April 24, 2006
CD10 and straight ticket voting

There was some good feedback to this post on the odds of Libertarian Party candidate Michael Badnarik getting as much as 20% of the vote in CD10 this year. I was going to reply in the comments, but got a little carried away in framing my response, so I figured I'd do a full-fledged post instead.

My contention in that previous post was that straight ticket voting alone would be too big a barrier for a Libertarian candidate to overcome, even one that might have the financial resources that Badnarik apparently has. As that's basically a math question, it becomes almost a matter of principle for me to follow up. So here we are.

To do this, I'm making a couple of assumptions. One is that the proportion of straight ticket voters is more or less uniform throughout a given county, and two is that the rate of straight ticket voting doesn't vary much with the level of turnout. I need the first assumption to draw any conclusions about CD10, since the Secretary of State precinct data does not include straight party data. I could get it from the canvass report, at least on the Harris County Clerk page, but frankly, that was too much work. Assumption #2 is needed to draw conclusions about 2006 from 2004 data. I'm pretty sure that straight party voting is on the rise over the past few years, but investigating that claim is for another day.

Anyway. I used countywide races in Travis and Harris to determine the average totals for each party, the approximate two-party total turnout for CD10 in those counties, and the proportion of straight ticket voters. Countywides have slightly fewer votes overall than statewides, but the differences aren't great. I used the average of the statewides to determine what a total vote count would have been in the CD10 race had it been a traditional Dem-Rep race. As with the county numbers, I rounded a bit; the final tally was 275,000.

Without further ado, here's the data:

Harris straight GOP 370,455
Harris avg GOP 530,000
Harris avg straight 69.90%
Harris avg CD10 vote 82,968
Minimum CD10 votes 57,991

Harris straight Dem 325,097
Harris avg Dem 470,000
Harris avg straight 69.17%
Harris avg CD10 vote 26,156
Minimum CD10 votes 18,091

Travis straight GOP 76,648
Travis avg GOP 140,000
Travis avg straight 54.75%
Travis avg CD10 vote 46,885
Minimum CD10 votes 25,668

Travis straight Dem 105,940
Travis avg Dem 190,000
Travis avg straight 55.76%
Travis avg CD10 vote 64,688
Minimum CD10 votes 36,071

Other CD10 str GOP 16,500
Other CD10 str Dem 11,000

Min CD10 GOP 100,159
Min CD10 Dem 65,162
Pct of total 60.12%

The straight Dem/straight Rep numbers are from the respective County Clerk election returns pages. Avg Dem/Avg Rep is as described above, eyeballed and rounded from the countywide races. Avg straight is the percentage of the county votes cast by straight ticket voters. Avg CD10 vote is also as described above. Take the total county vote for CD10, multiply by the average percentage each party got, then by the straight party percentage, and you get the minimum CD10 vote - my projection of how many straight party votes there'd have been for each candidate in a hypothetical Dem-Rep race from CD10 in 2004. (The other county straight party vote is based on there being about 55,000 votes from the nine other counties, a 60/40 Rep/Dem split, and 50% of the votes being straight ticket.) As you can see, that comes to a smidge more than 60% of the total vote.

I was actually surprised that the total was that high, especially in Harris County. I will have to go back and check 2002 and 2000 totals for more comparison, but the bottom line is clear: More than half of all the votes in CD10 are from straight tickets. If these ratios hold in 2006, then for Michael Badnarik or any Libertarian to get 20% in CD10, he'd have to win at least half of the remaining ballots. Needless to say, I think that's not going to happen.

Of course, you can't talk about straight ticket voting in 2006 without also talking about what kind of effect the presence of two independents in the Governor's race may have. I think it's likely that there will be fewer straight party ballots cast this year than there otherwise might have been, but I would not venture a guess as to how many. Could be one percent, could be ten, I don't know. While it's true that you can cast a straight party ballot and then override it in a given race, it's my opinion that not too many people do that. I think that if someone who might normally push the straight party button decides to step out for Strayhorn or Kinky, that person will vote in individual races.

I do not expect that this will cause more people to split their tickets. I think that if a nominal Republican breaks off to vote for Strayhorn, he or she will still vote for Republicans down the line. I know some Democrats have expressed hope that this may cause some of their candidates to get more of a look from folks who don't normally consider voting for Dems, but I'm skeptical of that. What I do think might happen is that there may be fewer votes cast overall in downballot races. If so, I believe that may be good for Democrats. One thing that struck me as I pored through the CD10 data was that there was much more dropoff in countywide races for Republican candidates than there was for Democrats. In Harris, where there was very little variation in the partisan ratio from race to race, the average countywide Republican lost 4614 votes from George Bush, total, while the average countywide Dem had 141 fewer tallies than John Kerry. In Travis, where the standard deviation was much higher, it was a loss of 5964 versus a gain of 839. You can see the data for yourself in this spreadsheet. A drop in straight party votes would likely increase the amount of undervoting farther down the ballot, and I believe that would disproportionately be to Democrats' benefits. Again, I wouldn't guess how big an effect that might be, but I believe it will be there in some fashion. We'll know in November.

Posted by Charles Kuffner on April 24, 2006 to Election 2006 | TrackBack