Projecting Partisan Change Deep in the Heart of Texas

By Tiffany Cartwright Ph.D., and Tyler Young, Ed.D. candidate, Department of Political Science, Collin College

Almost every political pundit in the country has made their bet as to whether Texas will soon become a battleground state. Texas has gone for the Republican candidate in every presidential election since 1980. If Texas were to become a swing state, with its thirty-eight electoral votes, presidential candidates would want to start dusting off their old hats, breaking in their cowboy boots, and opening up their wallets to cover the twenty television markets in this vast state. In regards to presidential elections, the possible Republican loss of Texas’ 38 electoral votes (or 14% of what one needs to get to 270) would require the GOP to pick up the swing states of Ohio (18), Virginia (13), and Nevada (6) just to mitigate the damage of losing that one state. If Texas’ population continues to grow steadily as it has for decades, its share of the electoral college vote will only grow with it.

Figure 1. Percentage of U.S. Population Residing in Texas, source: U.S. Census Bureau Cartwright figure 1

The main contributors to the growth of the Texas population come from foreign-born Latino migrants and a steady stream of in-migration, about 200,000 people every year for the last ten years, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. It’s also worth noting that Texas currently has the third highest birth rate in the nation (The Center for Disease Control and Prevention, National Vital Statistics Report, 2012). By 2020, it’s estimated that the Hispanic population will be the largest demographic group in Texas. By 2050, the Hispanic population will outnumber the non-Hispanic white population by a margin of over two-to-one. These estimates are fairly conservative, as they are from the 0.5 migration scenario determined by the Texas State Demographer’s Office, which estimates that in the future, Texas will experience only half the migration it experienced from 2000-2010.

Figure 2. Texas Population Projection by Race and Ethnicity, source: Office of the Texas State Demographer Cartwright figure 2

In order to determine the future partisan make-up of Texas, we use population projection data from the Texas State Demographer’s Office and data from the University of Texas/Texas Tribune February 2015 survey, which provides us with a view of the current partisan breakdown of Texans by demographic groups. We then use that partisan breakdown to forecast partisanship trends employing the estimated changes in demographics from the population projections. This, of course, assumes that party identification within each demographic group remains the same over the next several decades, with neither party making significant inroads in attracting new voters. How well that assumption holds up would depend on the parties themselves and their willingness to adjust to future circumstances, as they are surely capable of noticing demographic trends. However, as Green, Palmquist, and Schickler (2002, p. 83) note, party identification does tend to be stable even over long periods of time. Even if a party were committed to expanding its base, they may not have the capacity to do so (Green, Palmquist, & Schickler, 2002, p. 228). Looking at this data, we can see that, largely because of the growth of the Hispanic population, Democrats are projected to outnumber Republicans as soon as 2020, though only by about 6%, which could make Texas a swing state in the near future. That margin is expected to grow steadily to 10% by 2050, potentially making Texas a solid blue state.

Figure 3. Projection of Partisan Identification for Texas, source: Office of the Texas State Demographer (Potter & Hoque, 2013) and the Texas Politics Project at the University of Texas/Texas Tribune, February 6-16, 2015 survey cartwright figure 3

Table 1. Projection of Partisan Identification for Texas by Race and Ethnicity, source: Office of the Texas State Demographer (Potter & Hoque, 2013) and the University of Texas/Texas Tribune Poll, February 6-16, 2015 Cartwright Table1

These trends do not necessarily indicate that we would immediately notice a change in election results. In the last few decades, reported turnout among Hispanic voters is about half that of white or black voters in Texas. It has been well established that those with more education and higher incomes are more likely to vote (Campbell, Converse, Miller, & Stokes, 1960) (Wolfinger & Rosenstone, 1980).

Figure 4. Reported Vote for Whites, Blacks, and Hispanics, for Texas and the United States, source: U.S. Census Bureau Cartwright figure 4

When it comes to income and education in Texas, there are still persistent gaps. In 2012, Hispanic families in Texas earned just 52% of what white families did (Jillson, 2015, p. 104), and poverty rates among Hispanic families were over three times that of white families (Jillson, 2015, p. 110). While about 91% of whites in Texas have a high school diploma, that number is only 57% amongst Hispanics (Jillson, 2015, p. 138). SAT and ACT scores in Texas have shown to be consistently higher among white students than among Hispanic students (Jillson, 2015, pp. 140-141). The positive news on the educational front is that these gaps have been closing, though for now, it may suggest that voter turnout rates could struggle to gain momentum. This could only increase the importance of voter registration drives and “get out the vote” efforts on behalf of both parties. That being said, even low turnout rates among a very large population of Hispanic voters in Texas could be felt very soon in presidential elections, which might push the GOP to reconsider its current issue positions, messaging, and voter outreach strategies if it wants to have a chance of winning presidential elections in the future. One point that has been missing from this discussion is the important role that women could play. According to the University of Texas/Texas Tribune February 2015 survey, about 47% of Texas women identify with the Democratic Party, 44% with the Republican Party, and about 9% as independents. Compare this to about 40% of men who identify as Democrats, 47% as Republicans, and 9% as independents. This gender gap in Texas is consistent with the persistent national partisan gender gap (Box-Steffensmeier, De Boef, & Lin, 2004), and it becomes more significant because, since the 1984 presidential election, there has been a growing gap in the reported turnout rates of men and women. While the Democratic Party may not see immediate returns at the ballot box from the growth of the Hispanic population in Texas, the growing gender gap would lean more in their favor since, like everything else, the gender gap is bigger in Texas.

Figure 5. Reported Vote by Gender, for Texas and the United States, source: U.S. Census Bureau Cartwright figure 5

Let’s not forget that Texas Democrats have not won a statewide election in over twenty years. For Texas to turn blue, there would need to be a significant shift rather than just another partisan realignment, and it appears that shift is coming in the form of substantial demographic change.

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One thought on “Projecting Partisan Change Deep in the Heart of Texas

  1. Pingback: Blue Texas May Be Nearer Than You Think | Frankly Curious

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