There’s still a week to go, but so far, so good.
Harris County residents cast more ballots in the first four days of early voting than five states did in the entire 2012 presidential election.
Locally, the number of ballots cast over those days was 45 percent higher than the same period four years ago. Other parts of the state, which sported the nation’s lowest turnout in 2014, have seen similar growth.
Now, the question is, will it continue? If it does, Harris County could see close to 1 million people – almost half its registered voters – cast ballots before election day.
“There’s so much more voting this time than we’ve ever seen,” said Richard Murray, a veteran pollster at the University of Houston.
“The first four days looked pretty good for local Democrats,” said Murray, who has studied Harris County voting patterns since 1966. “More female, more ethnic, less Caucasian.”
The county’s turnout so far has been 57 percent female, Murray said, compared with the typical 54 percent, which he called “probably something of a Trump effect.”
Stephen Klineberg, founder of Rice University’s Kinder Institute for Urban Research, said the county’s Democratic shift was a long time coming.
He pointed to a 2016 study by the Institute, which showed Harris County had been evenly split between Democrats and Republicans since studies began in 1984.
In 2005, 35 percent of respondents identified as Democrat and 37 percent identified as Republican. In 2016, 52 percent identified as Democrat and 30 percent as Republican.
That change was mostly due to population growth and changing party affiliation among Latinos, who make up 51 percent of the population under 20 in Harris County, he said.
“Pundits have been predicting this for years,” Klineberg said. “There are some indications that we are beginning to see signs of that inevitable transformation in this election year, earlier than most pundits expected.”
This Chron story goes into more detail about the gender mix of early voters so far. With maps, which everyone likes.
Of course, Latinos alone are not driving Harris County’s surging early voting turnout.
Some of the highest turnout has come from Houston’s suburban ring, including Katy, Cypress and Kingwood, areas with typically high Republican turnout.
“Everybody is voting,” Murray said. “It’s not that the Anglo vote has fallen, it’s just that others have risen more than they have.”
Democrats in general tend to lag in early voting, experts said. This year, Houston Democratic consultant Greg Wythe said, has been “pretty remarkably different from whatever happened in the past.”
“Normally, we’re losing at this point,” he said. An analysis of this week’s early voting results suggests 54 percent of turnout so far has been Democratic. That mirrors a recent poll by the University of Houston Hobby School of Public Affairs, which showed a slight lead or statistical tie for Democrats in countywide races.
Greg has been my source for the pronouncements I’ve made about how the first four days have been good for Dems. He tells me that Friday was also a good day, making the Dems five for five for that first week, and that early indicators are positive for Saturday as well. For what it’s worth, Saturday is usually the best day for Democrats during early voting. In 2014, the Saturday was about the only good day the Dems had. It may be that the pattern is different this year, I don’t know yet. I’m sure Greg will tell me when he knows for sure.
To put this in some perspective, here’s what the last two Presidential races looked like:
Candidate Mail Early E Day Total =============================================== Romney 43,270 349,332 193,471 586,073 Obama 31,414 337,681 217,949 587,044 McCain 41,986 297,944 231,953 571,883 Obama 24,503 368,231 198,248 590,982
Mitt Romney was at 51.5% in early and absentee voting; Democrats caught up on Election Day and mostly won in the county. It was 2008 that was the big early voting year for Dems, as Obama carried a 53.6% lead into Election Day, then held on with both hands and Dems had basically run out of voters. Early voting has clearly gone well for Dems so far this year, apparently even better than it was in 2008. The question of who remains to vote on Election Day is one we can’t answer right now.
Of course, there are nearly 350,000 more registered voters in Harris County now than there were in 2008, and nearly 300,000 more than there were in 2012. We’ve discussed that before, and it is reasonable to expect that turnout would be up even without anything strange happening. A few turnout projections to consider:
61.99% of 2,234,678 = 1,385,276
62.81% of 2,234,678 = 1,403,601
63.00% of 2,234,678 = 1,407,847
64.00% of 2,234,678 = 1,430,193
65.00% of 2,234,678 = 1,452,541
The 2,234,678 figure is total registered voters in Harris County. Turnout in 2012 was 61.99%, and in 2008 it was 62.81%. The others are speculative. The point here is that turnout north of 1.4 million is hardly a stretch. and it’s not out of the question that from Saturday on there could still be a million people left to vote. We are, as they say, in uncharted territory.
The Day 6 EV totals had not arrived in my inbox by the time I went to bed. I’ll update this later when I have a chance and the data.