What Accounts For Recent Sharp Decline In Success of Statewide Wet-Dry Elections?

The Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission's Strategic Plan 2011-2015 isn't due to the governor's office till tomorrow. But I noticed that the Austin American-Statesman just posted an excerpt relevant to our November 2 beer-and-wine referendum, in which writer Eric Dexheimer theorizes that a sharp decline in the success rates of local option elections may be due to "Texans become booze-weary." Which, I discovered after a call to TABC spokesperson Carolyn Beck, is not a theory to which the agency subscribes.

But first, a note about the numbers and that chart you see above.

Dexheimer writes that it indicates Texans have passed wet initiatives by "slim margins." So, naturally, you'd look at that 51.8 percent and think, Wow, we're in for a close election. But that's not what it means. It actually refers to the total number of wet-dry items on the ballot that passed statewide during the last fiscal year.

In other words: Dallas will have two items on the ballot -- one allowing the off-premise sale of beer and wine citywide, one allowing for the sale of alcohol in restaurants without the need for a membership. If one passes by a huge margin and the other fails by a slim margin, the TABC records that as a 50-percent success rate. Some cities, says Beck, may have put multiple items on the ballot at one time -- especially those that are completely dry -- "to see how far they can go, and if one passes out of three, that skews the numbers."

Which isn't to say these elections are slam-dunks. Far from it. It's just not a trend. Not yet. From the report:

During fiscal years 2004 through 2010, there have been 464 elections attempting to legalize some form of the sale of alcoholic beverages with an overall 75 percent success rate. In November 2007, two communities voted to prohibit the sale of alcoholic beverages. This was the first time a community prohibited the sale of alcoholic beverages since 1999.

Only 51 percent of the elections in FY 2010 were successful. In previous fiscal years, between 75 and 80 percent of elections to legalize the sale of alcohol were successful. It will be interesting to see if this trend continues in FY 2011.

Beck actually has a number of theories concerning the drop in numbers, among them: In recent years, elections were held in "communities where it was clear the majority would prefer to be wet," and when those passed, the numbers jumped. More recent elections, she says, might be taking place in parts of the state where they're "more divided."

She also says some communities that got "a little wetter" in recent years might have begun holding elections to "get a lot wetter," and when those failed, well, the numbers dropped. And her fourth theory: "It's not a trend at all, just an anomoly, and time will tell if it's something happening acoss the board. Because I don't know if that's really happening," she says, referring to Texans getting "booze-weary."

"The only evidence of people changing their mind is if they went wet and they're voting to go back dry," she says, "and we don't see that happening."

I have a draft of the report. I will post the final report tomorrow.

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Robert Wilonsky
Contact: Robert Wilonsky

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