Setting aside for the moment the disputed legality and good faith of the recent bid to get Green Party candidates on the ballot for the 2010 general election, how much potential to the Greens have to seriously cut into the Democratic vote for governor? The composition of the gubernatorial preferences in the UT/Texas Tribune polling thus far suggests that, practically speaking, the potential drain is probably pretty small.
The most likely place to look for potential Green support is among the voters who were either undecided (15 percent) or signaled they preferred "someone else" (7 percent) in the gubernatorial match-up. If we consider the "don't knows" and "someone elses" together and look at the crosstabs on a 7-point ideology scale (1 being very liberal, 7 being very conservative), there doesn't appear to be a significant wellspring of potential support on the liberal end of the spectrum. Theoretically, such a wellspring that would default to White but seems poised to leap toward a more liberal (Green) alternative; in fact, the conservatives seem more tentative than the liberals.
The areas of the electorate with the most Green potential just aren't very populated. Overall, self-identified liberals of any intensity only make up 12 percent of the uncommitted vote in our sample. Conservatives, on the other hand, make up almost half of the uncommitted bloc (49 percent). Part of the explanation here is the fact that there are lot more self-identified conservatives than liberals in the state, of course. But intensity of support may be a factor too. In our 2010 pre-primary poll, White voters where more strongly supportive of their candidate than Perry voters, and the Republican primary was more hard fought and more divisive than the Democratic primary by a long shot. So it's no suprise that we might still see some lingering effects of the primary fight among conservatives in polling on the general election race in May.
Drilling down further into the numbers doesn't make the sentiment any Greener. Only 7 percent of those of the most liberal aren't committed to one of the candidates, while 11 percent of the most conservative are up for grabs; the strong liberal and strong conservative (2 and 6 on the spectrum, respectively) also show a slight conservative edge: 17 percent liberal versus 19 percent conservative.
A bigger difference between liberals and conservative appears as we approach the middle. In the range of 3 to 5 — call it the range encompassing somewhat liberal, moderate, and somewhat conservative — the liberals remain largely committed to one of the major candidates while the moderates and somewhat conservatives get considerably squishier. Only 13 percent of the somewhat liberal are in the uncommitted category, but 32 percent of the moderates and 33 percent of the somewhat conservative are uncommitted. It seems a pretty safe bet that the center-right is not the most fertile area for harvesting Greens, even with the environmental disaster in the Gulf of Mexico. (It also seems unlikely that an as-yet-theoretical statewide Green candidate — who had to rely on the cynical efforts of outside forces to even qualify to be on the ballot — would be able to mount a viable campaign even if environmental calamity did somehow turn voting Texans against oil in a way that translated into a problem for the incumbent party.)
To be clear, the partisan landscape of the electorate has nothing to do with either the legality or the good faith (or lack thereof) of the effort by actors outside of Texas with a history of Republican partisanship to get the Greens on the ballot. And with Democratic candidates running between 9 (governor) and 19 (AG) points behind Republican candidates statewide in our last poll, the last thing Democrats need is to have to consider losing another point or two to a Green here and there. But the numbers suggest that the sudden, externally engineered presence of the Green Party on the ballot is unlikely to be a decisive drag on Democratic candidates unless the statewide contests are extremely close. If it comes to that, all of our present assumptions about normal politics in Texas will be out the window anyway.
This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune at http://www.texastribune.org/2010/06/11/will-the-greens-take-votes-from-the-democrats/.