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Ted Cruz and the Hispanic Vote: Harris County edition

Following up from both Kuff (twice) and some natural curiosity over the impact of Ted Cruz (and GOP Hispanic candidates in general) among Hispanic voters, I thought I'd do a little bit of cartographic number-crunching to look at the issue.

I haven't gotten too far out of Harris County in any election analysis yet, so I'm limiting my view close to home with a bit of a presumption that what we see in Harris is probably mirrored in the DFW Metroplex and maybe Bexar County. Whether it mirrors anything in South Texas or rural Hispanic areas is something worth another round of testing. But here's what we see in Harris County for now ...

The first thing that should jump out to anyone asking whether Ted Cruz benefited from crossover Hispanic votes is that there is a net vote dropoff for both Cruz and Paul Sadler compared to their Presidential counterparts. That tracks with a very common down-ballot concern - that your party's vote dropoff may be greater than that of the other party. Pre-2008, the pattern was that GOP voters would dropoff at a greater level than Dem voters once they got down to judicial races. 2008 was a sea change as the operating theory suggests that a large number of new voters came to the polls and, in significantly large numbers, didn't vote downballot. The result was that we saw Dem judicials with about the same dropoff problem as Republican judicials.

A case in point can be seen in 2004 among the judicial vote dropoff:

        Total Ballots   President     Avg Judicial
2004    1,088,793      1,067,988    1,006,443 (94.24%)
            R            584,723      536,241 (91.71%)
            D            475,865      470,202 (98.81%)

The right-hand column shows the percentage of the Presidential vote that held in the average judicial result. Basically, you have a much more cohesive vote on the Dem side in 2004, while GOP voters were much more likely to drop off. The results weren't meaningful enough to give any Dem judicial a win, but they were enough to give hope that the gap could be narrowed as demographic change might make the county more competitive over time.

Here's what the situation looks like in the Obama years:

        Total Ballots   President     Avg Judicial
2008    1,188,731      1,171,472    1,101,014 (94.24%)
            R            571,883      541,257 (94.64%)
            D            590,982      559,757 (94.72%)
        Total Ballots   President     Avg Judicial
2012    1,188,731      1,185,722    1,131,078 (95.39%)
            R            584,866      563,488 (96.34%)
            D            585,451      567,590 (96.95%)

There's still a modest advantage for Dems going downballot, but the difference is narrowed greatly. In years where Obama was winning a close race countywide, this was enough to keep the judicials over the top.

That brings us to 2012. And with the US Senate contest, we're dealing with a race higher on the ballot and one that doesn't generally generate as much vote dropoff compared to the judicials. Here's what the pattern of vote dropoff looks like in Harris County for US Senate races in Presidential years:

      Total Ballots    President         US Senate
2000      995,631        974,426      941,968 (96.67%)
2008    1,188,731      1,171,472    1,151,174 (98.27%)
2012    1,204,167      1,188,585    1,174,884 (98.85%)

And here's what the party dropoff comparison looks like in 2012:

      Total Ballots    President         US Senate
2012    1,204,167      1,188,585    1,174,884 (98.85%)
	        R            584,866      581,197 (99.37%)
	        D            585,451      562,955 (96.16%)

What we don't know from this is how much of the vote that dropped off for Sadler went over to Cruz. I think it's realistic to assume that that's decent chunk of the vote. But we know that it's not 100% of the movement. So here's where we can get into the weeds a little and see where the vote movement happened. To do this, I ran two calculations:

1. The dropoff of vote from Obama to Sadler as a percentage of Obama's vote count in a precinct. (O-Sadler)
2. The dropoff of vote from Romney to Cruz as a percentage of Romney's vote count in a precinct. (R-Cruz)

With that, there are two maps to show the results. For the sake of avoiding the problem of small precincts skewing the results, I limited the precinct selection to those with more than First, the O-Sadler findings ...

full page - Google Earth

And, secondly, the R-Cruz findings ...

full page - Google Earth

The color-coding for both is as follows:

Dark Blue: Senate candidates beat Presidential candidates in raw vote count
Light Blue: Senate candidates underperform Presidentials by 0-2% of the Presidential nominee's total vote count
Purple: Senate candidates underperform Presidentials by 2-4% of the Presidential nominee's total vote count
Red: Senate candidates underperform Presidentials by >4% of the Presidential nominee's total vote count

Or, in short, you can look at the dark blue as areas where the Senate candidates overperformed and the red as areas where they significantly underperformed. Performance being defined here as a function of vote dropoff.

In Sadler's case, the areas where he overperformed were areas where Democratic voters are likelier to be wealthy Anglos and underperformed in heavily Hispanic areas. In Cruz's case, however, his overperformance is not limited to just Hispanic areas. He also overperformed in many heavily African-American parts of the county. Kuff's post has aggregates by House District and you can definitely see the pickup that Cruz gets in districts such as HD131 (Alma Allen), HD139 (Sylvester Turner), HD141 (Senfronia Thompson), and HD142 (Harold Dutton). While there are certainly some Hispanic pockets of votes in those districts - some more significant than others - I think it warrants an explanation that the under-reported aspect of all of this is that Sadler just lagged in many areas due to more structural problems like not having resources to compete statewide in a meaningful way. That Sadler's dropoff problem is as pervasive as it seems doesn't suggest to me that it's an isolated issue, even if the bigger disparity is in Hispanic areas.

In fact, in many of the heaviest African-American precincts, you can see a negative R-Cruz and a positive O-Sad number. That means that Ted Cruz got more votes than Romney at the same time that Sadler was getting fewer than the President in heavily African-American boxes. Whether that's due to Hispanic voters in those areas shifting over to Cruz or some other movement of votes is beyond the reach of data like this.

But I wouldn't carpet-categorize Cruz's showing in Harris County as purely the impact of Hispanic voters crossing over to support him any more than I'd suggest that the wealthy Anglo parts of town suggest a lack of support for Cruz (either due to an unwillingness to support a Hispanic candidate or for any other reason). Likewise, I think that suggesting that Cruz's appeal was more strictly connected to Hispanic voters ignores the impact seen in African-American areas. Is anyone writing columns about Ted Cruz's support among African-American swing voters? Certainly not that I see.

The reality is that you have a combination of effects. And given the fact that Sadler never had a chance to compete given the lack of financial resources, I'd at least begin with the suggestion that you had a broader problem there and that it was augmented by any support among Hispanic voters unrelated to the previous issue. That's obviously very difficult to put into a 600-word column to distill the situation down into a more easily-digested takeaway from the event. But if I'm looking at a situation such as this and seriously wondering how to ensure that it doesn't happen again, I think reality suggests that resources matter. How much do they matter against a high-profile Hispanic Republican running? We obviously don't have a terrific comparison without getting into more apple vs orange issues.

Rewinding to the days when San Antonio Republican Congressman Henry Bonilla used to contemplate a statewide run, I'm not sure that I'd lump Cruz's ascension to the Senate as the creation of an 800-pound political gorilla that Democrats can't beat because he's cutting into the Hispanic vote too much. Cruz ended up with less than a third of a percentage point more than Mitt Romney in Harris County. I'd argue that if Sadler had the resources that even Rick Noriega had in 2008, the results could have been more favorable for Sadler. There still may be a long way to go to turn Texas purple as a whole. But I'm not sure I'd put that much movement in the category of a game-changer for Texas Republicans to stave off demographic inevitability forever.

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  1. I think Cruz underperformed in some wealthy Anglo areas because a small sliver of Republicans who supported Dewhurst viewed Cruz as a bit shrill or extreme on policy, and were still bitter after the primary. I am startled to think that Cruz is overperforming in mostly black areas, but this could be Hispanic crossover.

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