Politics are local, and if you doubt that, just take a look at the maps of Travis County’s Super Tuesday polling results.
Recall for a minute that Austin is one of the most economically segregated cities in America. That fact alone makes maps like these that show how precincts broke in Tuesday’s primary races very compelling.
Let’s take the Democrats first.
Who is “Feeling the Bern” in Travis County? Well, they are the folks living in the tight corridor between Interstate 35 and Mopac Boulevard. The same Austinites who are screaming the loudest about skyrocketing property taxes and rents. They are not as wealthy as their neighbors to the west — in West Lake Hills, Lost Creek and Steiner Ranch — who also grouse about their bills, but have more of a cushion to absorb the financial hit.
At the same time, the precincts that went for Sen. Bernie Sanders are also generally better educated and less ethnically diverse than their neighbors to the east, who appear to believe that Hillary Clinton is the better, safer bet.
And the economic realities don’t just apply to Democrats. Take a look at Travis County Republicans and you see a three-way split. Marco Rubio took Travis County to the tune of 29 percent with Ted Cruz coming in second with 28 percent — one big reason Travis County tracked differently than the rest of the state had to do with economics (and maybe a little bit of Democrats trying to damage Donald Trump by voting in the the opposite party primary according to anecdotal reports.)
Looking at the same precinct map on the Republican side, wealthier voters in the center city and increasingly gentrified areas of East Austin went for Rubio (plus Circle C, Westlake Hills and Lakeway) and Ted Cruz held strong with suburban voters from Pflugerville to Lago Vista. Trump’s constituency is in the less affluent corners of the county — the rural far northeast corner and the corridor along U.S. 183 between I-35 and the airport. The precinct that tied with Ted Cruz? Home to Circuit of the Americas. The one area that breaks the economic mold? Steiner Ranch which appears to be Trump country for reasons that are still unclear.
So how do such dynamics play out in local races? Just look at the Democratic race for Travis County commissioner in Precinct 1. The two front-runners, Jeff Travillion and Arthur Sampson are headed to a runoff in May, but the votes from this week are telling about where their base lies, especially in a race where all five candidates were African American men.
Travillion, a City of Austin division manager who is deeply connected and lives in Pflugerville, did well in the more diverse areas of the precinct, which have relatively higher incomes and and more education — Pflugerville, Manor and near East Austin. He and James Nortey, who lives in Mueller, were essentially fighting for the same voter, especially in the precincts closer to the heart of Austin which were more familiar with his neighborhood association work and efforts on the city’s planning commission.
Arthur Sampson did better in City of Austin neighborhoods that have not felt the effects of gentrification as strongly and are hungry for economic development that will not speed the exodus of African Americans from the city. They represent some of the poorest families in the city with the fewest college graduates. The third place candidate, Richard Franklin, succeeded in his home turf of Del Valle, where he is known for his work on the school board. It’s an area that is more than 60 percent Hispanic and relies the most heavily on Travis County for public safety and other services.
For those casting about trying to make sense of this crazy election cycle, some things have not changed. Voters still cast their ballots based on their common interests and the view is very different from where one sits on the wage and education spectrum. Clearly, Austin’s economic segregation in Austin can make it hard to see that other political point of view.