Texas as a swing state: a fantasy?

Here is a throwback at what happened in 2020. When you think about Texas, you think of a deep-red state, with strong conservatives’ opinions. Indeed, historically speaking, during the civil-war (1861-1865), Texas was pro-slavery and secede the Union joining the Confederacy. In this article we will focus on the most important issues that would have led you think Texas was up for grabs.

It is true that the Democrats haven’t won any statewide race there since 1994. On the other hand, the Republicans have carried the state at every presidential race in the last fifty years except in 1976. With its thirty-eight electors, Texas constitutes the second largest state after California in terms of electoral college votes. So, it is a must-win state for the republicans and it would be if ever won, a major bump on the democratic side. For the last three presidential elections, the gap between the candidates has kept narrowing. In the 2018 midterms Beto O’Rourke was just a few votes away from taking Ted Cruz senate seat. With changes in the demographic, such as the growing number of Latinos, and an increasing urbanization, the left thought 2020 would be the year the Lone Star State could turn blue and thus be a tipping point in the election. However, the voters decided otherwise. Donald Trump won 52.1% of the electorate representing 5,874,547 votes, while Biden won 5,236,610 or 46,5 % of the voters. So, what exactly happened?

The shift among the suburbs and the changing demographics are reasons for hope

The major role of the suburbs

With Donald Trump as president of the United States, the usual vote patterns kind of change, opening a new era in the American political life. His insults, erratic behavior and terrible handling of the COVID-19 crisis scared some voters, particularly in the suburbs.
The voters in these areas are highly educated and earn a good living. Moreover, the female votes in these places are truly crucial and we know that during the midterms in 2018 the suburban’s women played an essential role in the democratic comeback in the House of Representatives. Lots of these voters gave a shot at Trump in 2016, perhaps thinking that what he was saying was against the political correctness of the establishment. They probably thought too that as a former businessman he will handle the economy well and perhaps reach deals with both parties. After all he wrote a god damn book about that (The Art of the Deal). But the reality of four years of political chaos has helped change some minds. For examples suburban counties that went to Trump in 2016 went to Biden this year in Texas. That is the case for Williamson County in Central Texas where Trump won by 9.7% point in 2016 and lost this election cycle to Biden by just one point. The same thing happened in Hays County where Biden took an 11%-point lead. These are major changes, and if there are stable in the long term, they could help make the state more competitive and shift from Republicans to Democrats.

The changing demographics of Texas

It is probable that in the coming years we will see in Texas and more generally in the US the share of the caucasian people population shrinking, while minorities such as Latinos, Asian-American or African American will continue to grow as the trends tend to show today. Texas has the fastest growing population in the US, with more than 29.9 million inhabitants as of July the first 2020. For every white individual that arrives there, nine Hispanics relocate to the state. This will certainly benefit the Democrats. Indeed, this party is the one that appears capable of forming multi-racial coalition, as opposed to the divisive rhetoric of Donald Trump and the Republicans.

We tend to think Latinos favor Democrats, but it is not entirely true

However, Democrats need to be careful and don’t take for granted the minorities votes. One of Donald Trump great strength this cycle is that he was actually able to extend his share of votes among Latinos and African-American by talking about issues such as taxes and socialism. Moreover, these groups are not monolithic, they don’t all vote the same way, there are diverse in their opinions and thinking. For example, let’s take the Latinos. Some have lived in the country for generations, others haven’t. They come from different places and for various reasons. They don’t have the same backgrounds and the same social class. We tend to think this group tends to favor Democrats, but it is not entirely true. Lots of them are pro-businesses and against taxes, they put family as a core value like many conservatives, they are pro-life and very religious for a majority of them. For example, Donald Trump became the first republican to win the county of Zapata in the south of Texas. This was until 2020 a deep-blue county with a population of 94% Hispanics. Republicans gained 55 percentage points there compared to 2016.

Texas was not considered by any of the presidential campaign as a swing state

COVID-19 a determining factor in 2020

The “Chinese virus” had a considerable impact on this election. First and foremost, we can say without a doubt that it has helped increasing the turnout. With the fear of catching COVID-19 many voters in Texas started to vote early by mail or in person. In fact, two days before the election on November third the number of votes was around 10 million and had already surpassed the turnout in 2016 by around 8.9 million of votes. After election day the final turnout was at 11.2 million of votes, which represents 66% of the registered voters, which is the highest turnout since 1992. This is quite a success considering the numerous attempts of voter suppression made by Republicans. Indeed, Texas has the most restrictive voting laws nationwide, and the GOP members used the health crisis to diminish the integrity of the vote. The governor of Texas, Greg Abbott decided at the beginning of October that each county in the state will only have one single site to drop of ballots, forcing some voters to drive several miles to vote and complicating therefore the voting process. They also tried to delegitimize the voting system with numerous lawsuits before election day. For example, some GOP activists asked the Texas Supreme Court and a federal court to invalidate and rule illegal more than 127,000 early votes in Harris County, because they had been casted through a drive-thru voting location. Both of these lawsuits were rejected by judges. Moreover, the Trump’s administration started to cut the funds of the Post-office during the summer in an attempt to slow the ballots delivery. As despicable as all these maneuvers sound, there were still legal.

Campaign strategies

Texas was not considered by any of the presidential campaign as a swing state. Therefore, it didn’t get much attention this cycle. The Trump’s campaign didn’t send national figure to visit the state and energize the base. They did not run any ad on TV or on radio stations. They thought the state was relatively reliable and they didn’t want to waste any money that could have been decisive on other battleground like Pennsylvania or Florida for instance. And well now that we have the results, they were probably right about their assumptions.
The Biden campaign had a similar approach with just some small incursions into the state late into the race. They thought it was unreachable, but they had major pushes from local figures there, like O’Rourke who invited the Democratic ticket to visit and campaign into the state. That eventually led to a 6 million dollars TV ad buy at the beginning of October. The state also received the visit of important campaign personalities such as the former Second Lady of the US Jill Biden and also Kamala Harris, Biden’s running mate. However, the democratic campaign was clearly not enough to allow a durable shift.
The COVID crisis made an enormous difference on how to campaign in the state. While Republicans continued many grassroots efforts in person such as knocking on doors, the democrats stopped everything in the state out of fear of the virus. It was a smart move in terms of public relations because it shows they were listening to the science and the experts. But it contributed to dwindle their ground game in the state and they certainly reached and registered less voters than the republicans did. In state like Texas it could have made the difference.

The other races that mattered

While the presidential race took central stage this cycle in Texas, other races mattered. The battle for the control of the state House was certainly the most essential one. After gaining more than 12 seats in 2018, Democrats needed to gain just 9 seats to take control of the legislature back. The consequences would have been great, with the redrawing of electoral districts in 2021 after the 2020 census. They could have ended 20 years of GOP control and therefore stopped the gerrymandering, which consists to inmanipulating the boundaries of an electoral constituency in order to favor one party over the other.
Democrats highlighted the progress they could make regarding Medicaid and the redistricting to drive voter enthusiasm to the polls. Unfortunately for them, this year proved disappointed as they underperformed all of their expectations and Republicans remained dominant in the state.   

To conclude, Texas did not turn blue in 2020. In fact, it wasn’t even a close race despite most pollsters’ predictions. However, the shift among the suburbs and the changing demographics are reasons for hope. Texas may not flip yet, but it will surely become purple and an intense new battleground in the coming cycles.  

Adam Ardeeff