November 04, 2008
The big urbans and the big suburbans

With early voting all finished, let's take a minute and ponder the possibilities for the Presidential race in Texas. I'll leave it to Greg to ponder the whys and wherefors of Texas' evolving suburbs. I'm just interested in some numbers. Let's take a look and see what we can see.

Here's a Google spreadsheet of the 25 counties with the most voters from 2004, with the Bush/Kerry results for each. Together, these 25 counties accounted for two-thirds of Bush's vote (3,020,947 out of 4,526,917) and a bit more than 70% of Kerry's total (2,219,495 out of 2,832,704). Bush won 57.2% of the vote in these counties, compared to 61.1% overall. No Democrat can hope to be competitive statewide until the big counties become favorable to them, especially considering that the Bush margin was bigger in the remaining smaller counties than it was in these (+801,452 for Bush in the top 25, +892,761 in the smaller counties). The good news there is that the big counties will be a larger slice of the pie this year and going forward. But first things first.

And those first things are the big urban counties, which are the six most populous in the state: Harris, Dallas, Tarrant, Bexar, Travis, and El Paso. They were relatively Democrat-friendly in 2004, with Bush winning them by a 53.2-46.0 margin. Kerry carried El Paso and Travis (56.1 and 56.0, respectively), came close in Dallas (48.9), trailed farther behind in Harris and Bexar (44.6 and 44.4), and was crushed in Tarrant (38.9). The total Bush margin was +139,130, with over 3.3 million ballots cast.

I think it's safe to say that Barack Obama will do better in these six counties than John Kerry did. I'll go so far as to say I'll be surprised if he doesn't win them, perhaps by as much as Kerry lost them. Travis and El Paso should be big wins for him, probably over 60%. He'll win Dallas, perhaps by a five or six point margin. Bexar, I have no idea - it's a weird county electorally - but it should be at least close to 50-50. He'll lose Tarrant, but I'd expect him to get around 45%, and could do better. And Harris - ah, Harris - let's just say I'm one of many fervently hoping for a win there. At the very least, we have that Zogby poll, heavy early voting turnout, and some positive voter registration trends. My initial inclination was to say it'll be 50-50 there, but I'm feeling more optimistic than that now. I predicted 52-48, so let's stick with that, though the margin could be greater (or not). Somewhat conservatively, I'll estimate Obama +100,000 overall for these counties but +200,000 is possible.

The big suburbans are a much greater challenge, but there's some hope there. I see Denton and Collin as being somewhat like what Williamson and Fort Bend were a couple of cycles ago. They won't be competitive for Obama, but they won't be the blowouts that they were for Kerry, either. Thirty-five percent strikes me as being reachable goals in those two counties. That may not sound like much, but a 35% showing by Kerry would have added about 60,000 votes to his total while subtracting an equivalent amount from Bush. A hundred thousand vote swing here, a hundred thousand vote swing get the idea. Williamson, which has come a long way for Democrats since 2004 and is on the verge of electing its first Democratic State Rep, should be about ten points bluer this time around. Fort Bend may be on the cusp of flipping - if Harris doesn't just flip but blows past the 50-50 mark, it's not hard to imagine Fort Bend tipping as well. Hays ought to be blue. Brazoria, like Denton and Collin, will still be very red, but again not quite as much as before. About the only place where I don't see any real hope is Montgomery, which may be slightly less red this time around just because a 78% showing is a hard act to follow.

Putting some numbers to the suppositions, I can see Obama shaving off about half of Kerry's 370,000 vote deficit here. It could be more if turnout is higher in the friendlier places, and it could be less if the needle doesn't move as much as I think it might. It's a little hard to guess because I don't have any idea at this point what the voter registration numbers are. The goal for 2012 has to be to get these areas close to parity.

The rest of the counties are a mix. Galveston and Jefferson should be better for Obama, perhaps enough to put Galveston back in the blue column. Hidalgo and Webb (55 and 56% for Kerry, respectively) should be big for Obama, as the Clinton Democrats come home in droves. Cameron (49% Kerry) should be blue again, and Nueces (42% Kerry) should improve. Obama may do a little better in Lubbock, Smith, and Taylor, for the same reason he may do a little better in Montgomery - it would be hard for him to do worse than Kerry. As for the Central Texas trio of Bell, McClennan, and Brazos, who knows. Probably not much different is my best guess. Kerry lost these counties by a combined 200,000 votes, with Bush doing a smidge worse (59.8% than he did statewide. Because he should do better in the favorable counties, and can't really do much worse in the unfavorable ones, Obama will cut that deficit, perhaps by half.

Put it all together, and I can see Obama cutting that 800,000 vote deficits in these counties in half, or even three-quarters. Recent polling has Obama about ten points behind McCain in the state. Let's assume we do get 9 million votes cast when all is said and done. In order to finish ten points down - that is to say, lose by a 45-55 margin - Obama would need to draw within 900,000 votes of McCain overall, as 4.95 million to 4.05 million represents a 55-45 finish. The more he can wipe out the Kerry deficit from the Top 25 counties, the closer he can come to achieving that end without having to make up too much ground in the rest of the state, which for the most part isn't very Dem-friendly. While it's hard to see these parts of the state getting much worse for Obama than they were for Kerry, again because there just isn't that much room to go down, it's also hard to see him get much closer. The best hope is that the relative levels of turnout in the big counties is significantly higher than that of the smaller ones.

All of this is voodoo mathematics, of course, but if I had a gun to my head and were forced to make a guess as to the outcome, I'd say 55-45 is a reasonable possibility, plus or minus about three points. Remember, we make predictions in order to quantify just how foolish we are. With that in mind, what do you think the final score will be for Obama and McCain in Texas?

Posted by Charles Kuffner on November 04, 2008 to Election 2008
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