The Geography of Winning in Texas


In case you haven’t noticed, Texas is huge.  You can drive for 12 hours and still be within one of its Congressional districts.  I know, because I’ve driven across it many times on IH-10.  The widespread geography of the Texas has important implications for how statewide campaigns should allocate resources throughout the state. 


One way to approach the question of resource allocation is to ascertain where the voters live.  By voters, I mean people who actually cast ballots in a recent election.  There are many more people registered to vote than there are people who cast ballots.  And there are even more people who are eligible to be registered but aren’t.  Here, I’m referring to only those who cast ballots in 2010 or 2012.

An examination of the Texas voter file by county reveals that 48% of the 2012 voters came from just eight counties. Within these eight counties sit just about every Texas city that a non-Texan could name: San Antonio, Austin, Houston, Dallas, Fort Worth, El Paso, Brownsville, and McAllen. If you’re a George Strait fan, you know all about Amarillo, but Amarillo didn’t make it onto this list.

Interestingly, when you look a bit more closely, you see that city living is not evenly distributed among the races & ethnic groups of Texas. Forty percent of the 2012 White voters live in the eight counties. In contrast, 64% of the 2012 Latino voters live in these counties.

It’s also important to note that Whites living in major cities are significantly more likely to support Democratic candidates compared to their non-city counterparts. Exit polls after the 2012 elections indicate that urban White supported President Obama at a rate of 37%, but statewide in 2008 he only won 26% of the White vote. In other words, President Obama is not very popular in Crawford, Texas. That’s putting it mildly. While there are Obama supporters outside of the major cities, you’d have to look long and hard to find one out there, so Democratic candidates would be wise to focus on turnout among Whites in those cities and their suburbs. This is particularly important in off year election cycles like 2014 because of the steep drop off of these White voters. In 2010, the number of White voters in the major cities was only 60% of the 2012 pool. Fortunately for Democrats, the city dwelling Whites are more likely to vote in off years than their non-city counterparts who only produced 53% of their 2012 voters in 2010.

Among Latinos, candidates face the opposite situation, since almost 2/3 of the 2012 voters live in the major cities. You would think that getting them to the polls would be like shooting fish in a barrel, but it doesn’t work this way, for a variety of reasons, which I’ll leave for a different blog post. In off years, the drop off among Latino voters doesn’t vary between the city Latinos and their non-city counterparts. Both groupings tend to only produce about 50% of their presidential cycle numbers in the off year election cycles. Of course, given their significantly higher support for Democratic candidates than Whites, and the relatively large share of the voters they comprise, this has devastating impacts on Democratic candidates. Exhibit A for this phenomenon would have to be the see-saw nightmare in the TX-23 that results in a Congressional District that is 60% People of Color being a competitive district.

The time for pegging Texas and Texan voters as cowboys living on a ranch is clearly over, much as some of us love our Lucchese boots (FYI-Jesus Ortega, my maternal grandfather, used to work for Lucchese as a craftsman before heading to CA to make custom shoes for rich folks). Today’s Texan voters are rounding up your children on Houston’s playgrounds instead of cattle on the open range. Yes, many of the San Antonio voters drive a pickup. But they’re more likely to use their truck to transport fishing gear to Port Aransas than crops to market. These urban Texans will form the core of the state’s Democratic majority, and if effectively targeted, motivated, and engaged by campaigns, will catapult Senator Davis into the governor’s office.

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