For years Democrats have planned and hoped to turn Texas, the reddest of red states, purple. The Republican sweep of statewide offices in 2014 and its continuing domination of all branches and levels of state government may make the Democrats’ hopes look like a fantasy. But data from the 2016 presidential election may indicate that the Democrats’ dreams may not be so impossible after all.
For the eleventh consecutive presidential election since 1980, the Republican presidential nominee has carried Texas. Yet Donald Trump’s share of the popular vote, 52%, is the lowest won by any Republican since President Gerald Ford lost Texas with 48% of the vote to Jimmy Carter in 1976, and the lowest ever won by a winning Republican in Texas, other than Herbert Hoover in 1928. Moreover, Trump’s margin of victory in Texas over Hillary Clinton—9%, with other candidates winning 5% of the vote—is significantly smaller than Romney’s winning margin of 16% in 2012, McCain’s of 12% in 2008, and the winning margins in excess of 20% which George W. Bush achieved over John Kerrey and Al Gore in 2004 and 2000 respectively. Why so?
Part of the explanation for Trump’s showing may be that he, as a person, was less appealing than either Reagan, or the Bushes, or even Mitt Romney or John McCain. But Texas’s changing demographics may also supply part of the explanation as well.
Of the three major voting groups in Texas, Anglos are overwhelmingly Republican, while African Americans and Latinos are overwhelmingly Democratic. And true to form, 70% of Anglo voters supported Trump, while 61% of Latino voters and 85% of African American voters supported Clinton.
But the Republicans’ problem is that Texas’s Latino and African American populations are growing much more rapidly than Anglos. The African American population doubles once every 33 years and the Latino population doubles once every 25 years, while Anglos double only once every 50 years. Because of the slow Anglo growth rate, the Anglo percentage of the total population has shrunk from 62% to 41% since 1990, while the Latino share has surged from 26% to 42%. Fortunately for Republicans, about 62% of Texas’s voting age Anglos went to the polls in 2016, while only 40% of Latinos and 57% of African Americans did so. Had Latinos and African Americans voted at the same rate as Anglos, the election would have been much closer.
These changes in demography don’t spell immediate doom for the Texas GOP. No doubt they will elect most, if not all statewide offices in 2018, and win Texas’s presidential electoral votes again in 2020. Superior Anglo voter turnout, as well as the fact that most incumbent Texas office holders are Republican and incumbents usually win their re-election bids anyway, will keep Texas Republican for the near future.
But the long run prognosis for the GOP is not good. Times change. They always do. Once Texas was a one-party Democratic state; now it is Republican dominated. If the state can flip once, it can do so again, given that the Democrats’ natural supporters are growing far more rapidly in population than the Republicans’. The challenge for the GOP is to develop new ways to appeal to African Americans and especially Latinos. The challenge for the Democrats is to maintain their popularity with these voters while working to increase their turnout at the polls. Whichever party best meets its challenges will dominate Texas politics well into the twenty-first century. Whether each party, or either party, can do so remains to be seen.
Malcolm L. Cross has lived in Stephenville and taught politics and government at Tarleton since 1987. His political and civic activities include service on the Stephenville City Council (2000-2014) and on the Erath County Republican Executive Committee (1990 to the present). He was Mayor Pro Tem of Stephenville from 2008 to 2014. He is a member of St. Luke’s Episcopal Church and the Stephenville Rotary Club, and does volunteer work for the Boy Scouts of America. Views expressed in this column are his and do not reflect those of The Flash as a whole.