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. Â 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.