The spate of House Republican retirements in Texas has gotten people thinking again about Texas’ political trajectory. How seriously should we take this?
Certainly one should take this seriously as a big boost to Democrats’ chance of retaining control of the House in 2020. But what about winning a statewide race in Texas in 2020, particularly of course in the Presidential race? This is still a very heavy lift though these developments should remind us that Texas is rapidly changing in this era, so such a result is no longer out of the question. As Sean Trende, the election analyst for the conservative RCP site, and one uninclined to pump up Democrats’ chances, recently tweeted:
“People grossly oversold GOP vulnerability in TX pre-Trump and are grossly underselling it now. Texas is an overwhelmingly urban/suburban state, so GOP weakening in the suburbs is felt disproportionately in TX. It could go blue, quickly, under this current configuration.
People really underestimate how many people live in rural/small town areas east of the hundredth meridian (so wi, oh get redder), and overestimate how many live west of it (tx, az get bluer)”
Trende’s point is underscored by data from University of Houston professors Renee Cross and Richard Murray:
“Metro Texas and the state’s outlying Anglo counties were similar in both demographics and partisan voting patterns for most of the latter half of the 20th century, even as high birth rates and migration from elsewhere in Texas and nearby states propelled urban growth after World War II.
Those metro counties boomed in the 1990s, a trend that has only accelerated. Between 2010 and 2018, the 27 metro counties added almost 3 million people, compared to just 375,000 for the 199 non-metro, non-bordercounties — growth that profoundly altered the demographic makeup of the state’s metropolitan areas. Anglo growth slowed as birth rates dropped and migration from elsewhere in Texas and neighboring states slowed; metro growth now is driven by international immigration and higher birth rates among non-Anglo urban residents…
Republicans are now a clear minority in the large metro areas of Texas.
The shift is illustrated by Fort Bend County, a suburban area southwest of Houston with large Latino, Asian American and African American populations. Mitt Romney defeated President Obama there by 15,000 votes in 2012, and all local Republicans easily won election. In 2016, Trump lost Fort Bend by 18,000 votes. In 2018, O’Rourke topped Cruz by 31,000 votes, and all 10 Republicans in contested countywide elections were defeated.
What does this mean for 2020? Metropolitan growth in Texas will certainly continue, along with its ever-growing share of the vote — 68% of the vote in 2016. And the latest census estimates suggest the Latino population is increasingly choosing to live in metro areas. Expect a growing difference in how metro Texas votes compared with the outlying counties.”
So, could this really happen in 2020? Well, a lot of things would have to go right. Clinton lost Texas by 9 points in 2016. Ongoing demographic change should knock that deficit down to about 7.4 points in 2020, even if all other voting behavior remains the same. Then if Democrats managed a big margin swing in their favor (15 points) among Hispanic, Asian and other race voters, that should bring the deficit down further to around 3.2 points. Then you are in a position where some combination of increased support among whites (college or noncollege, but likely mostly college) and stronger Latino turnout could put the Democratic candidate over the line.
That’s a lot of “if”s. But it is no longer out of the question.