Hopefully, you are reading this while sprawled on a comfy couch after enjoying a delicious Thanksgiving feast and just before turning on the TV to catch the Dallas Cowboys football game. To pass the time, let’s play word association. I say Texas, you think ____? If you said, “the state that is exceeded only by California and Florida in the number of votes cast for Barack Obama in 2012 (3.3 million),” then you understand the Lone Star state better than most.
While Texas has its share of Tea Party activists, and some of its voters regularly elect real nutcases to represent the state (See the embarrassing statements by Congressman Louie Gohmert about terror babies or about how the Newtown tragedy could have been avoided if only the teachers had been armed, then see the definition of Gerrymandering), Texas is also home to several million reasonable voters of good will. And we know which way those people usually vote!
Texas often befuddles people from the rest of the US, especially those who are interested in politics. How can people who own over 5 firearms and attend church regularly elect Democrats? How can people who drive around in V8 Silverados care about the environment? And what’s with all those Mexican Americans who don’t speak Spanish? Well, I don’t have the space in this blog to even begin to explain away all of these oddities, but I will take a moment to try and dispel the idea that White Texans are all Bill O’Reilley fans.
One need only remember that almost all of the major cities in Texas have Democrats running the show to begin unravelling the false narrative that Whites, or Anglos, as we tend to call them in Texas don’t support Democrats. Not only do they help elect Democrats, in some cases these elected officials are not just Democrats, but actual progressives, like Mayor Julian Castro who ushered in anti-bias protections for gay and transgender people. What’s more, in the case of Houston, the largest city in the state, a gay woman serves as mayor and has been reelected with strong support. And Dallas voters elected Lupe Valdez, a Mexican American lesbian, as the county’s sheriff. Texas allows undocumented residents to attend its state universities at in-state tuition rates, unlike many other states with more progressive reputations. And the state guarantees entry to its flagship university, the University of Texas at Austin, to any student who graduates in the top 10% of her class, thereby providing a realistic path to one of the nation’s elite university for students from all economic and racial backgrounds. Not bad for a place that most Americans write off as a hotbed of ultra-conservatism, huh?
To what can we attribute the impetus behind these perhaps surprisingly left of center electoral outcomes? One possibility is that while nobody was watching, Texas somehow became the second-largest destination state for people moving within the US. Primarily driven by the relocation of numerous corporate headquarters and the establishment of new service and production sites, the migration to Texas is significant in both the numbers and the types of people moving into the state. In 2012, over a half-million people decided to pack their bags and make Texas their new home. And one of the largest groups of these new Texans came from California. In fact, Texas received more people from California than it sent in 2012. This transplanting of people from one of the most forward-thinking states in the nation can have a profound impact on the character of the state’s residents. This is especially true at the ballot box, when you consider the fact that Californians vote at a much higher rate than do Texans, especially Latinos.
As you’ve heard us say numerous times, the large and growing population of People of Color who are increasingly speaking out in the public square is another major reason for these progressive electoral accomplishments. But while the People of Color share of the votes cast in their elections was substantial, and when aggregated, they comprise almost 2/3 Dem votes cast in Texas, you can’t deny that many of those Obama votes came from White Texans. Indeed, White Texans cast 36% of the Dem votes in 2012, or about 1.2 million votes. That’s just about as many total votes that were cast for President Obama in Colorado by all race and ethnic groups combined. And one must remember that Colorado is a key swing state that, unlike Texas, was the target of heavy advertising and GOTV work by Democrats.
Recent surveys indicate that approximately 40% of the White voters in the state’s major cities voted for Barack Obama in 2012, which is in stark contrast to the 26% of Whites in the state overall who supported him in 2008. Approximately 40% of the state’s White registered voters reside in the urban centers, and it is within their ranks that we find this substantial and essential core segment of the Texas Democratic vote. Suffice it to say, the reality and the stereotype of White Texans do not match, and this is especially true of those who live in the major urban centers.
Fort Worth offers a good example of just how politically diverse the White population actually is. Ft. Worth is one of the “Whitest” of the 5 most populous cities and is Wendy Davis country. It is situated within Tarrant County. Davis’ Senate District 10 is located completely within Tarrant County, which is considered by many, including Nate Silver, to be the Texas bellwether county. If anything, it is actually a conservative bellwether, in that the demographics lean more White and less Black and Mexican American than the state overall.
Since the White vote is even more important there than in other parts of the state, Davis’ 2012 victory is a testament to the presence and participation of White voters who chose the unabashedly progressive Democratic female candidate over a very well-financed conservative Republican male candidate. What is impressive is that just a little over half of the White registered voters in Tarrant County are Democrats or Independents, yet she still managed to win about 35% of the White vote, meaning that she likely won at least a third of the White Independents’ support. With those kind of numbers, it’s difficult to hold on to outdated notions of what modern day Texan Whites are all about.
So, when the camera pans to the people packed into AT&T Stadium for the game today, take a close look. You just might find that you are looking at more Wendy Davis fans among the roaring crowd than you expected.
This native Texan will be eating her pecan pie in Washington this year, but I know that there are some steaming tamales with my name on them awaiting my arrival in December. Happy Thanksgiving, everyone! Go, Cowboys!