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Study shows Texas Democrats gain in ‘straight ticket’ voting

Tuesday, December 16, 2008 by Kimberly Reeves

Republicans finally are getting some competition on straight party ticket voting, according to an analysis of November election results completed by Peck Young, director of Austin Community College’s Center for Public Policy and Political Studies.

The center has analyzed straight ticket voting for 10 years. While 57 percent of Texans voted straight ticket during last month’s election, results also showed that Republicans showed the lowest percentage of straight ticket votes in a decade.

That surprised the center, which speculated that those first-time voters who came out for Democrat Barack Obama might be more inclined to split votes.  Instead, Democrats picked up some straight ticket voters, making those “swing votes” in the middle even more important for the Republicans to gain.

“Apparently, at least for this election cycle, straight ticket voting was a record majority of the votes cast, but it was so evenly divided, it was not decisive by itself,” Young said.  “The Republican victory in 2008 came not from control of straight ticket voting, but by the GOP’s overwhelming victory among swing voters.”

Young’s assessment is based on an analysis of voting trends in 47 counties in the state, which comprised roughly 83 percent of all the votes cast for president in Texas.

Young said Republicans are barely hanging onto their control of straight party ticket voting in the state. Part of that Young attributes to the fact that Texas was considered firmly “red” in the minds of the presidential campaign. While other states were blitzed with ads from both parties, it was a given that the state would go to McCain.

To vote straight ticket is to vote for a brand, regardless of candidate. The uptick in Democratic voting is an acknowledgement that more people are identifying the Democratic Party as the brand, or message, they prefer down the ballot.

“The good news for Democrats is that they are getting stronger in straight ticket voting. The Democratic brand is getting better,” Young said. “Republicans, however, continue to dominate and that probably won’t change until Democrats put up strong statewide candidates.”

On the other hand, Democrats have not won a statewide election since 1996. And, looking at the voting trends across the country, the party should have done better in Texas this election cycle. Republicans still hold onto a bare majority in the Texas House and Texas Senate. Every statewide elected official is a Republican. Even Rick Noriega – the highest profile Democratic candidate on the Texas ticket – failed to generate much in the way of either excitement or fund-raising against incumbent US Sen. John Cornyn.

So, with both Harris and Dallas counties turning blue, when should Democrats expect the scale to tip in their favor, possibly electing some statewide officials? Young said that date probably is still four years off, even though a strong candidate with name identity – say, a Bill White running for Governor or Ronnie Earle running for Attorney General – could generate some kind of buzz at the polls in Texas.

With redistricting ahead, it is still hard to say, Young said. If the tide turns, then it could take two or three election cycles to elect statewide Democrats.

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