The Gallup organization released a nationwide poll last week showing the partisan preference in every state. The daily tracking poll, conducted during the election campaign, sampled 19,415 adult Texans concerning their self-identification by political party and found that 43.4% identified themselves as Democrats compared to 41.0% who identified themselves as Republicans.
Do I find the results credible? To some extent, yes. There is no shortage of evidence of a Democratic trend: the Democrats’ sweep of Dallas County offices in 2006; similar. but less, success in Harris County this year; and the huge turnout for the 2008 presidential primary. But I question the accuracy of a poll about party identification that is based upon interviews with adults, period. Not likely voters. Not registered voters. No effort was made to screen the sample. In any case, the Democrats’ problems are manifest: They can’t win an election above the local level. They can’t win a statewide race; they can’t even win a contested congressional race.
It really doesn’t matter what people’s political leanings are. If those leanings don’t translate into votes cast and elections won, they don’t count. In the Gallup poll, Oklahoma was bluer than Texas. Democrats hold a six-point lead there over Republicans in party ID. But John McCain carried every county. According to Gallup, Georgia also computes as a blue state. The Democrats didn’t come close to winning the U.S. Senate seat that was contested there. This is the biggest problem the Democrats have: How do they turn party ID into votes?
I have had some long conversations with a semi-retired Democratic strategist (as well as with some Democratic politicians). His view is that the Democrats are nowhere close to being an effective political party. They don’t have the fundraising base to compete with Republicans. They don’t have the consultant talent to compete with Republicans. They don’t have a bench of candidates who can compete with Republicans at the statewide level. The Republicans are low-hanging fruit, but the Democrats don’t have the party infrastructure that can take advantage of the GOP’s failure to govern the state. Will Rogers said it some 70 years ago: “I belong to no organized political party. I’m a Democrat.”
The strategist pointed out to me that the Republicans will probably raise and spend $100 million in the next election cycle. This includes the contested gubernatorial primary, the general election, and possibly a U.S. Senate special election, plus the other statewide and legislative races. That kind of money brings out voters. How can the Democrats match that? They can’t. The Democrats do not have the ability to fund statewide races and legislative races at the same time. Yes, they have developed some new fundraising sources. But they are still far behind in the statewide races. This creates a dilemma. What should they do with their limited resources? Try to elect a governor? Try for seats on the Legislative Redistricting Board? Focus on the top of the ballot or the bottom? The money goes further at the bottom, but the credibility of the party can be restored only by winning at the top.
The Democratic political operation in Texas is not without talent. It’s without direction. It’s without coordination. There plenty of wannabes, but no game plan. You have the House Democratic Campaign Committee, the Lone Star Project out of D.C., the trial lawyers, Annie’s List, and lesser fiefdoms. Things slip through the cracks. Chris Harris should have been challenged for his Senate seat. Linda Harper-Brown should have been defeated.
The Democrats need–you’re not going to like this–a Karl Rove. (And before Rove there was Norm Newton and the Associated Republicans of Texas. Look what Rove was able to do for the Republican party in Texas. Look at what Eppstein was able to do in getting Republicans elected to the Legislature. You have to have people who are willing to spend full time on politics–not just on their clients, and not on lobbying, but thinking about the next election and how to win it. That’s what Rove did in the late eighties and the nineties. That is what Jack Martin did when he was Lloyd Bentsen’s chief operative, before he formed Public Strategies. The 1982 election, in which Bentsen was reelected, Bill Clements was swept out of the governor’s office, and Democrats won up and down the ballot even as Ronald Reagan occupied the White House, is the model for a coordinated campaign. Until the Democrats treat politics as a business that requires an effective organization and an effective message, they are not going to fulfill the high expectations of their base. The Republican policies of the past six years should have been a gold mine for opposition research, but the Democrats have no message machinery. When Karen Hughes was at the state Republican Party, she chipped away at the Democrats every day.
The rest of this post is strictly for political junkies.
Speaking of Public Strategies, I attended and participated in a symposium recently that was organized by Jack Martin for the Texas 2020 Group–a group of business leaders from around the state whose goal is to advance “issues and ideas to improve the lives of all Texans by 2020.” The program consisted of two panels, one on polling, moderated by Evan Smith and featuring Mike Baselice and UT’s Jim Henson, and the other, on, well, punditry, moderated by Mike Levy and requiring the audience to listen to Ross Ramsey, Harvey Kronberg, and me. I took notes on the first panel. Here are some of the numbers Baselice provided. They refer to national politics.
Favorable/unfavorable view of the two major parties in 2000:
Favorable/unfavorable view of the two major parties in 2007:
Baselice: “This guaranteed 2008 would be a rough year for Republicans.”
Which party do you trust to handle the economy (2007)?
Democrats 43% strongly favor, 21% somewhat favor
Republicans 25% strongly favor, 11% somewhat favor
Which party do you trust to handle taxes (2007)?
As Baselice noted, the Democrats were winning a core Republican issue. Democrats also prevailed in trustiworthiness concerning deficit reduction and on homeowner issues.
Which party will keep the U.S. prosperous (1972-2007)?
1972: Republicans +5 vs. Democrats
1974: Watergate year, Democrats had a big edge
1980: Democrats 35%, Republicans 36% (very close even though the economy was suffering from stagflation under Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan was elected)
1984: Republicans 49%, Democrats 33% (Reagan reelected)
1988: Republicans 52%, Democrats 34% (high point of the Reagan years; Bush 41 elected)
1992: Republicans 37%, Democrats 45% (Bush defeated for reelection)
1994: Republicans 48%, Democrats 38% (Republicans sweep congressional elections)
2000: Republicans 40%, Democrats 47% (Bush 43 elected)
2006: Republicans 36%, Democrats 53%
2007: Republicans 34%, Democrats 54%
Now, for Texas:
Party image (favorable/unfavorable) in Texas:
2000: Republicans 62/35, Democrats 49/39
2008: Republicans 45/42, Democrats 51/39
“First time Democrats’ party image was better than Republicans” since Baselice started polling.
I have used these numbers in several articles. Their importance should be clear: While the Republicans are losing ground, the Democrats are remaining static. The election results show that they cannot attract the disaffected Republican voter.
Base Republican vote:
Baselice: “Prior to 2008, Rs +9 for a decade.”
2006 48.40% R, 39.33% D
2008 47.3% R, 41.86% D
The most interesting observation that Baselice made is that the Republican gains occurred in rural Texas. The base vote increased by 6%. Democratic gains occurred in the Metroplex. Republicans are gaining in areas where 25% of the people of the people live. Democrats are gaining in areas where 75% of the people live.
One more set of numbers from Baselice concerning the Hispanic vote:
Exit polls: Obama 67%, McCain 31%
–If Republicans maintain 30% of the Hispanic vote, Texas remains
a Republican state
–What if the Republican share of the Hispanic vote drops to 25%?
Texas turns Democratic in 2020 (D +1).
Baselice said that Democrats cannot win by hoping for the minority vote. The biggest source of votes in this state is Anglo votes.
UT government professor and pollster Jim Henson addressed the short-term environment in this election cycle and who it favored on election day. He mentioned, among other things, the polarities of the Bush factor–he is still something of a favorite son who polls better here than elsewhere–and the lag in the recession reaching Texas. This enabled Republicans to run better here than they did nationally.
The notable outcomes of the election were:
(1) a surge in primary turnout in both parties;
(2) Democratic gains in urban counties;
(3) An urban-rural division with Republicans being strong in rural Texas, Democrats gaining in urban Texas, and the exurbs becoming the future battleground for Texas politics
Harris County 04: Democrats 45%, Republicans 55%
Harris County 08: Democrats 51%, Republicans 49%
May 07: Conservative 44%, Moderate 35%, Liberal 21%
June 08: Conservative 44%, Moderate 35%, Liberal 20%
July 08: Conservative 39%, Moderate 26%, Liberal 20%
October 08: Conservative 53%, Moderate 26%, Liberal 21%
Party Identification October 08
Strong Republican 25%
Weak Republican 11%
Independent leaning Republican 12%
Strong Democratic 22%
Weak Democratic 13%
Independent leaning Democratic 9%
Henson believes that the Republican advantage in Texas lies in the independent vote. There is a substantial group of voters who say they are independent, but they lean Republican at election time.
This observation is supported by Baselice’s numbers on the favorable/unfavorable view of the two parties. The Republicans are losing ground as disillusioned Rs become independents, but at election time the independents return to the Republican party.
To go back to where we started–the Gallup Poll–Texas is not a purple state. It’s still a red state, but the trend line favors Democrats.