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Experts agree: Suburban women the key for Wendy

UH political science professor Richard Murray says so.

Sen. Wendy Davis

Sen. Wendy Davis

Nationally, Democrats have done pretty well in recent elections in large part because they run so strongly with women. In 2012, for example, former Governor Mitt Romney beat President Barack Obama 52 percent to 45 percent among men, but lost the overall popular vote because women went for his Democratic opponent 55 to 44 percent. The Democrats’ big national advantage with female voters is entirely driven by single women. Romney actually won married women 53 percent to 46 percent in 2012, but was crushed among unmarried women 67 percent to 31 percent.

Wendy Davis, like Ann Richards a generation earlier, will almost certainly do better with female voters in Texas, who make up 53-54 percent of the total vote, than the last four Democratic male nominees. Davis has particularly strong credentials, like Ann Richards, to appeal to single women, given her compelling person story of rising from trailer-park poverty to Harvard Law School and a successful political career.

I don’t want to suggest that gender voting will be decisive if Senator Davis runs, but it likely will be a major factor in cutting into the usual Republican majority.

UT political science professor/Texas Trib pollster James Henson agrees.

If there exists a combination of luck and strategy that can give Davis a realistic chance of victory, suburban women will likely be a necessary part of the equation.

This is because some of these women appear to be turning away from the Republican Party. Consider the last two election cycles. In the heyday of Tea Party enthusiasm, 50 percent of suburban women identified themselves as Republicans, according to the October 2010 University of Texas/Texas Tribune Poll, but that may have been the high-water mark. Two years later, in October 2012, 43 percent identified as Republicans. And in our most recent poll, June 2013, that number had dropped to 38 percent. Democratic identification over the same period increased 9 points from 37 percent to 46 percent.

One reason to think that suburban women might be part of an electoral solution for the Democrats: They haven’t been swept up in the conservative ideological surge personified by the Tea Party. Between October 2010 and June 2013, conservative identification decreased from 49 percent to 38 percent among these women. And in June, while 20 percent of voters identified themselves as Tea Party Republicans, that number was 5 points lower for suburban women. Likewise, 27 percent of voters expressed the opinion that the Tea Party had too little influence, but only 20 percent of suburban women agreed. And while U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, the guest of honor at any Tea Party, enjoys a net-favorable assessment among Texans at +9 (40 percent favorable, 31 percent unfavorable), Cruz is slightly underwater with suburban women at -2 (34 percent favorable, 36 percent unfavorable).

Davis’ recent celebrity comes as a direct consequence of her support of abortion rights, which has inspired sometimes-vicious criticism. But opposition to her is far from unanimous among women, in part because suburban women are some of the biggest supporters of abortion rights in the Texas electorate: 45 percent think that abortion should be allowed in all circumstances as a matter of personal choice. This is a big gap compared with 38 percent of all Texas women and 36 percent of Texans generally — and only 13 percent of Republicans of both genders.


Whether Davis would be able to identify with and speak to suburban women in a non-presidential-election year remains an open (and speculative) question at this stage. But should she run, her prospects will hinge only in part on her ability to expand the electorate in ways that don’t simply rely on the speeding up of glacial demographic changes. She will also have to see coalitional components in the current pool of Texans already in the habit of voting. Suburban women who appear uncomfortable with the increasing power of far-right conservatives in the Texas GOP may be the place to start — they may be ready to be persuaded to make different choices come Election Day.

If two experts agree on something, it must be true, right? One observation I’ll throw in here is that if Ted Cruz is a less popular figure among suburban women than he is among other Republican-leaning groups, it will be easy enough to take advantage of this during a campaign and tie him to Greg Abbott. Cruz was Solicitor General under Abbott, so it’s hardly a stretch to connect the two. Even better, Cruz’s extra special brand of crazy fanaticism seems to make Abbott a wee bit uncomfortable. The script for some well-targeted ads pretty much writes itself. We’ll know soon enough if there’s a reason to write it.

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  1. PDiddie says:

    Dr. Murray’s post has a factual inaccuracy in it: Chris Bell did not receive 43.3% of the vote in 2006, unless he’s being awarded some or all of Kinky Friedman’s and Carole Strayhorn’s votes in an “if they had not run” fantasy scenario.

    I believe that even the most partisan statisticians know better than that.,_2006

    While I wish Dr Murray had it right (Bell would have been inaugurated almost 7 years ago, and Rick Perry would be hunting coyotes on a ranch named after an African American), it appears he needs to hire another student intern to do fact-checking.

  2. I question Henson Trib piece. His suburban women is not broken out into suburban white women, suburban GOP women, suburban independent women or anything else. All he’s really doing is showing us how “purplish” Texas Triangle suburbs have become, really, and that stances on abortion are a mirror of that.



    That said, he’s right that education is more fertile ground.

  3. Michael says:

    Anecdotally, my conservative, Republican Perry-hating sister from Plano told me flat out she’d give Wendy a listen. Bill White was dismissed out of hand as a “liberal from Houston”, but she’ll hear out Davis.

    I don’t think she’ll vote for her, but if the envelope moves, it may make a difference. Especially if Abbott looks too much like Perry II or Cruz II to voters.

  4. bob42 says:

    Embarrassed and vengeance seeking, the republican base has made it pretty clear that they will spare no expense in defeating her reelection to the senate. So why not go ahead and run for Governor? She deserves better (we all do) but at this point, it’s a choice between a sure loss, or a long-shot victory.

  5. […] numbers, in which Romney led Obama 63-33 among men but only 50-43 among women. Everyone knows that winning over women will be a key part of Davis’ strategy, so this will be worth watching as we go […]