Decision 2018: Reading the Texas Tea Leaves

Primary season for the 2018 midterms has begun with the conclusion of last night’s Texas primary. While these were party primaries (as opposed to general elections), there are aspects to the primary results (from a turnout perspective) that both Democrats and Republicans can spin in their favor.

Is a Democratic wave forming?

Throughout early voting, the media was hyping increased Democratic early vote turnout in the 15 largest counties (which was the only early voting data publicly available from the Texas Secretary of State), where 53% chose a Democratic ballot. However, those 15 counties only represented 65% of the total early vote cast. In the remaining 239 counties (Texas has 254 counties) whose early voting turnout was not reported anywhere, Republicans received 79% of the early vote. Overall, 59% of early voters chose a Republican ballot. On Election Day, 61% did.

However, while Texas primary voters chose to vote Republican in the primary, it is comparisons to turnouts in previous midterm election that give Democrats some hope, particularly regarding retaking the US House of Representatives this fall. Because while Republicans represented 60% of the total primary electorate, they were 71% in 2014 and 69% in 2010. In other words, relative to the last midterm election cycle (2014), Democratic turnout increased 87%, awhile Republican turnout increased 15%.

(UPDATED 3/8 PM) Furthermore, it is where Democratic turnout surged that should give Republicans concern. In three Republican held seats in Dallas, Houston (in a seat once held by George H.W. Bush), and San Antonio/West Texas, Hillary Clinton exceeded Democratic norms in her 2016 race, yet they also re-elected their Republican Congressmen. Since then, President Trump has not been strong with affluent/white collar/Hispanic constituencies that are present in these three districts, and it’s worth noting that in those three Congressional districts, Democrats received 51% of the primary vote (only 30% participated in the Democratic primary in 2014), and if marginal seats like these flip, Democrats have a path to a House majority.

JMC’s “Lay of the Land”  (March 7, 2018 version)

While only Texas has conducted its primary thus far, 13 states representing 30% of House seats have concluded their candidate filing, and it is here where there is additional evidence of heightened Democratic enthusiasm: 86 of 87 (99%) Republicans in those states have Democratic opposition, while 37 out of 45 Democrats (82%) have a Republican opponent.

For the remainder of the month, 13 more states representing another 32% of House seats will complete Congressional filing. And there are two more elections worth watching: Illinois’ primary is in 2 weeks, and its worth watching to see whether the Democratic surge in turnout in Texas continues. Also, there is a congressional special election in the outer suburbs of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania next Tuesday. The Democrats have nominated a more moderate candidate (and former Marine), while the Republican proclaims that he “was Trump before Trump was Trump.” And in this 58-38% Trump district, Republicans can ill afford to lose seats like this if they want to retain control of the House in November. Recent polling shows the race trending in the Democrats’ direction.


The nation’s first primary in Texas provides some evidence of increased Democratic enthusiasm, although that enthusiasm is highly concentrated. Still, where that enthusiasm is concentrated can make the difference in control of the US House this fall.