Straight party voting continues to impact Congressional elections

Presidential elections get people to the polls, and once they're there, they often vote straight down the party line. Graphic by Emileé Edwards | Photographer

By Sarah Pinkerton | Staff Writer

As early voting continues, the race isn’t only between President Donald Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden. Votes for the Senate and the U.S. House of Representatives continue as well, among other races on the same ballot.

However, the likelihood that someone will vote straight down their party line on the ballot has been increasing in the last 20 to 30 years, Dr. Patrick Flavin, associate professor of political science, said.

This is the first election in Texas where voters cannot vote straight-party down the ballot with one click of a button. They must individually choose each candidate.

Flavin said that in the past, enough split ticket voting has occurred to where only 10-20% of congressional districts voted one way for President and the other way for the U.S. House of Representatives.

“Today, that’s dwindled down to around 20 districts or something like that,” Flavin said. “And if you look at the Senate in 2016, there wasn’t a single state that voted President for one party and Senate for the other party.”

Flavin said that the 2020 election could look the same. For example, the Democratic candidate in the Georgia Senate race could win the seat if Biden does well on that ballot.

“How well Joe Biden does in some of the close senate race states is going to have a big effect on the senate results as well,” Flavin said.

According to FiveThirtyEight, the Democratic Party is currently leading in Congressional votes at 49.4% compared to the Republican Party’s 42.0%.

In comparison, according to The Guardian, Biden is also leading in national polls at 51.9% compared to Donald Trump’s 42.0%, showing a potential correlation between congressional voting and presidential voting.

A total of 35 of the 100 seats on the U.S. Senate are up for election on November 3rd, including two special senate elections in Arizona and Georgia.

Republicans currently hold the majority in the senate with 53 seats while Democrats hold 47 seats. Dr. David Bridge, associate professor of political science and undergraduate program director said that the Democrats are particularly interested in flipping the senate during this election.

“If you look at some of Biden’s yard signs, they’re very clever,” Bridge said. “They say vote Democrat all the way down the ticket, and so I think it’s something that he’s really trying to get people to do.”

In addition, all 435 seats of the U.S. House of Representatives will be up for election. Democrats have a lead in the House with 232 seats while Republicans hold 197 seats.

According to BallotPedia, 9.4%, or 41 of the races, are battleground races. 20 of these 41 races have Democratic incumbents, 20 have Republican incumbents and one has a Libertarian incumbent.

Flavin said that while incumbent presidents will typically campaign with senate or house candidates, the determining factor is the approval rate of the president and the lean of the district or the state.

“There are some Republican candidates that would love to have Donald Trump come and campaign with them and be on stage, while there’s other candidates — take Colorado and really here in Texas — in the last couple days Sen. John Cornyn seems to be sort of distancing himself from President Trump,” Flavin said. “I think that’s because Texas is turning out to be more competitive than most though it would be.”

Flavin said that in more competitive states when the president’s approval ratings are lower, members of the president’s political party may not want his support.

“Whereas, if the president is very popular, then you’re likely to see that that would be something the candidates really benefit for it,” Flavin said. “So, right now it sort of depends on the lean of the district and in really deep red states and districts, the president is really viewed as an asset to the campaign — not so in swing states.”

Many state elections such as Railroad Commissioner, state Supreme Court, State Board of Education, State Senator, State Representative and judges and justices for Court of Appeals also appear on the ballot.

Local city and school elections are also on many ballots in Texas.

Bridge said that while people aren’t necessarily showing up to vote for local school boards, they will continue down the ballot with the same party for local elections when casting their presidential vote.

“It’s somewhat tragic,” Bridge said. “Because, in all likelihood, the races that affect most are the local elections and they’re just casting a ballot based on party and not based on real information.”

Cleburne sophomore Caleb Barkman also encourages students to focus on local elections.

Those are the ones that affect young people the most, really,” Barkman said. “National elections definitely influence young people probably a lot, but those local elections are what decide how much money your old high school gets or how much money your college even gets.”

Bridge said that he is anxious to see if the elimination of the ability to straight-ticket vote down one party line with one button will impact the turnout for lower level races.

“There’s real concern that there’s going to be a lot of, let’s call it, fall off, where people just stop voting because they get fatigued,” Bridge said. “We’ll see what happens.”