Texas is about to hear from a group of voters who skip the primaries but turn out for general elections. We have the Democrats, the Republicans and the Novembers.
In both parties, people who vote in November outnumber the people who vote in the primaries. In 2010, for example, nearly 5 million Texans — about 27 percent of the state’s adults — turned out for the general election in November. In March of that year, 1.5 million Texans turned out for the Republican primary and 680,548 voted in the Democratic primary.
The numbers are even more dramatic in years with presidential elections. The 2010 turnout in November was nearly twice the March turnout. In the 2012 presidential election, 2 million Texans voted in the primaries, while four times as many — almost eight million — voted in November.
This exercise would probably get you kicked out of a political science seminar, but if you assume that everyone who went to the polls in the 2010 Republican primary voted for Rick Perry for governor, and that the same was true for Democrats and their candidate, Bill White, you can get a rough idea of what the November voters did. The Republican vote grew by 1.3 million from March to November. The Democratic vote grew by 1.4 million — that many more people voted for the Democrat at the top of the ballot, White, than voted in the March Democratic primary. The March turnout was lopsided in favor of the GOP; the Democrats had a narrow edge among Texans who waited until November to vote.
Put another way, at least 46 percent of the Texans who voted for Perry in November 2010 did not vote in the Republican primary in March, and at least 68 percent of the Texans who voted for White that year did not vote in the Democratic primary.
Perry won the general election with 55 percent to White’s 42.3 percent. And unlike the Democrat, Perry had serious opposition in his primary election — U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison and Tea Party favorite Debra Medina — whose competitive presence probably increased the March turnout that year.
Some November voters pull the party lever, deciding to support all of the candidates from their party instead of picking and choosing as they go. It is impossible to know, without knowing how each voter voted, whether the straight-ticket voters tend to be the same people who turn out for party primaries in the spring.
A straight-ticket vote is, in effect, an endorsement of whatever your party’s voters decided in the primaries, kind of like saying each model in one car manufacturer’s line is better than every model in a competitor’s showroom. Straight tickets account for as much as 30 percent of the vote in some Texas counties.
In Texas, the straight ticket has lately been a boon to Republican candidates, but some of their pollsters are convinced that November voters are different from the primary voters and consider it foolish to rely on the party flag alone to carry their candidates to election wins.
“It depends on what issue is hot,” said Chris Perkins, whose firm, WPA Opinion Research, is polling for Republican candidates in Texas and other states. His Texas clients include Greg Abbott, the nominee for governor; Glenn Hegar, the comptroller nominee; and George P. Bush, the nominee for land commissioner.
Perkins said the November Republican candidates have a libertarian, limited government bent. “They describe themselves as independents and moderates, however, it’s the big-government issue that benefits the Republicans,” he said.
More Republicans than Democrats turned out for this year’s primaries, following the general pattern of recent years and also driven by competition. With Perry’s decision not to seek another term, Republicans crowded into races after the line of succession had been unblocked. Four current officeholders, for example, ran for lieutenant governor. Three ran for attorney general and four more for comptroller.
The Democratic primary was comparatively sleepy, with few statewide races competitive enough to catch the attention of all but the most civic-minded voters.
With fewer than seven weeks left between now and Election Day, Texas Democrats are hopeful that the November voters have something different to say, and that the turnout in March was not a demonstration of the relative strength of the state’s two major parties.