Analyzing Competitive Congressional Districts in Texas

By Yusuf Shafi

Contemporary political analysis often struggles to find accurate descriptors for the voting patterns of the Texas electorate. Some theorists believe Texas is entrenched as a red state, while others believe Texas has the capabilities to flip blue. In 2018, a blue wave swept across Texas giving Democrats a 47.97% turnout compared to the Republican voter turnout of 50.41%. Despite this, Democrats gained only 2 Congressional representatives, raising them to 13 seats out of the possible 36. Out of these 36 districts, 10 follow a competitive trending margin of victory between +0.01% R to +10.99% R. These 10 Congressional districts have been defined by authors James and Shepard as having a “very high” to “moderate” chance of flipping blue. While it may be difficult to predict specific trends in upcoming elections one thing is certain, voting patterns and trends are constantly changing.

For the purpose of this paper, I am hypothesizing that there will be statistical evidence indicating that competitive Republican districts will showcase moderate trends when compared to their non-competitive counterparts. In order to test this, I will compare the Trump Scores and legislative issues across all congressional districts in Texas in order to discover any moderate trends.

A plausible scenario for the political playbook of 2020 utilizes various means to capture undecided voters by abandoning partisan rhetoric and supporting moderate policy issues, especially in these 10 competitive districts. However, when looking at the statistical relationships between Republican and Democratic Congressional districts the data paints a very different picture. As it stands now, public data when analyzed through the lens of Texas officials demonstrates Republicans voting with the president. Inversely, Democrats are voting against him. Neither party has a baseline legislative issue that might define party status, instead, Congressional representatives focus on issues of local and personal importance.

With Democratic movements gaining momentum in Texas it would be reasonable to assume that Republican incumbents would adopt moderate policies. According to a study by Canes-Wrone and Cogan in the American Political Science Review, “a member’s probability of retaining office decreases as he offers more support for his party.” (Canes-Wrone and Cogan F). Following the conventional political theory reported by American Political Science Review, Republican incumbents in these 10 competitive districts should all possess decreasing conservative ideologies such as Trump Scores and Legislative Policies as the district gets more competitive.

Additionally, Republican incumbents should adopt independent campaigns employing rhetoric that separates candidates from the traditional Republican label. These Republican platforms would theoretically boost voter engagement by blurring ideology and individualism with partisan lines. Democratic candidates in competitive districts would follow suit with the adoption of centrist platforms in effort to appease the medium voter turnout.

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GovTrack.Us sorts the sponsored legislation of each respective Congressional representative by issue; when analyzing these issues in Texas, marginal relationships are found, however, the strength of these relationships fail to define statistically significant ‘Republican’ issues. For example, in the ten competitive Republican-held districts, ‘Armed Forces and National Security’ is a prominent issue in five districts, while ‘Health and Emergency Management’ are two independent issues in four districts (Table 2). Comparatively, ‘Health’ is a dominant issue in four out of thirteen Democratic districts (Table 3). No real statistical evidence indicates a ‘moderate’ or ‘conservative’ trend in each of these districts. Instead, the data frames these districts as independent zones with Republican Incumbents trying to replicate issues that are of importance to their own districts, rather than sponsoring policy that is strictly partisan.

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The Trump scores of each competitive Congressional district disputes any claim that Republican incumbents are seeking moderate policy stances in an effort to garner medium voter turnout. Instead, table 1 illustrates Republican incumbents in competitive districts voting with Trump in almost every instance, except in District 23. District 23 is ranked as the most competitive district in the state of Texas, with a R+ margin of 0.44%. In the 115th Congressional session, Republican incumbent Will Hurd held a near straight party vote with a Trump score of 94.80. In the 116th session, this changed, with Hurd’s trump score decreasing 34 points to the current score of 60.9. Recognizing that correlation does not equal causation the hypercompetitive nature of this district may have forced the Hurd to appeal to medium theory causing his decreasing Trump score over time.

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Looking at the nine other competitive Republican incumbent seats in Texas, the Trump scores range from 93 to 96 (Silver). No correlation between the election margins of the district and the Trump score of the incumbent is found. Trump scores within these competitive districts instead reflect a statistically similar range when compared to all Republican districts. If Republican incumbents were truly seeking to cultivate a moderate vote, decreasing Trump scores over time, as seen with Rep. Hurd would be the norm.

Will Hurd exists as an interesting anomaly in a deeply entrenched partisan party system. While Republican incumbents seek specific policy stances in Congress, none of these issues can be definitively defined as a ‘Republican’ or ‘Democratic’ issue. Instead, partisan lines are solidified by voting for the policy of presidential interest. While authors like Canes and Cogan suggest that competitive elections would trigger independent and moderate policy perspectives the data fails to provide sufficient evidence to verify this claim.

Issue stances of Republican incumbents demonstrates some evidence pointing towards independent campaigns, with specific interests that don’t follow a partisan binary. More research into these campaign strategies such as incumbent rhetoric, voter demographics, and party support needs to be extrapolated in order to formulate a conclusive statement.

While political theory often recognizes successful mobilization and persuasion strategies of campaigns the political playbook of 2020 has become increasingly difficult to quantify. Deeper case studies need to be performed in order to break down socio-psychological factors that might affect both voter turnout and political actions. Congressional incumbents are acting on partisan issues seemingly ignoring the moderate vote. Consequently, 2020 Congressional elections in Texas are shaping up to be unpredictable.

Works Cited

Bycoffe, Aaron and Silver, Nate. “Tracking Congress in the age of Trump.” FiveThirtyEight. FiveThirtyEight Politics. 07, April 2020 Web. 01, January 2020.

Canes-Wrone, Brandice. Cogan F., John. American Political Science Review, Vol 6. No 1. Out of Step, Out of Office: Electoral Accountability and House Members Voting. Web. 01, January 2020.

James, Allan and Shepard, Stevan. “Here’s who we think will win the 2020 elections in Texas.” Politico. Politico, 19 November 2019 Web. 01, January 2020.

“Congressional Report Cards 2019.” GovTrack, GovTrack.US.18, January 2020. Web. 01, January 2020.

“Election results 1982–2019.” Texas Secretary of State Ruth H Huges. Texas Secretary of State. 02, December 2019. Web. 01, January 2020.

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