March 08, 2008
The last word about Republican voters in the Democratic primary

Rick Casey places a phone call to Harris County Tax Assessor Paul Bettencourt, and confirms what some of us have been saying all along:

Harris County Tax Assessor-Collector Paul Bettencourt, whose office maintains computerized records of who votes in which primary, said about 8 percent of the Democratic vote here was from people who had some history of voting in Republican primaries.

About 2 percent were "hard-core" partisans who voted in every Republican primary, he said.

He pointed out that more Republicans were motivated to vote in their own primary.

"We had a record turnout of 170,000," he said. "The previous record was (George W.) Bush's 160,000 in 2000."

Couple points: One, having "some history of voting in Republican primaries" covers a lot of ground. It's not been uncommon in recent years for some local lawyers who generally vote Democratic to vote in the Republican primary, because that was often the only way to cast a meaningful vote against a bad judge. That has been a point of contention this cycle between those who think that this year's Democratic judicial nominees, who everyone agrees have a good chance of being elected in November, should have pure Democratic primary histories and those who don't.

And, not to put too fine a point on it, some people who have voted in Republican primaries in the past now vote Democratic. Tiffany voted in the GOP primary in 2000 - we got at least a half-dozen Republican robocalls this cycle, all amusingly enough after we'd both voted early, as a result of this - and I can assure you that her vote in the Democratic primary this year was a genuine one. Sometimes a vote means what it says.

Two, Bettencourt is correct to note that the GOP primary had its own record turnout. It's just that, relatively speaking, it wasn't an impressive gain. In fact, I'd be willing to bet that the percentage increase in the GOP primary from 2000 (roughly 6%) is no more and possibly less than the increase in the number of registered voters in Harris County from 2000 to now. But hey, pointing out that it was an increase gets people to stop talking about the massive number of Democratic votes that were cast, at least for a moment.

Democratic database guru Leland Beatty crunched similar numbers statewide for the early vote and found 8 percent to 10 percent of the voters in the Democratic primary to be Republicans, he told the Quorum Report.

And as we know, all of those numbers are in line with what exit polling has already told us. Game, set, match, I say.

For what it's worth, I took a look at Hillary Clinton's performance in Early Voting versus Election Day voting. She improved her performance on E-Day relative to EV in about 75% of the counties. The spreadsheet is here (XLS) if you're interested. I think a part of it, at least based on my own observations of the EV turnout patterns in Harris and Fort Bend Counties, was that there was a greater percentage of African-American voters in Early Voting than there were on Election Day, and conversely more Hispanic and Anglo voters on E-Day. I don't have enough data to say that conclusively, it's just my impression. It's also clear to me that Team Clinton made a big push of its own between Friday and Tuesday to get its supporters out, and they succeeded. Finally, as Prof. Murray notes, Clinton won a big share of those who decided late. It may have been a surprise to see how things went on Tuesday, but I don't think it's any mystery.

Posted by Charles Kuffner on March 08, 2008 to Election 2008

I'm another one who voted in the 2000 GOP primary here so I could vote in the judicial races and against W. I still get GOP junk mail from that vote. Every other primary election I've voted Dem, but even so I'm one of Bettencourt's 8%.

Great work on this, Charles.

Posted by: Jeff N. on March 8, 2008 8:36 AM

Personally I think the two factors in Hillary's e-day numbers were her Daily Show appearance the night before and news of Obama's reassurances to Canada about NAFTA over the prior weekend. They're so close that a little bump for her and taking him down one notch put her over the top.

Your comment about judges is crucial to understanding cross-party voting. I'm increasingly convinced that judges and DAs should be non-partisan races. Too many people assign more meaning to the partisan label than it deserves, and criminal justice issues all cross party lines.

Posted by: Gritsforbreakfast on March 9, 2008 11:10 AM
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