Dem turnout from a GOP perspective

Longtime GOP strategist Royal Masset looks at the Democratic turnout numbers in the Quorum Report and sees dire things for his party.

Masset now sees the makings of a political tsunami greater than the annus horribilis of 2006. The nearly minute-by-minute coverage of the Democratic presidential primary in Texas has undoubtedly captured the attention of the state’s voters. Some argue that such attention is good too for the Republicans, sort of a rising tide lifting all boats argument.

Masset, though, is focused on what he said was the telling stat, party primary turnout as percentage of the total number of registered voters. On that score, the GOP is lagging terribly behind the Democratic Party.

The Secretary of State’s Office tracks early voting by day in each of the state’s 15 most populous counties. Taken together, the 7.8 million registered voters in those counties account for a little more than 60 percent of the state’s registered voters.

While most eyes have been focused on staggering Democratic turnout, they have missed the fact that Republican turnout has also surged, generally doubling in the fifteen largest counties.

As of Wednesday, the percentage of registered voters taking part in the Democratic primary has nearly tripled the percentage voting in the Republican primary – 7.7 percent to 2.6 percent.

What gets Masset’s attention is the fact that Republican turnout has exceeded 5 percent of registered voters in just one of the 15 most populous counties, Montgomery County. Conversely, Montgomery County is the only place where Democratic turnout has been less then 5 percent.

In the predominately Latino Rio Grande Valley, the disparity is even greater. In Cameron County (Brownsville), 9.75 percent of the registered voters have participated in the Democratic primary. The Republican primary hadn’t cracked a single percentage point – 0.97 percent – as of Wednesday. In Hidalgo County (Edinburg), the spread is even larger, 13.10 percent to 0.82 percent.

What worries Masset the most is that he figures upward of 80 percent of those new Democratic voters will return to cast ballots in the fall. “If they’re excited now, they’ll probably stay excited,” he said. In addition, the Democratic Party will have those voters in their database for outreach efforts later this year.

Masset looks at places like Collin County and Williamson County where Republicans hold every local office but Democrats are coming out this primary season in greater numbers than Republicans. The trends are adding up to an even better year for Democrats than in 2006, he said. And with a charismatic Obama at the top of the Democratic ticket and McCain seemingly unable to unite his party, Masset suggested any GOP incumbent who won last time with less than 60 percent of the vote should be concerned. Anyone who won with less than 55 percent of the vote is in trouble, he said.

Pretty provocative. I should note that Masset foresaw the rise of the GOP in the state by tracking GOP versus Democratic primary participation from the 70s through to 2000. That article on QR is here, and I’ll quote a little bit of it:

The real problem for the Democratic party is the erosion of their historical base in rural counties. Most county officeholders have a couple of hundred relatives and friends who will vote Democrat to keep them in office. But as support for the Democrat party declines in their counties, the probability greatly increases that they will switch parties or be defeated by a Republican. The largest percent declines in Democratic Party primary turnout from 1996 and 2000 were in these rural counties.

Here are several examples. In Speaker Laney’s home of Hale County, the Democrat turnout was more than triple the Republican turnout in 1996. In 2000 the Republican turnout was almost triple the Democrat turnout. This sounds like an SAT question. The correct answer is that the Hale County Democrat turnout declined from 3505 to 530.

Nacogdoches County saw a similar flip. Their Republican primary turnout more than tripled to 8,222 from 2672 in 1996. Steve Lilly still lives! The Denton County Republican Primary went from 21,884 to 57,659. In 30 counties the Republican turnout was more than twice that of previous all time high 1996 turnout, including strategically important counties such as Wharton, Henderson, Anderson, and Chambers. Gonzales, Hood and Kaufman counties had 95% increases in Republican turnout.

The Democrat primary turnout declined by more than half in strategically important counties such as Wharton, Walker, Gonzales, Aransas, Cooke, El Paso, Grayson, Hamilton, Howard, Hunt, Jefferson, Kaufman, Madison, Mitchell, McCulloch, Nacogdoches, Scurry, Wichita and Young. It declined by 48% in Gregg, Waller and Mason counties.

These two situations aren’t exactly analogous. Masset was documenting a decline in Democratic primary turnout participation (all in Presidential years, I might add) while showing a corresponding increase in same on the GOP side. This year, while GOP turnout declined dramatically from 2000 to 2004, it is up somewhat from 2000. It’s just that Democratic participation is through the roof, possibly beyond 1972 levels in absolute terms, and that has to mean something. More on all this later. I included it mostly for reference.

Masset’s guess that 80% of the new Democratic voters will come back in the fall to vote Democratic is encouraging. Obviously, some of these people are “November Democrats” who were always going to vote Democratic in the fall, but for whatever the reason never bothered to vote in previous Marches. Some of these are Democratic “swing voters” as defined by Chris Bowers, which is to say people who’ll vote Dem if they vote, but need to be persuaded to do so; if they’re not inspired to get out and cast a ballot this November, they shouldn’t be considered voters in any meaningful sense. And the rest – a third? a half? more? less? who knows? – are people who aren’t in the habit, even the unreliable habit, of voting Democratic. I certainly think these people are going to change the basic calculus of a whole host of elections this year, and so does Masset.

But not everybody does:

GOP pollster Mike Baselice has a different take on the early voting numbers. Looking at the raw numbers, GOP participation is running much higher than in the two previous presidential primaries that had Texan George W. Bush at the top of the ticket.

More than 35,000 people have cast votes in the GOP primary in Harris County, for instance. That’s two-and-a-half times as large a turnout as in 2004 more than twice the number from 2000. The jump in participation is even higher in Dallas and Tarrant Counties. In both places, GOP participation in raw numbers is more than six times the level in 2004.

These numbers are from the first eight days of early voting. Unfortunately, this gives a misleading figure, because while there were only two more days of early voting after that this year, there were six more days after Day Eight in 2000, so the final totals still show increases, but much more modest than what Baselice is suggesting. Here’s how everything looked after all of early voting was completed:

County Year Reg Voters Early Vote Pct RVs Change ========================================================= Harris 2000 1,754,645 41,880 2.38 Harris 2008 1,804,641 51,199 2.84 +19.3% Dallas 2000 1,161,587 23,859 2.05 Dallas 2008 1,114,002 31,874 2.86 +39.5% Tarrant 2000 801,260 19,200 2.40 Tarrant 2008 890,412 35,621 4.00 +66.7% Bexar 2000 824,948 30,203 3.66 Bexas 2008 867,084 33,487 3.86 +5.5%

2008 numbers via Burka; 2000 totals can be found here. I threw in Bexar as well because Burka had it and because it was the third-largest county in terms of registered voters back then. As you can see, there were definitely increases in GOP participation in those counties, but nowhere near twice as much in three of them, and near-flat performance in Bexar. And bear in mind, as a general rule more people vote early now than did in 2000, so the final totals for these counties may well show an even more modest increase in turnout. I’ll be sure to check that once the numbers are in.

Including 2004 totals is even more misleading, because there essentially was no GOP primary in most parts of the state that year. President Bush was unopposed on the ballot. There were primaries among statewide officeholders, almost all Supreme Court and CCA jurists, but none of them generated any excitement – on average, the dropoff rate from Bush voters (who were 92% of all GOP primary voters) was between 10 and 20%. There were numerous Congressional primaries that year, thanks to the DeLay re-redistricting, but only six drew more than 30,000 votes, and as a whole they drew less than Bush’s total of 635,000. What’s driving GOP turnout this year is the same as what’s driving Democratic, which is the chance to weigh in on a real race. It’s just that the GOP side isn’t nearly as strong a draw as the Dem side.

Baselice said that those early voting numbers suggest to him that the GOP could have as many as 1.5 million votes cast in its primary and that 4 million votes could be cast between both parties. He called those numbers unprecedented.

Sure, but not by that much. The total turnout in 2000 on the GOP side was just over 1.126 million, or 15.7% of the 7,179,549 registered voters that year. One point five million votes (if they get that much) out of 7,815,906 registered voters now would be 19.2% participation, a 22.3% increase from then. Nice and all, but compared to the Democrats and their likely tripling or more of the vote from either 2000 or 2004, it’s not impressive.

And while that number is sure to be dwarfed by the number of Democratic primary votes, Baselice is not necessarily worried about Republican candidates’ chances in the fall. He noted that the state tilts toward Republicans by about nine points. So all things being equal, the GOP candidate starts most races with a 55-45 advantage, he said.

Baselice claimed a partisan ratio in 2006 of 50-35-15. Does he really think the GOP still have that big an advantage to start out, or has he done actual polling? Bear in mind, according to Zogby (for what it’s worth; at least this was a phone poll), Harris County is now 46-38-16 in Dems’ favor. How much do you think Harris has changed over the past eight years, and what effect do you think that has on the statewide mix?

High turnout on both sides is a good thing for the Republican Party because it helps them rework their voters’ lists and better target likely Republican voters, he said.

Yes, I figure they’ll be saying “dammit, another Democrat” a lot. Have fun with that, y’all. Thanks to BOR for the tip.

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5 Responses to Dem turnout from a GOP perspective

  1. Kevin Whited says:

    That was nice of you to post such a lengthy QR blockquote for those of us without a login. In the past, that has made Kronberg grouchy.

    ** And with a charismatic Obama at the top of the Democratic ticket and McCain seemingly unable to unite his party, **

    It’s probably a little early for such apocalyptic predictions. And some information from one battleground state illustrates that it’s early yet.

  2. jboyd says:

    It looks like Texas is in play. That means the game has already changed.

  3. Cautious Dem says:

    It is too early to predict the general election, but I do like the Dem’s chances to win every Harris county office (including judges) with Obama at the top of the ticket. The republicans are fortunate to have McCain, as oppose to all their other contenders, at the top of the ticket. Anyone to the right of McCain would lose in a landslide.

  4. Jackson says:

    Its all about the sample in terms of polls, so its impossible to really tell anything from it at this point…if we have a realignment happening than the polls won’t pick it up, at least not yet. As much as it pains me to say this, I think Kevin has a point about getting ahead of ourselves. The bottom line for us whether we think that O or C will beat McLovin in Harris and by what margin. I think its way too early to call that. I do think Harris County is probably much closer to being a 40-40-20 county than ever before and the battle will be for the middle.

  5. Royal Masset says:

    Good job Charles. I appreciate you tying my remarks into remarks I made 7 years ago. My November predictions based on 2000 Primary turnouts were accurate. This isn’t something I invented to make you Demos happy.

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