Party non-binding propositions are like polling Texas on brisket – you’re likely to get a positive response.
Generally these propositions give guidance to party leaders and legislators about the direction of policy signal the policy preferences of each Party’s most active voters. Reading the tea leaves from these, however, can be difficult. These propositions are complicated and often packed with multiple issues. Consider 2018’s Proposition 5 for the Democrats:
Should every eligible Texan have the right to vote, made easier by automatic voter registration, the option to vote by mail, a state election holiday, and no corporate campaign influence, foreign interference, or illegal gerrymandering?
Phew. A lot going on there. Plus, these questions appear at the bottom of the ballot, so many voters are facing fatigue after spinning through dozens of state, legislative, local, and judicial races.
How did party voters in 2018 respond to these questions?
Democrats consistently voted through the end of the ballot, averaging just over 1 million votes for their 12 ballot propositions, the approximate number who voted in the U.S. Senate race. The lowest response rate was on Proposition 5 to create a national jobs program that found 1,038,433 voters, about 20,000 fewer than average.
Of the 12 propositions on the Democratic ballot, most all passed with 95% approval. These included the right to a healthy environment (99%), right to dignity and respect in business and public facilities (97%), the right to health care (95%), and economic security (96%). The lowest vote share was Proposition 8, affirming the right to affordable housing, including high speed internet (92%).
Most Republican voters also made their way all the way to the end of the ballot, averaging about 1.5 million votes (the same number as the primary voters who voted in the Senate race) in each of their 11 ballot propositions. Some propositions found more votes than others: Proposition 3 (electing the Speaker in secret) clocked in at 1,501,248 while Proposition 8 (capping property tax growth to 4%) came in at 1,540,776. Most voters are less aware (or concerned) with the selection of the Speaker, reducing the full vote share by 50,000 but still passing with 85%.
Most propositions, by design, pass. This was no different in 2018 on the Republican side: Banning toll roads (90%), requiring employers to screen new hires through E-Verify (90%), protecting the privacy of women and children in bathrooms (90%), and making vote fraud a felony (95%).
Despite agreement on most questions, some potentially important differences emerged. Two propositions were lower than the others. Consider Proposition 1 which netted 68% of the vote:
Texas should replace the property tax system with an
appropriate consumption tax equivalent.
The proposition hinted at expanded sales taxes to replace property taxes, but the terminology (“consumption tax”) may have thrown voters off. Although voters dislike property taxes more than any other tax, these taxes may be that the “devil you know is better than the devil you don’t” in the face of economic uncertainty. In either case, fewer Republicans approved.
Proposition 5 on education choice also only netted 79% of the vote, significantly lower than the others – it read:
Texas families should be empowered to choose from public,
private, charter, or homeschool options for their children’s
education, using tax credits or exemptions without government
constraints or intrusion.
Using public education funds for private schools is controversial, even within the Republican caucus. Same goes for tax credits for private schools. Most Republicans support the idea but a significant segment do not.
To be sure, these are minor differences and both passed with majority support, but the fact that they aren’t unanimously accepted by Republican primary voters – making them different than the Democrats – suggests some intra-party disagreements on taxes and education spending.