Senate race heats up, voter turnout hits all-time high
Texas held the first primary election in the United States on March 6. Primary elections are where candidates at the municipal, state and federal levels are selected by voters in every jurisdiction in America to represent a party in general elections, including the presidential election.
“Before a candidate can compete with a competitor from another party, he or she must win the primary election against members of his or her party in a primary election,” Bianca Easterly, assistant professor of political science, said. “In the event no candidate receives an absolute majority (at least 50 percent of the vote), a runoff election is held between the two candidates receiving the largest number of votes.”
According to Gallup, Texas has shifted from a solid Republican, or “red” state, to a competitive “swing” state, meaning that Texas is no longer a guaranteed Republican vote like it has been in the past decade. This trend can be shown in the current U.S. Senate race between incumbent Sen. Ted Cruz and his challenger, Rep. Beto O’Rourke. Cruz received 85.3 percent of 1.5 million votes in the Republican primary, and O’Rourke received 61.8 percent of 1.03 million votes in the Democratic primary.
“It’s not surprising that voter turnout in the Republican primary is higher than the Democratic primary in Texas, but what is interesting is how many more Democratic voters participated in the primaries than they typically do in our state,” Easterly said. “Texas has an open primary system, which means that voters do not have to register with either party to participate, but you can only participate in one during the same election cycle — it’s difficult to know whether the numbers reflect party loyalty or support for candidates affiliated with a particular party.
“We will have a much better sense of what’s going on during the general election when one candidate is representing each party for each race. It’s been 15 years since Texas had a Democratic senator, so a win by O’Rourke would be monumental.”
Because Texas is no longer considered a deep red state, political pundits have been speculating whether or not Texas could “turn blue,” or lean more Democrat, in the midterm elections. Right now, Republicans hold 51 of 100 seats in the Senate, while Democrats hold 47, and Independents hold two. There will be a total of 33 seats (eight Republican, 23 Democrat and two Independent) open in Nov. 2018.
“There are two factors that determine whether flipping the seat will shift majority power to the Democratic Party in the Senate,” Easterly said. “Democrats and Independents would need to defend all 25 of their open seats and win two Republican seats to become the majority party (with 51 seats), so a potential win by O’Rourke would be significant, but its impact in national politics is dependent on how well Democrats do nationwide in November.”
Voter turnout was up from recent years, especially for Democrats, who had their highest number of voters in a midterm primary since 1994, according to the Texas Tribune. The website Vox reports that turnout doubled from 2014 and beat the 2016 presidential election turnout by four percent. Primaries are known to have lower turnout rates than presidential elections, but overall, voter turnout was steady. Republicans usually have higher voting turnouts, especially in early voting, and so far, 2018 is no different. Voter turnout nationwide is a mainstream issue that many politicians are trying to combat. Only 58 percent of eligible voters voted in the 2016 election, and Easterly said there’s a multitude of reasons as to why people don’t vote.
“First, voting requires political knowledge,” she said. “People will not believe they can affect government if they don’t know much about it. Second, voter identification laws make it difficult for some voters to have the necessary identification to vote. Third, voting takes time.
“Increasing electoral power means voters must spend more time learning about the candidates. The League of Women Voters voter guides are particularly useful in locating nonpartisan information about most candidates, but it is particularly difficult in judicial elections where little information is available about how the candidate adjudicates.
“Finally, our government doesn’t make voting easy. Some democracies hold elections on weekends or make Election Day a holiday which would undoubtedly improve voter turnout.”
Texas’ election results may show an overall trend in primary results to come, but Easterly said that the biggest change to occur so far in the 2018 election is who’s running for office.
“The ‘pink wave,’ as it’s called, is drawing a large class of Democratic hopefuls, particularly in red states,” she said. “According to the Center for American Women and Politics, more than 50 women ran for Congress and 110 Texan women sought local offices in the primaries. The fact that more than half of the congressional candidates won their primaries or advanced to runoffs is encouraging. Nationwide, women are not only interested in changing the balance of power in statehouses and Congress, they are eager to transform the role of women in politics.”
Primary elections are not always reliable indicators of what may or may not happen in succeeding Presidential Elections, and Easterly said that a lot can happen between now and November 2020.
“The general election may provide some insight about the 2020 Presidential election, but there are still far too many days between 2018 and Election Day 2020 to make any reliable predictions,” she said. “For example, Donald Trump didn’t announce his candidacy for the presidency until June 16, 2015, about a year and a half before the 2016 Presidential Election, so anything can happen between now and then.”
Story by Olivia Malick, UP staff writer