When Will Texas Turn Blue? Or Purple?

Dallas County has already gone Democratic in recent elections. Will the state soon follow suit? The expectation often repeated is that as Texas becomes a Hispanic majority state – which seems certain to happen sometime this decade – it will go blue. This is because Hispanic voters overwhelmingly favor the Democrats.

But the Texas Observer argues that the matter isn’t so simple, thanks to our state’s poor track record of voter turnout:

In 2010, the Houston Chronicle, considering the Bill White gubernatorial campaign in light of Latino population growth, asked: “Is this the year? The year that the state’s soon-to-be-majority minority group begins to exert the power and political influence reflective of its formidable numbers? The year that long-beleaguered Texas Democrats climb aboard the demographic express and ride out of the political wilderness?”

It was not the year. White and the rest of the Democratic slate got smashed. No Democrat has won a statewide race in Texas since 1994, a losing streak that encompasses 91 races. If Latino voters had turned out at anywhere near California’s rates, or even the national average, White might have had a chance.

In fact, if Texas Latinos participated in politics at the same rates they do in other Latino-rich states–California, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico, Arizona–then Texas would already be a swing state. Texas has about the same percentage of Latinos as California. If they had turned out at the same rates as Anglos in 2008, 1.2 million more Latinos would have voted, according to Census figures. McCain beat Obama in Texas by 951,000 votes.

There is an unfortunate habit in a lot of political writing on this subject to treat demographic projections as deterministic. We talk about voting as though it’s an inevitable part of people’s lives, and they only have to be persuaded to vote the way we want. But there’s nothing inherent to Latinos about voting Democrat, or about voting at all. In the real world, “voting” isn’t a thing that just happens. It isn’t a “demographic express” you can hop on. Real people either decide to take off work, find their way to the polls, stand in line and vote, or they don’t. That’s a decision with costs and consequences–costs that fall most heavily on those in the lowest strata of society.

The Democrats have been out of the game for so long in Texas – having not elected anyone to statewide office since 1994 – that the party hasn’t been pouring in the money necessary to build a strong voter turnout effort. They just don’t seem to think the demographics have made matters close enough that it’s worth spending those resources.  But are they taking the demographic shift for granted, and not acting as quickly as they should?

If [D.C-based Democratic consultant] Mike Lux is right, some day in the next decade a bunch of Democratic consultants in Washington will look at Texas’ demographics, nod at each other, and say, “Okay, it’s time.” Lux estimates that it would take “tens of millions” of dollars to pay for the sort of Colorado-style effort that could flip the state. But at some point, he thinks, the national Democrats will decide the reward is worth the money.

The question is, what will Texas look like by then? Republicans, too, are courting the Latino vote, and they’re moving fast. The Republicans don’t need to win over all–or even most–Latinos. They just have to strip off a few percentage points every election cycle. That would be enough to make it very hard for Democrats to win. If the Democrats wait too long, it may be too late.


  • Albert

    Flood texas with free cell phones and we’ll never look back.

  • CSP

    Remember a decade ago, when the Democrats ran their “Dream Team” of Sanchez/Kirk/Sharp, we all heard the claims that demographics demanded that Texas would no longer be such a strong Republican state in a decade’s time?

    Well, here we are a decade later. Nothing’s changed.

    And I don’t think it’s for any supposed lack of effort, either. Keep daydreaming if you think Texas is turning anytime soon.

  • john

    Probably will turn blue in about 20 years seeing as though we are 20 years behind on everything here..

  • Never. There’s a good chance the Democrat party fractures after Obama gets the Mondale treatment in a few months.

  • Dubious Brother

    It takes a few generations for the Dems to destroy the hispanic families like they did the blacks. Then they will rewrite history and blame what they did on the Republicans and pretend they are their friends. The Democrats led the way with the Ku Klux Klan to terrorize the blacks after the Civil War. The Democrats led the way with the segregationist policiticians of the 20th Century like Orval Faubus, William Fulbright, Harry Byrd, Robert Byrd, Lester Maddox, George Wallace, Jesse Helms and LBJ. Now they have convinced the black population that it was the democrats that fought for their “civil rights” and the blacks blindly follow.

  • J bennett

    Even purple would be a lot better than red..a bit too narrow!

  • Neil

    “Mondale” treatment? Phelps, are you suggesting Obama is going to lose in a landside? If so, can you please share whatever it is that you are smoking? I can see Obama losing, but it would not be a blowout.

  • David Dunnigan

    Harvey Kronberg told the Dallas Friday Group last week that we will be a two-party state by 2020. The Hispanic vote has grown 2% each two-year voting cycle.

  • Eduardo

    Isn’t it a little bit weird that whenever the media breathlessly, hopefully, eagerly reports on the coming demographic transition, they rarely bother to specify what percentage of the Latino population are actually U.S. citizens and hence eligible to vote?

    Wouldn’t that appear to be a highly relevant piece of information? I guess only a hardcore Klan-loving racist would even bother to ask such questions.

  • Olong_Johnson

    I think that changing economic circumstances will create more democrats and that the Latino voter turnout could be very important but is not necessarily the only reason Texas would become a swing state or democratic state. Employers used to provide decent paying jobs with sufficient benefits for Americans but that is becoming a thing of the past. Government cannot provide everything but sooner or later people will learn that they have two choices; make the government provide for them or do without and that is antithetical to republican philosophy. The deprived American worker isn’t necessarily of one ethnicity or another but he will eventually demand government to work for him since nobody else, such as an employer, is working for him.