Texas. Home of cowboy boots, remembering the Alamo and Republican President George W. Bush. The state legislature hasn’t met an abortion ban it hasn’t embraced, a discrimination bill it didn’t champion or a Christian doctrine it didn’t find a way to twist into far-right ideology.
Could such a state really vote blue? Yes, say political pundits — and this may be the year it happens.
While Texas has long been one of the most conservative states in the nation, there’s little doubt that it’s changing its ways. Texas is growing younger, much more racially diverse and, with the help of the tech bubble and other economic changes, it’s drawing more liberals into the state than ever before.
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That changing demographic has resulted in what could be referred to as “peak Republican syndrome,” the idea that the state hit its high point in GOP enthusiasm and will start to decrease as time passes. As Mary Beth Rogers wrote in Salon in early 2016:
The first indication of the potential shift here is that Republicans have finally reached their peak voting strength. They can’t win more white votes than the 75 percent they got in the 2014 governor’s race against the ill-fated Wendy Davis campaign. The percentage of eligible white voters among the Texas electorate is declining. With that decline we are beginning to see a drop in Republican vote margins in areas of their greatest strength – the seven big suburbs that surround Dallas, Houston, San Antonio and Austin. One of those once-reliable Republican suburbs outside of Houston has already moved into swing vote territory. Others will follow because Texas suburbs are no longer the sole domains of white voters. Over the past decade, an influx of African-American, Hispanic, and Asian homeowners has moved into Texas suburbs to create increasingly diverse communities. With the organic growth of traditional Democratic voters among African-Americans and Latinos who live in the cities, plus the in-migration of culturally progressive millennials who are flocking to Austin and Dallas, Republican dominance will soon diminish.
It’s been two years since Rogers predicted Texas hit peak Republican, and one year into the Trump administration — something no one could have seriously predicted in January of 2016 — and if anything, that well may have accelerated Texas’s GOP support.
President Trump’s aggressive push to end DACA and send DREAMers back to their countries of origin, his continuous drumbeat for a wall between the US and Mexico and now his obsessive opposition to policies that help immigrants bring family members legally into the US have pressured Hispanics — who may have embraced other GOP values, like religious liberty — to abandon a party determined to harm them and their community.
In April, the the Washington Post reported:
The Texas Lyceum Poll found: “Texans believe that immigration is the number one issue facing the state and the nation, but a plurality of Texas adults (62 percent) also say that immigration helps the US more than it hurts. The younger the respondent, the more positively they view immigration. Moreover, ‘Most Texas adults continue to oppose (61 percent) President Donald Trump’s proposal to build a wall on the US- Mexico border, and most don’t want him to deport millions of undocumented immigrants. Many support traditional immigration reform proposals, even a pathway to citizenship if significant restrictions are put in place.” Remarkably, 63 percent support “allowing illegal immigrants living in the US the opportunity to become citizens after a long waiting period if they pay taxes and a penalty, pass a criminal background check, and learn English.” Even on the hot-button issues of “sanctuary cities,; voters are split (45 percent approve, 49 percent do not) on whether local officials must ‘automatically turn [someone here illegally] over to federal immigration enforcement officers.”
Meanwhile, it’s likely that, due in part to the new tax package passed by Congress, Texas could get bluer even faster.
According to Will Wilkenson in the New York Times, the impact of the new tax code on high tax, blue states like California and New York could drive more younger voters to relocate to red states like Texas, where taxes, cost of living and housing costs are lower. Bring enough millennials into the state, and it could be voting Democrat faster than you ever thought possible.
These shifts will certainly be on display this November, when Democratic Congressman Beto O’Rourke takes on Republican Senator and Tea Party champion Ted Cruz. Democrats haven’t won a Senate race in Texas since 1988, but this year there’s a referendum on an unpopular president and a highly partisan Republican-controlled Congress. Add to that the fact that Democrats are challenging Republicans in every one of the state’s 36 congressional districts, and that opens up the best chance for Democratic turnout in decades.
Is Texas finally ready to turn blue? We’ll all be waiting to find out in November.