April 02, 2009
Precinct analysis: The City Council districts

I'd been wondering for a long time how the 2008 vote broke down by City Council districts, as well as for the city of Houston versus non-Houston Harris County. I finally did something about it awhile ago and made a call to Hector de Leon at the Harris County Clerk's office to ask him if precinct data was available from the 2007 election that could help me answer these questions. He very kindly provided me with a spreadsheet that gave all the 2007 results by precinct, and I was off to the races. Here's what I found out.

There's one key point that needs to be understood before I get into this: Precinct boundaries do not conform to City of Houston boundaries. In other words, a given precinct may have voters who live inside the City of Houston, and voters who do not. The effect of this on my analysis, since my data is only granular to the precinct level, is that about half again as many votes were counted as "City of Houston" than they were as "Harris County". That's because if a precinct had votes in it for the 2007 election in a city race, it was counted in its entirity towards the City of Houston total in 2008. Had this not been the case, I would have expected a roughly equal amount of votes inside and out of Houston in Harris County. I just don't have any way to make a distinction within a precinct, so we have to live with that.

That raises the interesting question of whether or not this skews the numbers I generated, and if so by how much? Precincts are geographically small, so these Houston/not Houston voters in the same precinct are basically neighbors for the most part. What's the bigger factor in determining their voting behavior: proximity or city limits? There's probably a master's thesis in that. In any event, my rough guess is that the results I've generated probably underestimate the Democratic-ness of the city of Houston and overstate it for its complement, but not by very much.

I note here I'm still using draft canvass numbers from 2008, which is basically all of the non-provisional votes. I don't think this makes much difference, either, but I wanted to mention it just to be clear. And so, without further ado...

District Obama Noriega Garcia Judicials
Houston 58.5 59.3 63.5 58.4
Harris 39.0 40.1 45.3 39.3
A 39.5 40.2 46.3 39.0
B 86.8 87.7 89.4 87.8
C 60.6 59.9 64.5 58.5
D 87.7 87.1 88.7 87.0
E 41.3 43.2 48.1 41.8
F 63.6 65.1 68.7 65.0
G 42.3 40.7 45.6 39.2
H 68.8 72.4 77.6 70.9
I 72.7 79.0 81.6 76.5

The numbers given are percentages of the vote, for Barack Obama, Rick Noriega, Adrian Garcia, and the county Democratic judicial candidates. A few thoughts:

- I had previously thought that District A would be amenable to electing a Democrat this year to replace the term-limited Toni Lawrence. That doesn't appear to be the case here. I was surprised to see that A was the most GOP of the districts - I'd have guessed it would have been E or G. It may be that the precincts that encompass District A also happen to include some strongly Republican non-Houston turf, more so than E or G, I can't say. But it does put a bit of a damper on my hopes for Jeff Downing and Lane Lewis.

- I expected Districts C and F to skew Democratic, but I was surprised by how much they did. Given that C's precincts likely include some pieces of West U and Bellaire, that's even more impressive. Democrats - and as that stands right now, that means Mike Laster - ought to win F this year, and I'd give good odds on winning C in 2011 when Anne Clutterbuck terms out.

- In the meantime, despite their inability to compete citywide, Republicans have overperformed a bit in winning district Council races, as they have five seats but are only a majority in three. As noted, I think that's a temporary situation, and given Adrian Garcia's showing in those three red districts, they shouldn't be taken for granted by anyone, either.

- Of course, the electorate for a historic Presidential race and the electorate for city races, even one with a wide-open Mayoral campaign, are two very different things. All things considered, that probably gives a more Republican tilt overall, one which is more pronounced in the years that don't have a Mayoral melee at the top of the ticket. How big an effect that is, and how much it's being counteracted by demographic trends, I couldn't say.

- Finally, I thought I'd add one more table, showing how many votes were cast in each Council district in the Presidential race, again bearing in mind all the caveats from above:

District Votes
A 118,019
B 72,743
C 73,627
D 81,009
E 113,438
F 43,704
G 99,061
H 47,409
I 35,492

Even if you assume some districts are more bolstered by precincts with non-Houston voters than others, there are still some pretty huge differences there. Let's just say I foresee large challenges for those who are tasked with redrawing City Council districts, whenever that may be.

Posted by Charles Kuffner on April 02, 2009 to Election 2008

the Obama Harris numbers must be wrong

Posted by: ken on April 2, 2009 11:07 AM

Something doesn't look quite right here. I think Obama received more like 66% of the vote in the city, and he was in the low 50s in Harris County.

Posted by: houtopia on April 2, 2009 2:45 PM

I did my own math on City vs Rest of County here:

My method leaves out the zero-precincts for COH and many of the precincts with only a small part of residential area in COH.

Kuff's, I believe, includes all as COH.

It certainly sounds plausible to me that the margin of error between the two methods is about 2 points.


City of Houston (approximation)
Obama - 359,021 (60.7%)
McCain - 227,917 (38.5%)
TOTAL - 591,437

Rest of Harris County
Obama - 231,961 (40.0%)
McCain - 343,966 (59.3%)
TOTAL - 580,035

Vote Share:
COH ... 50.5%
Rest ... 49.5%

Posted by: Greg Wythe on April 2, 2009 4:51 PM
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