The Texas Primary Paints a Muddled Picture for the General Election

Attention has focused on Texas this year, following Hillary Clinton’s competitive statewide performance there in 2016. A number of congressional Republican retirements and excitement surrounding Beto O’Rourke’s Senate campaign (against incumbent Ted Cruz) have led to increasing optimism among Democrats. This week’s primary drew a strong overall turnout, which on the surface plays into the hype, but a deeper look at the results reinforces the need for caution about expectations. Voting patterns were more consistent with traditional Democratic Performance than one might expect in a year that portends a massive shift in the state.

Statewide Turnout Favored the Republicans

With most of the votes counted, turnout in the primary favored Republicans to a greater extent than we expected. According to the early counts, 62.8 percent of U.S. Senate primary votes were cast on the Republican side, as opposed to 37.2 percent for O’Rourke and the other Democratic contenders. For Governor, 60.2 percent of the votes were cast for Governor Abbott and other Republicans, compared to 39.8 percent for the various Democrats. Without context this result is not surprising given Texas’ natural Republican advantage, but comparing turnout with the statewide Democratic Performance Index (DPI) of 42.5 percent, reason for concern emerges. Hillary Clinton amassed 45.3 percent in 2016.

Statewide Turnout Favors Republicans
Contest Republican Democrat Election Year DPI
2018 US Senate Primary 62.8% 37.2% 42.5%
2018 Governor Primary 60.2% 39.8% 42.5%
2016 President 54.7% 45.3% 43.8%
2012 President 58.0% 42.0% 41.9%

Congressional Turnout Shows Positives and Negatives

The results at the congressional level yielded surprises both negative and positive, showing that the state will likely be home to some highly competitive contests.

7th Congressional District

The 7th Congressional District has been the subject of mild controversy, which typically would lead to a higher turnout. But overall, turnout in the district favored the Republicans at a level consistent with past Democratic performance. Democrats cast 46.6 percent of the primary vote, which tracks closely to the district’s DPI (44.1%). If the climate in November favors the Democrats, we expect a close contest here in November.

21st Congressional District

The open-seat contest in Lamar Smith’s district drew an impressive turnout, with more than 133,00 votes. While this could still be an unexpectedly close contest in November, the Democrats’ 37.1 percent of the primary vote tracks closely with DPI (41.0%).

23rd Congressional District

The best news of the day came from the 23rd District, a top-tier target that Hillary Clinton carried in the 2016 general election. Primary turnout favored the Democrats (56.4%), well outpacing DPI (47.0%) and Hillary Clinton’s vote share (51.8%). We expect this district to be a prime pickup opportunity in the fall.

24th Congressional District

This district is looked at as a potential sleeper race, which could be competitive in an advantageous climate. Hillary Clinton received more than 46 percent of the vote here in 2016. Yesterday however, 40.5 percent of the total votes were cast in the Democratic primary.

32nd Congressional District

This is another potentially marginal seat with positive results for the Democrats. According to the preliminary numbers, 49.2 percent of the vote was cast in the Democratic primary, which almost reflects Hillary Clinton’s narrow victory in the district (51.0%).

Mixed Primary Results

Primary Results are Mixed in Competitive Congressional Districts
CD Democratic Primary Vote Share 2016 President 2018 DPI
TX-07 46.6% 50.7% 44.1%
TX-21 37.9% 44.8% 41.0%
TX-23 56.4% 51.8% 47.0%
TX-24 40.5% 46.7% 40.7%
TX-32 49.2% 51.0% 45.7%

The results in the upcoming congressional and the legislative runoffs will be another opportunity to assess the overall competitiveness of the Lone Star state, but for now we remain cautiously optimistic that the state holds opportunity in November.