Off the Kuff Rotating Header Image

April 27th, 2016:

Houston Area Survey 2016: Harris County becoming more Democratic

Whoa.

A majority of Harris County residents lean Democratic for the first time ever, propelled by plummeting support for Republicans among Latinos, according to a survey released Monday by Rice University’s Kinder Institute for Urban Research.

The finding, in the midst of a particularly divisive presidential campaign, could signal an important shift in arguably the nation’s largest swing county, which narrowly went to President Barack Obama in 2012 by only about 970 votes. It might also portend that the long-sleeping giant of Latino voters will, finally perhaps, be roused from slumber in an election that has featured decidedly anti-Latino and anti-immigrant rhetoric, particularly from billionaire Republican contender Donald Trump.

“Frankly I’m not all that surprised,” said Jim McGrath, a Republican political consultant in Houston and spokesman for former President George H. W. Bush. “These are the fears realized by those on the Republican side who are worried about the irresponsible rhetoric surrounding the illegal immigration issue.”

According to the annual survey, which was conducted between January and March, 52 percent of Harris County residents said they identified more with the Democratic Party compared to 46 percent in 2012. Only 30 percent of residents leaned Republican this spring, about the same as in 2012, meaning that it is the share of undecided and new potential voters whom have swung largely Democratic.

[…]

Support for the GOP has stayed steady among white and African-American residents for the past decade, with 54 percent of the county’s white population swinging Republican and 39 percent Democrat, though there was a slight increase in Democrat support among Anglo voters in the county over the past two years. Similarly 82 percent of African-American residents lean Democratic and 8 percent Republican.

Among Latinos, however, there has been a sea change.

From about 2000 to 2008, some 40 percent of the county’s Hispanic residents identified as Democratic compared to fewer than 30 percent who felt Republican, Klineberg said. That began to change around 2009 when their support for Democrats increased to nearly 50 percent and the share of those leaning Republican dropped to 25 percent.

The gap widened once more around the 2012 presidential election when Republican Mitt Romney received the lowest share of the Hispanic vote — 27 percent — than GOP nominees had tallied in the previous three election cycles in a campaign during which immigration was particularly divisive.

This spring, Harris County’s Hispanic residents registered the lowest amount of support ever for Republicans — only 18 percent — compared to 68 percent of Latinos who said they lean Democrat.

“It’s a powerful message to the Republican party, reach out to these Latino voters, don’t push them away,” Klineberg said. “And for the Democrats, get out the vote.”

The survey is conducted by land line and cell phone calls among a statistically representative sample of 808 residents, not eligible voters, in Harris County. Among 604 Harris County residents who can vote, 46 percent leaned Democrat and 41 percent Republican.

See the Urban Edge blog for more details on the poll. There’s quite a bit more to the 2016 Houston Area Survey than this, but for now we’ll just focus on this particular data point, for obvious reasons. This is not a poll in the standard sense – it doesn’t ask which candidate you will support, nor does it try to determine who is a “likely” voter – but it is consistent with what we are seeing in national data as well as swing states. Latinos were slightly more likely to vote Republican in Texas in 2012 than they were elsewhere, though that was partly a turnout function, as polling data at the time showed that lower-propensity voters were more strongly Democratic. If – the big if – Latino voters are more strongly motivated to turn out this year, it is consistent for them to be more Democratic even without taking the Trump factor into account.

What could this mean in practical terms?

Some advocacy groups, such as the William C. Velásquez Institute, a national Latino public policy research group in San Antonio, predict Hispanics in Texas this year will account for more than 3 million registered voters and cast more than 2 million votes, both of which would be records. Overall, the state has about 14.2 million registered voters.

Their expectations are largely predicated on population growth. Since 2012, Texas gained 600,000 eligible Hispanic voters, expanding to 4.8 million – second only to California, according to the Pew Research Center, a think tank in Washington, D.C. The Latino share of Texas’ eligible voters increased 2 percentage points in that period, to 28 percent.

Bearing in mind all of the usual disclaimers, let’s do a little back-of-the-envelope math for the fun of it. Here are three statewide scenarios for this year:


Total votes    Latino  Not Latino     Pct
=========================================
  4,650,000    480,000  4,170,000  58.75%
  3,350,000  1,120,000  2,230,000  41.25%

  4,570,000    400,000  4,170,000  54.40%
  3,830,000  1,600,000  2,230,000  45.60%

  4,670,000    500,000  4,170,000  53.00%
  4,230,000  2,000,000  2,230,000  47.00%

Scenario 1 is basically what happened in 2012. No change in Latino turnout, which based on 2012 polling is 20% of the total, or Latino propensity for voting Democratic, which was about 70% that year. Scenario 2 is the “two million Latino voters” possibility that the Velasquez Institute mentioned. For that, I’m assuming 80% Democratic support, which is consistent with the polling data we have so far for matchups against Donald Trump, and with the data noted above that lower-propensity Latino voters are more heavily Democratic than Latinos overall. Sure, this may be a bit optimistic, but I’m playing a what-if game here, so stay with me. Scenario 3 is the bluer sky version of #2, where Latino turnout is 2.5 million at the same 80% Democratic rate. Note that in all cases, non-Latino turnout and propensity is the same. This is mostly to make the calculations simple; basically, I’m isolating the Latino voting variable. One could play around with the hypothesis that a Trump candidacy might also depress base Republican turnout, but I’ll leave those calculations to you. In scenario 2, Latinos make up about 24% of the voter universe, while in #3 they are 28% of total turnout, which as noted is about their share of total eligible voters.

I’m not arguing any of this is likely, or even realistic. I am showing that the ground is shifting, and even a relatively modest change could have a sizable effect. It’s not enough to turn Texas blue, but the state would be a lot less red. As noted before, that effect would surely be felt downballot, with Harris County likely being an epicenter. The bigger question would then be if any of that might carry over into a non-Presidential year, or if the same patterns we have observed in recent elections would persist. That’s beyond my scope here, and depending on how things end up may be irrelevant. But clearly something is happening. Even if it’s not enough to change the state, it’s more than enough to tilt Harris County, whether there is a concerted turnout effort (which I hope there is!) or not. Campos has more.

Paxton’s pity party

Oh, boo hoo hoo.

Best mugshot ever

Best mugshot ever

Attorney General Ken Paxton has blasted his indictments and other legal problems – including a previously undisclosed IRS investigation and frozen accounts – as a political witch-hunt fueled by fellow conservatives and the media.

At a Tarrant County tea party meeting Saturday that also featured Glenn Beck and U.S. Rep. Louie Gohmert, R-Tyler, Paxton asked the crowd to imagine a trusted neighbor who gets a new job and then is plagued by all kinds of problems – including having his accounts frozen and being subject to an IRS audit.

“He’s got some of his bank accounts have been shut down. Some of his retirement accounts are being shut down,” said Paxton. “You find out the guy is being investigated by the Travis County DA, and then the Dallas County DA, and then the Collin County DA. And then you find out the person is being investigated by the SEC.”

He then added, “You have to ask yourself, ‘Is there a character problem here? This person has been no trouble for 35 years and then, suddenly, they’re having all this trouble.’ Well that’s, in that sense, what’s happened to me. I have no speeding ticket in my life. Never been audited by the IRS. Never been investigated by—never, no bar grievances with the state bar. I get sworn into office and everything I just mentioned happened.”

[…]

Also on Saturday, Paxton said that one of his biggest challenges in state government has been Republican disunity.

“Since been running for AG, you may have noticed I’ve been under a little bit of a political attack. You might have noticed the media doesn’t cover me very well, says a few unflattering things,” he said. “The reality is when you go down to Austin and you’re going to stick to your conservative principles, there are people in our own party often times that find that too enlightening.”

Poor, poor baby. There’s audio at the link if you can stomach it. It may well be that Ken Paxton was a complete choirboy for the first forty-something years of his life, and then he got corrupted by his years in Austin. We know Paxton has made a tidy little fortune since first being elected, it’s hardly a stretch to imagine. And isn’t that “power corrupts” narrative something that teabaggers love to believe?

Anyway. Turns out Paxton is not being audited, just hyperbolic. That link has video of the speech, if you’re even more morbid. It may well be that Texas voters will tolerate a scoundrel or two – or at least, it may well be that the current Republican voting majority will tolerate a Republican scoundrel – but a whiner? There’s also the inconvenient fact that our scoundrels have for the most part not gotten themselves convicted. Someone who gets accused and gets off is an underdog who beat the system. Someone who gets convicted (if it sticks, anyway), is just another crook. That story has not yet been written about Ken Paxton.

“Space City” fight escalates

It’s getting real.

The Greater Houston Convention and Visitors Bureau is asking a federal judge to stop a rival comic convention from using the phrase “Space City” for its three-day festival scheduled for NRG Center over Memorial Day weekend.

The convention bureau filed a request Friday for a temporary restraining order to prevent Space City Comic Con from continuing to use the phrase the bureau trademarked 12 years ago to promote the city.

The bureau owns 50 percent of another comic convention, Comicpalooza. That show is scheduled for the George R. Brown Convention Center in mid-June.

U.S. District Judge Nancy F. Atlas heard the request at 3 p.m. Monday, but did not issue a ruling. The dispute has been brewing for months but reached the courthouse earlier this year when the bureau sued Space City Comic Con along with its owner George Comits over alleged trademark infringement. The bureau is seeking profits from previous shows in which Comits used “Space City” as part of its name.

That was the early story. The judge has since declined to issue the TRO to the Visitors Bureau.

Instead of a court order, she suggested a much simpler solution: adding a disclaimer on tickets and brochures that Space City Comic Con event is not affiliated with the Greater Houston Convention and Visitors Bureau.

“I’m not prepared to shut the conference down,” Atlas said.

[…]

The convention bureau calls Comicpalooza, which drew about 45,000 visitors last year, “Houston’s Official Comic Con.” In its request for a temporary restraining order, the bureau said the use of “Space City,” is causing irreparable harm to its business of promoting tourism, trade and conventions in the Houston area.

Not only will it likely cause public confusion, it will also destroy the bureau’s goodwill and reputation with its current and prospective customers, the convention bureau said in court documents.

During the hearing Monday, Atlas pointed out that the bureau’s arguments gave her pause, since many businesses already use “Space City,” a nod to Houston’s long-time connection to the space industry through NASA’s Johnson Space Center. She also questioned why the bureau waited so long to seek a restraining order after filing suit in February.

[Space City Comic Con owner George] Comits testified that the bureau won’t even put Space City Comic Con on its calendar of events because of its investment in Comicpalooza. Atlas was surprised to learn that the convention and visitors bureau had a financial interest in Comicpalooza. “Really?” she asked.

See here for the background. Judge Atlas has scheduled a hearing on the request for the TRO today at 8 AM, so we could have an answer to that part of the fight shortly. I personally remain lukewarm to the idea that “Space City” is a term that requires traademarking or that people will be confused by two different events at two different locations in two different months, but then considering how little information people have about other things, I can see an argument. I like the disclaimer suggestion and hope the two sides can work this out peacefully.

Endorsement watch: Against Prop 1

The Statesman urges a vote against the divisive referendum to repeal Austin’s ordinance regulating transit network companies like Uber and Lyft.

Uber

Voting against Prop. 1 is the best way to ensure that Lyft, Uber and other ride-hailing service drivers, undergo the most thorough criminal background checks endorsed by law enforcement: fingerprint checks. By contrast, Lyft and Uber are demanding name-based background checks. Prop. 1 would accomplish that by eliminating fingerprint checks. But you won’t see or hear mention of “fingerprint checks” in ads or fliers Uber and Lyft are floating.

You also won’t hear or see an equally important issue at stake in the May 7 election: Whether it should be corporations or Austin’s elected leaders that write the rules for doing business in the city. That power, in our view, should remain in the hands of the democratically elected officials who represent Austin residents — not private companies with deep pockets. Voting against Prop. 1, crafted by Lyft and Uber, keeps that authority with Austin’s elected City Council.

On those terms, the question on the ballot is relatively simple, but the issues are being cleverly camouflaged in the high-dollar ad campaign being waged by Lyft and Uber through the companies’ political action committee, Ridesharing Works for Austin. Lyft and Uber contributed $2.2 million to the group — an unprecedented amount for an Austin election. The primary group opposing Prop. 1, Our City, Our Safety, Our Choice, reported raising and spending less than $15,000.

[…]

Lyft

Over the past months, Lyft and Uber have used various messaging to drive support for their Prop. 1. Initially, the companies threatened to bolt if the City Council required fingerprint checks. Then they said approving Prop. 1, which eliminates fingerprint checks, would keep the companies operating in the city.

Their step away from that message might signal that the public favors fingerprint-based background checks or is divided over that point. Either would be risky for Prop. 1.

Certainly a city like Austin needs as many transportation options as possible, so if Lyft and Uber left it would greatly diminish the ability of Austin residents to move around in an increasingly congested city. And no one denies that Lyft and Uber contribute to public safety in taking drunk drivers off the road. That is why we urged the City Council to compromise with Lyft and Uber through incentives or other voluntary measures to get drivers to undergo fingerprint checks — rather than requirements.

The council could modify its current ordinance to work toward that goal. But if voters approve Prop. 1, fingerprint checks will be eliminated and Lyft and Uber will have little — if any — incentive to compromise.

For all of those reasons, as well as the other safety requirements that would be eliminated by tossing out the current ordinance and replacing it with Prop. 1, Austin residents should reject Prop 1.

See here for some background. I basically agree with everything the Statesman editorial board says and would vote No if I were in Austin. I also continue to believe that if Prop 1 passes, it’s just a matter of time before Uber takes action to eliminate Houston’s fingerprint requirements. I would very much rather not see it come to that.

In his email newsletter, Ed Sills of the AFL-CIO echoes some of these concerns and provides a bit of on-the-ground reporting:

My family has come to cherish and dread (“dreadish”?) the half-dozen calls from “Research Center” each day over the last few weeks. My wife made it clear to the Uber folks that we are unalterably AGAINST the ordinance, but evidently they noticed there are four voters in our household, so we seem to be getting four times the calls. My personal technique in answering these calls is to count to two during the delay and hang up at the moment a live voice comes on. I figure the more time they spend trying to contact a household where they are about to go 0-4, the less time they can spend talking to people who are gullible enough to believe the lies spewed in this Rich Uncle Pennybags campaign.

I have never done a block-walk as overwhelmingly locked in as the one my daughter and I went on Saturday in the Highland neighborhood in Austin, and I have walked some great progressive neighborhoods in contested elections. Nor have I ever previously experienced multiple situations in which folks were staring daggers at us until they realized we were in agreement – and then greeted us as old friends and took signs. (At one point, I told my daughter to go talk to a 78-year-old woman – her first solo encounter on a block-walk – while I knocked the house across the street. “You can probably outrun her if you have to,” I explained. When I stole a glance, the woman was practically giving Graciela a hug.)

I have never before done a block-walk in which all I had to say to get a commitment was, “Don’t you hate those ads on television?” And people still held forth on the merits about why they can’t stand what Uber and Lyft are doing.

Thank goodness I didn’t have to explain every nuance of the ordinance approved by the Austin City Council, which sets standards for fingerprint checks, fees to be collected from ride-share companies, etc. People understand the proposed ordinance written by Uber and Lyft relaxes the background check standard and lowers the fees the companies have to pay. But this is one of those rare political situations in which while the details may matter, all you absolutely have to know is that the proposal at hand is, well, Horse Feathers. (Trust me, Groucho Marx lovers, you want to click on this link.)

A large majority of voters we spoke to get that a fundamental principle is in play. If Uber and Lyft can spend millions to write their own ordinance in Austin, they will be trying the same thing next in Houston, which adopted strong fingerprinting requirements for drivers. And regardless of how that goes, Uber and Lyft will be at the forefront of the right-wing move in the Texas Legislature to take away the ability of local governments to make progress not just on ride-share regulation, but on wages, discrimination and work rules. A success by Uber and Lyft would launch a parade of corporations that would weigh options and budget millions more to overturn local laws that offend them.

The try-anything attitude among supporters of Prop 1 has continued. The Austin Chronicle reported that the U.S. Chamber of Commerce warned Austin may jeopardize its “Smart City” initiative if voters turn down the Uber/Lyft ordinance rewrite. Apparently the bald-faced lie in the pro-Prop 1 ads that Austin taxpayers would suddenly be on the hook for fingerprint checks if they vote “no” wasn’t working.

This election is about a larger issue – the ability of local voters to control their local destiny.

Sills notes that this is no prediction of victory, and that turnout in an oddball special election is paramount. It’s all about who shows up. I for one would rather live in a world where this sort of thing fails. I hope I have enough company in that regard.