Texas a swing state?

With the rising importance of the Hispanic vote, there’s been a lot of talk about the inevitability of Texas as a swing state, but somewhat surprisingly given Texas’ demographics, that appears to be a good way off yet.  Amazingly, Texas is already a majority-minority state (38% Hispanic, 12% Black, 4% Asian).   Yet, the whites in the state 1) are much more likely to turn out to vote; and 2) are really, really Republican, i.e., Alabama and Mississipi Republican and getting more so.  I’m sure race has nothing to do with it.  Anyway, Nate Cohn runs the numbers:

But in case anyone missed it, demographic changes haven’t actually produced gains for Democrats in Texas. Despite favorable Latino turnout and support, Obama did worse in Texas than he did four years ago and lost by a decisive 16-point margin. Looking back further, Texas hasn’t moved to the left: the state was 19 points to the right of the national popular vote in 2012; hardly an improvement compared to 19 points in 2008, 20 points in 2004, and 15 points in 1996.

How have Republicans bucked demographics in Texas? White Texans keep getting more Republican. Unfortunately, Texas was scrapped from the state exit polls in 2012, making it hard to say just how much worse Obama performed than he did four years ago. But the county results make it quite clear that Obama fared much worse among white voters than he did in 2008. In Texas’ 224 other counties, Romney did better than McCain, including 54 predominantly white counties where Obama lost more than 10 points over the last four years…

Given that Obama lost Texas whites by a 73-26 margin in 2008, it seems that Obama probably fell to something just slightly above 20 percent of the white vote in 2012. Depending on the exact increase in Latino turnout, there’s an outside chance that Obama fell into the teens. Whatever the exact figure, it’s clear that GOP gains among white Texans have overwhelmed advances in Latino turnout and support for Democrats.

Interestingly, there’s a really good reason a lot of those Hispanics are not voting- -they’re not citizens:

With Hispanics already representing 39 percent of the Texas population and poised to reach half by 2030, it’s not hard to see why Democrats are salivating at the opportunities in Lone Star state. Based on that number, Democrats often lament that they could carry the state if the national party would only invest in the state party infrastructure and embark on an expansive effort to register the state’s supposed (but latent) Democratic majority. But Hispanics are younger and less likely to be citizens than the rest of the Texas population, so Hispanics represent just 26 percent of the voting eligible population—a tally leaving Democrats far short of a statewide majority.

In conclusion, Cohn wisely cautions about the dangers of predicting too far ahead in such matters:

If the two parties continue forward along the lines carved by the Bush and Obama years, then Texas would become quite competitive by the end of the next decade and Democrats will routinely approach 400 electoral votes in national elections. But between now and the mid-2020s, the Republican party will make adjustments to compensate for changing demographics and new issues will rejigger the electorate along unforseen lines. After Bill Clinton won West Virginia by 15 points and lost its eastern neighbor by 2, I suspect that few analysts in 1996 forseaw West Virginia becoming the fifth-most Republican state or Virginia voting more Democratic than the country. The ascent of Democrats in Texas is hardly inevitable and even if it is, it won’t be in 2016 or 2020, at least not in a close election.

Hmmm.  That’s some cold water on the Texas is becoming blue meme.  That said, given the under-turnout of Hispanic citizens in Texas, it really does seem like it might be worth the Democratic party investing some in the state.  I also have to wonder the relationship between the growing minority population of the state and the growing Republican-ness of the state’s white voters.

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About Steve Greene
Professor of Political Science at NC State http://faculty.chass.ncsu.edu/shgreene

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