Turning Texas Blue

THE EYES OF TEXAS ARE UPON YOU… Well, these days it seems like all eyes are upon Texas.  Just last week, I spoke to over 200 people in a packed room at the Center for American Progress Action Fund as part of a program called, Is Texas Turning Blue?  [You can watch a video of the presentation on the CAP Action Fund website].


In my remarks I noted that if we’d all been paying attention to the political potential of Texas and investing in the state ten years ago, Texas could already be Blue. In other words, the numbers are already there to support a solid Democratic majority at the statewide level in 2014 and beyond. The analysis that follows uses 2008 data since there is no comparable 2012 data for Texas.

I'VE GOT FRIENDS IN LOW VOTER PARTICIPATION PLACES. Texas has one of the lowest voter participation rates of any state in the country. This holds true regardless of race or ethnicity. To illustrate, even Latinos, whose voter participation rates are notoriously lower than those of Whites, have voted at a higher rate in California than did Whites in Texas in recent years.

Within the state, Texas has a high voter participation gap between Latinos & Asians, on the one hand, and Whites & Blacks on the other hand. In 2008, Latinos comprised 30% of the eligible voters but only 20% of the ballots cast. This is in stark contrast to Black voters, who comprised 12% of the eligible voters but cast 14% of the ballots in 2008.

MORE RED THAN BLUE FOR SOME, MORE BLUE THAN RED FOR OTHERS. Texas also has one of the lowest rates of Whites supporting Democrats in the country. In 2008, Obama received only 26% of the White vote. Nationally, he received 43% of the White vote. And the support shown for Democrats by Texas Latinos (63%) is significantly lower than that of other heavily Mexican American states such as New Mexico (69%) or California (74%).

IF WE KNEW THEN WHAT WE KNOW NOW. Unfortunately, while many of us had in fact been arguing about the potential in places like Texas years ago, it fell on deaf ears. That said, had critical investments into the Texas political infrastructure been made by Democrats a decade ago, we could very well be looking at Texas as the Ohio of today.

Assuming these investments had been made in increasing Latino turnout rates, and in targeting the progressive White population instead of trying to pick off White swing voters, we could be looking at more of a 50/50 political balance of power in Texas today. Had we made those investments, our task now would be to hold the gains we’d made while letting demographic shifts slowly solidify the Democratic advantage until it was set it stone for decades.

Here is how we move from a 55% Republican/44% Democratic split in Texas to a 51% Democratic/49% Republican split:

  • By increasing Latino turnout to rates comparable to Blacks (65%); and
  • By increasing Asian turnout to rates comparable to Blacks (65%); and
  • By contesting the Republicans for would-be progressive White voters sufficiently to garner 30% support for Democrats instead of the paltry 26% we currently win (hat is still 13 points lower than the national White support level); and
  • Increasing the share of Latinos supporting Democrats from 63% to 70%; and
  • Increasing the share of Asians supporting Democrats from 60% to 65%.

Of course, there are many other permutations of this, but they all lead to the same conclusion: There is enough support within the state for the emergence of a Democratic majority. But all roads to a Blue Texas run through the Mexican American electorate, who currently aren’t representing at the ballot box. Survey research I’ve conducted shows that amongst the reasons Latinos don’t vote is a feeling of futility. This is likely true amongst Whites not voting as well. And it’s something intelligent messaging and branding strategies can turn around. What’s more, in the process of expanding the number of people voting, survey research among registered Latinos indicates that we are likely to be bringing a more progressive set of voters into the game.

WIPE UP THE SPILLED MILK AND GET TO WORK. The most important work in Texas today is to make accurate assessments of our assets and our challenges, and to then take decisive action. Tune in to future Political Intelligence for insights into what those actions should be!