October 26, 2008
More Chron polling: Most Dems lead in the county races

Continuing from yesterday, the Chron gives us more catnip.

Democrats have reclaimed the voting advantage they lost 14 years ago in elections for Harris County offices, according to a poll conducted for the Houston Chronicle. But Republican County Judge Ed Emmett appears to be swimming strongly against the tide.

Voters favored Democratic candidates over Republican candidates by 7 percentage points in elections for county leadership jobs, except in the county judge's race, where Emmett has a 13-point lead over Democrat David Mincberg, according to the survey. Sixteen percent of the respondents were undecided or said they lean toward neither party's entry.

The number 7 also popped up specifically in the race for district attorney; Democrat C.O. Bradford ran 7 percentage points ahead of Republican Pat Lykos in the poll, conducted Monday through Wednesday as early voting began for the Nov. 4 election.

As the Chronicle reported Saturday, the poll by Zogby International shows Democrats ahead by the identical gap, 7 percentage points, in the presidential and U.S. Senate races among county voters.

The pattern suggests that the Democratic identity has become more popular here in the last two years and/or that Barack Obama's lead in the national presidential race is filtering down to local elections, pollster John Zogby said.

"It's about the party, and it's about the (presidential nominee) characters," he said.


In the 40 judicial races on the ballot, voters favored Democratic challengers over Republican incumbents by 3.7 percentage points. The finding puts the party's judgeship slates in a statistical tie, because the gap is within the poll's margin of error of 4.1 percentage points.

Most Republican judges seeking re-election have campaigned as a group, saying they protect people and property through their work in the criminal and civil courts. Democratic candidates for court benches mainly have campaigned individually or as part of the overall Democratic ticket.

Also against the grain, Emmett, the county government executive, has a strong lead, according to the poll.

Emmett, whose public profile was heightened during local governments' relief response to the damage caused by Hurricane Ike, had 46 percent of the vote, compared to 33 percent for Mincberg.

Results in that race ran counter not only to the other countywide races, but also against the way Harris County voters identify with the political parties, according to the poll.

Forty-six percent in the survey said they are Democrats, 38 percent Republicans and the remainder independent.

A Zogby International poll for the Chronicle in February produced the same numbers in response to the party question.

Well, that addresses the question of the partisan breakdown that I raised yesterday. I'm still a bit skeptical of it, but if it was skewing that way in February as well, there must be something to it.

Democratic candidates now have pulled ahead as a group, according to the poll, after months in which the two major parties chose their presidential nominees and nation's financial systems stumbled, putting the focus on an issue that voters consider better off in the hands of Democrats.

In county leadership races and specifically in the race for district attorney, the Democratic contenders had robust leads over their Republican opponents among moderate voters and even got 20 percent or more from conservatives, according to the survey.

This year has been troubling for Republicans on the local scene. The campaign season has included the resignation of Republican District Attorney Chuck Rosenthal and controversies about the actions of Sheriff Tommy Thomas and Commissioner Jerry Eversole.

It's unfortunate that the poll only specified the County Judge and DA races. I really would have loved to have seen a result from the Sheriff and Tax Assessor contests as well, the former because I believe it is likely to represent the zenith of Democratic support in Harris, and the latter because Paul Bettencourt was the top vote-getter for Republicans in 2004, even more than George Bush. While I'd say it's probably the case that Emmett has the high score this time around, I'd peg Bettencourt as the next most likely to survive. It would have been nice to have a specific data point on that.

Full results are here and crosstabs are here (both PDFs). You have to scroll past the Presidential and Senate results, as well as the interesting-if-mostly-meaningless results of the 2010 gubernatorial matchups, to see today's numbers. Bradford's lead over Lykos is mostly a function of the partisan gap, but not entirely, as he does better among Dems than she does among Republicans. Lykos does win among unaffiliateds, but there are a lot of "not sure" responses in that group - a plurality, in fact. If she kicks butt there and consolidates the Republican base, she can close the gap.

Emmett leads Mincberg because he does much better among Rs than Mincberg does among Ds (79.3% of Rs pick Emmett, compared to 61.6% of Ds for Mincberg), he wins a sizable number of crossovers (20.2% of the D vote goes to Emmett, while only 4.9% of Rs choose Mincberg), and he gets a plurality of indies. Mincberg needs to do much better among his fellow Dems to catch up.

The "Are you likely to vote D or R in county leadership elections" question is basically a recapitulation of party ID. It's 45.6 D, 38.5 R, and some 89% of each group plans to stick with the home team. Dems have a tiny lead in unaffiliated support, but "not sure" is still the top number there. About 17% of indies say "neither", which translates to 2.8% of the overall sample, and may just be the Libertarian crowd.

In the judicial races, the Dem lead of 43.9 to 40.2 is again mostly a function of party ID. Rs do a little better among their own (88.7 to 84.5), with Dems being a bit more likely to cross over or be unsure. That makes sense to me - I've no doubt that among the legal community, most Republican judges will draw at least a few votes from some of the otherwise-Democratic attorneys that appear before them, with some doing better than others, and a few losing support from their own side as well. Whether that makes a difference in the end will depend on how wide that partisan gap winds up being.

Finally, I suspect that a fair number of people were not completely honest when they were asked if they planned to vote straight ticket or not. Less than a majority said Yes, with a dead even split among Ds and Rs. I guarantee you that the total number of single-button-pushers will be well above 50%, and if the party ID numbers are correct, a majority of them will be Dems. Maybe this is the "Bradley effect" for the new century.

Tomorrow: Polling in CDs 07 and 22. I can't wait.

Posted by Charles Kuffner on October 26, 2008 to Election 2008
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