In light of the recent petition-eering to overturn City Council’s recently passed Equal Right Ordinance, I want to double back on a point I’ve been meaning to explore. Namely, that of how Houston council districts behave electorally in different years. This may prove to be a little relevant in light of what defenders of the ordinance believe will be a “cranking out of the base” – at least within the city.
There are basically two hypotheses to consider here. One being that a more energized electorate will see an unequal proportion of extra turnout for one side or the other; the other being that a more energized electorate will merely transform an electorate from a relatively low-turnout affair to a high-turnout affair.
The difference being that an unbalanced result (from the perspective of HERO supporters) would lead to greater turnout among liberal Dems, with no corresponding increase from conservative Republicans. The inverse of this scenario was seen in the 2010 elections, where the then-recent Tea Party movement turned out a higher share of Republican voters in a non-Presidential year, while Democratic voters held to a more common non-Presidential turnout level.
The alternate scenario, and one that I focus more on, is that any natural uptick in turnout that is more balanced would naturally favor Democrats and, plausibly, Democratic-favored issues on the ballot. This is what we see in a number of legislative districts, including my own HD137. Depending on your vocabulary, you might suggest that some areas just have more “low propensity voters” who only seem to turnout for Presidential years. In the case of Harris County, and its relatively high share of renters (and largely apartment-dwelling), I’m not convinced that vocabulary fits since it doesn’t make as much sense to target a voter in cases where they’re likely to move every couple of years. For whatever reasons one wishes to attribute to it, however, folks like me who live in an apartment just don’t vote on an annual basis compared to, say, a homeowner in Kingwood.
So, since we may be headed to a point where we are holding a city election in a Governor-year election cycle, what does the electorate look like? And while we’re at it, why not see how they behave in Presidential years, as well?
The way I measure this is to look at the individualized score that the Voter Activation Network has on voters. I’ve used that data in 2010 and 2012 to see what Early Voting voters look like and the results have been incredibly useful. The folks at ProPublica give an overview of the algorithm fun. My nickel version is that it’s a 100-point scale of how likely you are to vote Democratic (whatever you take that to mean). For the record, my score is a 93 (up from an 85 in 2012!).
There are several grains of salt to take with the level of precision this gets you. When I crunched numbers in 2012, I operated on an assumption that the results were about 1.5-2.0 points skewed in favor of Dems and factored that accordingly. I can’t say that I’ve spent enough time with the recent data to see if it’s gotten better or worse. For the time being, I’ll just say that I do like using these results as a “darn good approximation.”
That said, here’s how each district stacks up in terms of “Pro-Democratic” levels of support:
Democratic support by Voters in Houston City Council District2013 Voters 2012 Voters 2010 Voters ----------- ----------- ----------- a - 42.28 51.49 46.17 b - 91.20 c - 51.63 49.04 47.99 d - 85.85 e - 29.16 f - 55.81 65.78 61.86 g - 27.70 h - 77.37 i - 78.06 j - 56.29 67.61 62.63 k - 71.01* COH/Harris: 56.43 59.99 56.13
One obvious caveat here is that I only look at the City of Houston results within Harris County. That makes quite a different in District K, which has about a third of it’s population/voters in Fort Bend County. Likewise, District F has a negligible impact from a small number of Fort Bend voters.
I then opted to look at the closest things to “swing districts” and decided to crunch the results for 2012 voters within the district and 2010 voters within the district. This introduces another cavaet: the further back you go with VAN data, the cloudier the picture gets. Voters move, voters drop out of the database, there are imperfections in the data. Still, the results are informative, even if they’re not 100% scientifically precise.
One final, bigger caveat is that not everyone that turns out votes in every contest. We see this a lot in non-Mayoral contests, with anywhere from 10-25% of the turnout not casting a ballot in some races. And there’s no way to capture who does and doesn’t cast a vote in an individual contest. So we fly blind on that count. In the case of what might be a hotly-contested HERO referendum, I somehow suspect that we’ll see single-digit dropoff if and when it’s all said and done.
The results confirm my belief that if you want to see a very different City Council, try holding it in a Presidential year. District A would be a ripe candidate for a more progressive candidate. And while District F is already Democratic-leaning, it would be a significantly less questionable proposition for a Dem-leaning candidate. District J overlaps quite a bit with my more familiar HD137 and the amount of swing from city-cycle to any other cycle gives some evidence to what happens when more voters vote.
Ellen Cohen’s District C is the one district hanging in the balance, going from one side of the razor’s edge to another. But even here, there’s more to consider: namely, are the Republicans here as angry about gay folk as Jared Woodfill is hoping the rest of the city is? I’m not inclined to believe they are. But it’s definitely worth watching to see the results within that district.
The citywide total is also calculated (again, not including Fort Bend, but also not including the negligible amount of voters in Montgomery County). I’m not sure how instructive that will be since the bigger battleground for Team Woodfill is going to be to see how many African-American votes they think they can peel off.
Among the datapoints we have for what that will get for the repeal effort are the recent efforts to either institute gay marriage bans or repeal gay marriage laws:
When California voted for a gay marriage ban in 2008, 70 percent of African Americans voted for it, and when North Carolina overwhelmingly passed a similar measure earlier this year, many cited the black vote as a big reason. (Shortly after the ban passed in North Carolina, President Obama came out in favor of gay marriage.)
On Tuesday in Maryland, though, 46 percent of African Americans supported gay marriage. And according to national exit polls, 52 percent of both black and Latino voters who turned out Tuesday said they support gay marriage in their states.
(The largest shift came from black women, of which 59 percent now support gay marriage, compared to 42 percent of black men — a huge gender gap.)
That’s a big turnaround from recent years. In 2008 and 2009, a Pew Research Center survey showed just 28 percent of African Americans and 39 percent of Latinos backed gay marriage. And by 2010, support in those communities was rising slower than it was among whites.
The exit polls suggest both groups have now moved in large numbers toward supporting gay marriage. Their shifts may not be bigger than other demographics, but the fact that they are shifting at all (after sticking to their opposition) is what’s really significant here.
The make-believe scare tactics over bathrooms aren’t exactly the same thing. If we end up with a vote in November, I suspect we’ll have an idea of just how different an animal we have in this case. Just as well, if the goal is to actually repeal the ordinance, aiming for a vote in an odd-numbered year might have been more beneficial to opponents of the ordinance.