In other words, Cruz won more votes than all the other Republican and Democratic Senate candidates combined.

Greg Abbott did even better, winning over 54% of the total vote cast in the Democratic and Republican gubernatorial primaries.  So, too, did Attorney General Ken Paxton and Comptroller Glenn Hegar:  Each won an absolute majority of the votes cast in both the Republican and Democratic primaries for his respective office, with Paxton winning 57% of the two-party vote and Hager winning 59%.  No doubt Republican nominees for other states, regional, and local offices can make similar claims.

In some states, depending on the voting system, the showings of Cruz, Abbott, Paxton, and Hegar would be good enough to cancel the general election for their offices and declare them the winners.  Several states, including California, Washington, and Louisiana, conduct “nonpartisan blanket primaries,” popularly known as “top-two,” or “jungle” primaries.  In a jungle primary, the name of every candidate for the same office appears on the same ballot.  The top two vote-getters, regardless of party affiliation, advance to the general election.  In Louisiana, at least, if one of the candidates wins an absolute majority in the primary, he or she is declared the automatic winner of the office itself, with no general election to be held.  Texas’s special elections for U. S. Senator when vacancies are created through the death or resignation of incumbents are conducted the same way.

Not faring quite so well were Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick, Land Commissioner George P. Bush, and Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller.  Each won his own Republican primary overwhelmingly but failed to win a majority of the total Republican and Democratic votes cast in his respective primary.  Yet all three can be expected to win their November re-election bids:  The most important predictor of voting behavior is party identification.  Given the fact that Republicans continue to outnumber Democrats in Texas by huge margins, Patrick, Bush, and Miller can expect voters’ party loyalty to help them easily defeat their Democratic opponents this fall.

Of course, the only thing that never changes in politics is change itself.  In Texas, the most significant demographic trend is the emergence of Hispanics as the largest and most rapidly growing voter group in the state.  In 1990 they constituted 26% of the population; today they make up 42% of the population, with Anglos relegated to 41% and shrinking.  This could spell trouble for the GOP in the long run unless it can make itself more appealing to Hispanics without alienating its own Anglo base (61% of Hispanics are Democrats; 70% of Anglos are Republican).  Someday, Texas could become purple, if not blue, but the primary election results indicate Texas will remain red—at least for now.

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