Here’s What It’ll Take To Turn Texas Blue


(Credit: The Economist.)

Could the great state of Texas turn blue?  That’s a question that’s been debated recently in the blogosphere, sparked by a Democratic move (“Battleground Texas”) to turn loose the data-mining and mobilization techniques that worked so well for President Obama in 2012 on the Lone Star state. Republicans, as they should,  certainly seem worried.  Greg Abbott, the Republican Attorney General in Texas, described Battleground Texas’ efforts in the following terms:

One thing that requires ongoing vigilance is the reality that the state of Texas is coming under a new assault, an assault far more dangerous than what the leader of North Korea threatened when he said he was going to add Austin, Texas, as one of the recipients of his nuclear weapons.

This outburst has only added to the effort’s credibility.

The theory of blue Texas relies heavily on the ongoing demographic transformation of the state.  Every year, there are relatively fewer white voters and relatively more minority voters, particularly Hispanics. According to recent CAP projections, white eligible voters in Texas will decline from 56 to 52 percent between 2012 and 2016, with a corresponding rise in minority voters primarily driven by Hispanics.

All else equal, this makes Texas only somewhat bluer, since the white vote in Texas remains overwhelmingly Republican. But when you expand the timeframe under consideration, the picture may look considerably darker for the GOP. In a New York Times column, Tom Edsall takes the projections out farther, relying on some work by political scientist Robert Stein.  According to Edsall, these projections suggest that the white share of eligible voters could be down to 35 percent by 2025 and the Hispanic share up as high as 44 percent.  If he’s right, getting to a blue Texas is no more complicated than simply waiting around for demographic change to take effect.

This projection should be taken with several grains of salt. As Nate Cohn points out, Edsall’s argument is based on very old (1995) Census state level projections (Census no longer does state level projections of race-ethnic change) and are not reliable at this point.  The state of Texas, however, does do such projections and they suggest a more moderate rate of change — ones that look fairly consistent, I might add, with the short-term projections CAP has done.  Instead of 35 percent white eligible voters and 44 percent Hispanic voters by 2025, these projections indicate that the highest level of change we are likely to see would produce 44 percent white eligibles and 37 percent Hispanic eligibles.  That’s still significant change, but not quite Edsall’s demographic slam-dunk.

Cohn also rightly notes that you can’t assume that the proportion of Hispanics among actual voters is going to match their proportion among eligible voters and, moreover, the rate of Democratic voting among whites in Texas is so low that it constitutes a huge barrier, even with demographic change, to a blue Texas.  In 2008, the white vote for Obama in Texas was only 26 percent and Cohn estimates that the white vote for Obama in Texas in 2012 could have been as low as 20 percent (there was no Texas exit poll this year so all we have for 2012 are estimates).

All this suggests to me that the quest for a blue Texas is going to have to be built on three pillars, only one of which is ongoing demographic change.  The other two are matching minority, particularly Hispanic, turnout to white turnout and elevating white support for Democrats.  In the latter area, if the Democrats can simply get their support to the 30 percent level — in other words, make the typical landslide among whites for the GOP just a little bit less of a landslide — they will be in a good position to stand on all three pillars and make their dream (and Greg Abbott’s nightmare) of a blue Texas come true.