Beto-casting the Election

3 Nov

I did the needful and stayed away from predicting the presidential election in 2016, but I cannot help but write about  my home state of Texas in this year’s hottest Senate election in the nation.

More money has been raised by Robert Francis “Beto” O’Rourke (D-El Paso) on his quixotic quest to unseat Senator Rafael Edward “Ted” Cruz (R-Katy) than in any other election in the history of the United States Senate.  Out of staters ask, “Does he have a chance?  Texas is so Republican anyway.  It’s just a pipe dream.”    Can Princeton graduate and former presidential candidate Ted Cruz really blow the first election for the Republicans in Texas since 1994?  No Democrat has won a statewide election since the George W. Bush re-election landslide of 1998.

Beto O’Rourke faces an even tougher climb.  No El Pasoan has ever won a statewide office (governor, senator, attorney general, etc.) since Texas became a state in 1845.  What’s the chance?  What can I possibly add to all the digital ink being spilt about this race?  I’d like to introduce the numbers.

Lowest Voting Star State

Texas has the lowest voter turnout of any state in the United States.  The Republicans took over Texas in 1978 when they began to appeal to young urban whites who had moved from out of state.  The bedrock of the Democratic Party was white rural old voters.  Houston and Dallas were the epicenters of the party when Bill Clements squeaked a win out in the 1978 (the map for that election is fascinating) to become the first Republican governor since the Civil War and Reconstruction.  As a child in Southeast Texas, I remember all the older white voters always punching their straight ticket Democratic vote and going home.

Forty years later we have a situation where older, rural and white voters are overwhelmingly Republican and the urban and young populations are the Democratic hot spots.  Only the Mexican border region has remained Democratic in the shift from 1978 to 2018.  In this new world, Beto O’Rourke’s Democratic base is going to be the same areas  as Bill Clements.  However, he has the advantage of the Democratic base vote on the border and being from El Paso which should drive up turnout.  The problem is the border region has some of the lowest turnout in the state and nation, especially south of San Antonio in the Rio Grande Valley.  All Ted Cruz has to do is rely on dependable voters who are above 50 to win and expect low youth and minority turnout to win.  Good turnout outside of the big cities helps as the suburban counties (especially around Houston) are all solidly Republican since the 1978-2018 transition.

FiveThirtyEight (which infamously predicted a win for Hillary Clinton) says there is an 79.1% chance for Ted Cruz to win and says the election will be about 52-47 for Ted Cruz.  The weird thing was that they predicted 6.9 million voters in Texas and now recently 7.1 million voters in this election.  Here is my feeling why the numbers are off and we are much, much closer to a 50-50 race than anyone realizes.

How many voters are there?

Not many.  Although, 15.6 million Texans are registered to vote, the average governor’s election has less than 5 million voters.  Turnout for U.S. Senate is about 4.8 million in non-presidential years sometimes less than 4.5 million.  The Republican usually gets 2.8 million at best but often even less.  The Democrat will earn 1.5 million votes usually.  The last even slightly competitive race for U.S. Senate in Texas was in 2002 where John Cornyn (R-San Antonio) beat Ron Kirk (D-Dallas) by about 500,000 votes (2.49 million to 1.95 million).  That’s not a lot of votes in a state that has around ten million non-voters.  Beto O’Rourke’s stated election plan was to bring 1 million nonvoting Democrats to vote in a midterm to win.  The numbers show that that would be more than enough to win a typical Texas race in a non-presidential year using the 2002 numbers.

But that’s not what has happened.  Turnout has skyrocketed in the early vote. Turnout as of Thursday night in the early vote is already 4.33 million in the 30 largest counties.  That excludes votes in 224 counties with 22% of registered voters and excludes votes from the last day of early voting and Election Day next week.  It’s highly likely 5.5 million people have already voted by today.  Millions will vote on Election Day as well.

If the early vote represents 53-55% of the early vote in a midterm, that is 10 million total voters.  That would be double any governor’s race in history.  If the early vote is 70% of the total vote, that would be 7.85 million total voters which is even higher than the revised FiveThirtyEight numbers of 7.1 million voters.

How Many Republicans are There in Texas?

Actually not that many for a state with 28 million people and growing fast.  Texas does not have party registration.  If voting is going to be at presidential elections, then we need to look at presidential votes.  There at best have been 8 to 9 million voters in Texas presidential elections this century.  Often less.

The Republican presidential candidate gets only 4.5 to 4.6 million votes.  Ted Cruz got 100,000 less votes than Mitt Romney in 2012 in his only statewide election (4.4 million).  More or less the best Ted Cruz (or any Republican) can hope for is to get every single Trump vote in 2016 and that would be 4.68 million.  Trump only won by 805,000 against Hillary Clinton.   The Democrats usually get 3.3-3.5 million with a peak of 3.8 million for Hillary Clinton who lost by the smallest margin in many years.

Again, Beto O’Rourke’s stated election plan is to get 1 million more Democratic non-voters to vote.  If he does that and has all of the Hillary Clinton votes and Ted Cruz keeps every single vote he got in 2012,  Beto O’Rourke will win by 4.8 million to 4.4 million.  If Ted Cruz gets every single Trump voter, he will still lose if O’Rourke’s stated plan works out by 100,000 votes.

I am not convinced every single 2016 Trump voter is going to vote for Ted Cruz, and I am not convinced every single 2012 Cruz voter is going to vote for Ted Cruz.  I find it hard to imagine that turnout could get into the 9-10 million range, and Senator Cruz still winning given the demographics and geography of non-voters in Texas.  Sen. Cruz will win millions of votes, but I am doubtful that there are many more Republicans left in Texas to get to vote.   If Congressman O’Rourke does everything Democrats have been saying they need to do in Texas, then he will win.

So what is my call?  I will still say it is 50-50 at this point and a toss up just like Cook’s Political Report says, and no one else does.   I also think this UT poll of Texas voters shows far more anti-immigrant sentiment (even in minorities) than I think is likely.  The same group at UT says that Cruz is up by 6 points.

Don’t believe the polls.  Go vote.  Anything can happen.







One Response to “Beto-casting the Election”


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