Monday, February 18, 2008

Texas: The Ground Rules

As I described in the live discussion group last week, Texas has a quirky set of delegate selection events on the Democratic side. [You can find the rundown of how the delegates are selected at The Green Papers. [I'll repeat them here shortly and then go a bit more in depth as to their potential impact.] The news has been slow to pick up on the intricacies of the Texas system, but as the Democratic primary/caucus approaches on March 4, scrutiny of the Lone Star state's contest increases. The Washington Post had a great article up this morning detailing the ins and outs of the upcoming primary/caucus (the real gem was the inclusion of the Texas Democratic party's delegate selection plan) and Will Lutz at the Dallas Blog seeks to set the record straight with a how-to from a Texan.

Here's the question though: How will these rules affect the race? First the primary. Of the 228 delegates at stake in Texas on the Democratic side, 126 will be allocated in the primary. As both the Post and The Green Papers describe, each of Texas' 31 state senate districts (Here's the map of those districts and here's the Senate's seating chart with partisan breakdown--20R to 11D.) have anywhere from 2 to 7 delegates each based on the number of votes the district provided the Democratic candidate for governor in 2006 and president in 2004 (4 delegates is the mode.). More support equals more delegates. On the upper end, the 13th district is an urban Houston district that is the lone district to receive 7 delegates. The 14th, which encompasses Austin gets 6 delegates as does the Dallas area's 23rd. As we've discussed, Obama tends to do well in population centers (and college towns), so these high end districts seem to be his territory.

The four districts with 5 delegates each is where things get interesting. Now we begin to introduce areas with high populations of Latinos like the 20th and 21st districts in south Texas. The other two 5 delegate districts, the 10th and the 26th represent urban areas; Dallas and San Antonio respectively. Clinton has won the states with the highest Hispanic populations (Arizona, California, Nevada and New Mexico) thus far, so to surmise that she'd do well in those south Texas districts isn't too much of a stretch (She did campaign there last week immediately following the Potomac primaries.). However, with Obama recently securing the endorsements of the SEIU and UFCW, unions with a large number of Hispanic members, he may see increased support among that demographic group. A couple of questions emerge from that:
1) How often do union members fall in line with the endorsements their unions make? Anecdotally, it seems that the timing of the endorsement has an effect (from The Caucus):
"The service employees’ chapters in Nevada and California endorsed Mr. Obama shortly before contests in those states. Nonetheless, Mrs. Clinton won both those states, with the union’s leaders saying that if they had made that endorsement several weeks, rather than several days, before those contests, that might have given them time to mount a campaign that made a big difference."
And that notion is backed up in the political science literature. Dark (1996) finds that the earlier the group endorsement and mobilization efforts are begun, the more successful those groups are in getting their rank-in-file members to coalesce behind the group's choice. Earlier, Rapoport, Stone and Abramowitz (1991) found that labor endorsements in particular had a significant effect upon union members' vote choices in three of the 1984 Democratic caucuses.

2) Are we beginning to see any differences between different generations of Hispanic voters? What I mean is, are there any differences between those Hispanic who are recently new to the US and those who represent the second or third generation of their family in the country (The difference could also be cast as one between those who are foreign born and those born in the US.)? As Barreto (2005) points out, the literature is rife with examinations of these differences. Further, he notes that those foreign born Hispanic are also poorer and less likely to turnout anyway. This question is a tough one to get at because there are so many cross-cutting issues that are involved in this race. Are these folks more likely to turnout since turnout has set records across the nation during these contests? Do young Latinos lean more towards Obama as they do in other racial groups? Do the US born Hispanics behave as the rest of Democratic voters have (evenly split between the two candidates)?

Back to the primary: The real battle here will be waged in the 17 districts that have four delegates apiece. The potential is there for Obama to again do well in population centers while Clinton does better in the more rural areas (or I suppose less populous areas).

Now what about the caucus? Texas has had this primary/caucus system in place since 1980 when the state held a non-binding primary in conjunction with the customary caucus. Typically Texas has not been in the spotlight (read consequential to the nomination), so the vote more often than not reflects the choice the previous contests had made. In 1988 however, there was a split between these two contests with Dukakis winning the primary and Jesse Jackson taking the caucus (*Note: I need to get a scan of the CQ map that shows this result. I also need to check to see if Jackson just won the first step of the caucus because it seems unlikely that when the Texas state convention was held later--after the nomination had been decided--that it would have gone against Dukakis.). Of course Dukakis got all the press coming out of the primary on that Super Tuesday.

What however, are the rules that govern this contest that is held virtually immediately following the close of polls in the state? The article from the Washington Post linked above is again instructive:

"The caucuses have also given rise to a separate concern, according to several top Texas Democrats interviewed last week. Because the state's Democratic Party has been out of power for years, leaders have struggled to find precinct chairs to oversee all of the 8,000 locations where caucuses will be held.

If it is time for the caucus and there is no precinct chair, party officials decided, the task of overseeing the vote will fall to the first person who collects the packet of materials used to run the caucus.

'The first person in the door picks it up and controls it,' said state Sen. Eliot Shapleigh, a Clinton supporter who represents the El Paso area. "So the rules are designed to create a race to the packet. You can imagine what that might look like."

Party officials said most of the duties involved in running the events are routine and are clearly spelled out in the rules provided. But there are instances in which the person chairing the event can influence the outcome, party officials said. For instance, the rules say that only people who vote March 4 can attend that evening's caucus events. If a caucusgoer says he voted but does not show up on the rolls, the organizer has the authority to include or dismiss him."

Obama's supporters have shown time and again this cycle that they are extremely disciplined caucus participants. Does that give him and his supporters in the Lone Star state the advantage? Yes and no. One would assume that that caucus success would continue, but on the other hand, the Clinton camp appears to be aware of the rules. As these things tend to do, it will come down to money and organization. Who the 67 delegates from these caucuses are won't be completely settled until the state convention on June 6-7 (by which time there may be another battle in Texas).

[UPDATE: See post on the implications of a Voting Rights Act-based challenges to the Texas delegate selection system.]


Robert said...

Great job! I appreciate all the work you are doing to keep me educated. The Clinton folks are complaining again by the split in delegate selection. Again, this points to their overconfidence that everything would be decided in their favor on or before Super Tuesday. The polls in Texas suggest that it will be very close. It is quite possible that we will have another case where she wins the primary, and he wins the delegate count. It is this calculus that is probably how the Obama camp say that she cannot catch up. Looking forward to tonight's results.

Josh Putnam said...

Yeah, it does look like the Clinton camp was too caught up in the Super Tuesday model of past nomination races. That Obama and his team foresaw this protracted battle for delegates again speaks to this notion of new politics vs. old politics (and who is adapting the most successfully). Sure, luck plays into that as well, but it is another notch in the Obama camp's belt as far as strategizing is concerned. They really know the rules.

The race in Texas certainly does seem to be tightening. Even if Clinton was way up though, one could see a scenario where the contest winner is opposed to the will of the people (popular vote). And that is another quirk that will have been brought to light by the competitiveness of this campaign. We only really ever see campaign effects when the race is close like this.

Yes, tonight should be fun. But then again, most of the Tuesdays since January 8 have been.

Robert said...


On the RCP website, they list the popular vote totals, I find it interesting that Obama has gained a few more total votes even if you add in the Florida and Michigan contests:

You can't get the same information on the Republican race.

I am going to need to learn how to highlight the websites like you do.

Josh said...

Yeah, Google shouldn't make people learn html code so a person can post a link in the comments. The bad thing is that I can't post the code in a comment because Blogger will read it as html. I'll have to put up a separate post to address the matter.

Here's that link.

Josh said...

Oops. No, that was the Democratic delegate count. Here's the link to the Democratic popular vote totals. Let the people be heard! Meanwhile the Clinton camp asks if Florida can count twice.

I just glanced at those totals without really thinking. Then it occurred to me that Obama wasn't even on the ballot in Michigan. So he gets zero votes out of the Great Lakes state and is still ahead of Clinton in the total votes. That really is something. Ah, here are the Michigan figures from The New York Times. See Clinton even got the second most votes that day behind McCain. That just goes to show you how damaging Obama's run since Super Tuesday has been to Clinton's campaign