Texan Governor Rick Perry has called the notion of the Democrats winning Texas a “pipe dream” that will never come to fruition. Arguably, with the state being dominated by the Republicans since 1980, it is no surprise that the GOP establishment have dismissed intense speculation about the future political orientation of the ‘Lone Star’ state returning to its original blue alignment. However, with Republican majorities in the last few presidential elections declining considerably, the potential for the Democrats to secure the state’s enviable 38 electoral college votes has never been higher.
Polls, whilst imperfect and varied, certainly suggest that the converative state is within the reach of moderate candidate Joe Biden. Only four percentage points, a statistic made even more damning by a 3.5% margin of error, currently separates the two candidates in Texas. Subsequently, Democrats are optimistic about reclaiming the state, and have invested historical-records of time and resources into campaigning there. Could next week’s election witness the usurpation of a primary Republican base?
Following the collapse of the Solid South in the first half of the 20th century, Texas has demonstrated a fierce allegiance to the Republicans, favouring their stance on social issues as well as their perceived strong religious values. Systematic voter oppression also contributed to the strength of the conservative vote in the state, as until recently, the disenfranchisement of black people, latinos, and poor whites resulted in abysmal levels of turnout and an unfair ideological skew.
Whilst access to voting has improved considerably in the 21st century, Texas retains a robust suburban white vote, which is simultaneously the most mobilised group in terms of voting. This is reflected in the partisan composition of both their state and national representatives across all three branches of government. The current Governor, Senators, and 22 of the 36 seats of the House of Representatives are Republican, dominating the political scene and having effectively total control over the legislating and governing of the state.
Despite this, the state has experienced a gradual decline in the absolute power enjoyed in the latter half of the 20th century. Prior to Bill Clinton’s election in 1992, it was essential for a candidate to win Texas in order to win the general election due to its monumental share of the Electoral College votes. However, the significance of Texas in the general election has waned over the last few decades, resulting in its complete abandonment by the Democrats, and being completely taken for granted by the GOP.
Shifts in recent voting trends have been alarming for all sides however, causing intense focus and attention to be drawn to the state and its political behaviour. Rather strikingly, since 2004, the percent vote share held by the Republican Party in Texas has steadily decreased, in spite of what many characterise as a dramatically polarised political climate emerging in the country. Whilst their majority stood strong at 61.09% that year, Trump was only able to secure a lackluster 52.23% in 2016, implying that Texas is no longer a wholly reliable win for the GOP.
In fact, President Trump only won Texas by 9 percentage points in 2016, the smallest margin of victory for a Republican since 1996. Predicting a secure and successful win for the Republican Party in Texas undermines the validity of these statistics, and the very real possibility that the state may contribute to a Democratic victory in a few days time. There are several further positive indications that suggest that the Democrats may take Texas and should serve as warning signs to the GOP.
Firstly, the national Latino vote in Texas and the rest of the country is surging, with 13.3% of all eligible voters originating from this ethnic group. In general, Latinos tend to vote Democrat in both general and more specific elections, however, their support is not guaranteed. This was reflected in 2016 where 54% of Cuban voters enabled a Republican victory in Florida, a state renowned for its large Latino community However, recent events and Trump’s persona has severely damaged his reputation within this community, which will not serve him well in the Lone Star state.
Certainly, the COVID-19 pandemic has disproportionately affected the Latino community due to their higher unemployment rate and wage inequality. Trump’s staunch promise to create a myriad of jobs and revitalise the American economy has so far failed to manifest itself, and his shambolic handling of the pandemic has resulted in widespread anger. Democrats have seized these feelings of injustice and have launched a nationwide campaign to increase voting turnout which has been particularly successful in Texas, demonstrated in the fact they lead the nation in early voting numbers.
Furthermore, Trump’s anti-immigrant rhetoric and remarks about Latino people has done little to help his image in the historically hispanic states. Whilst not every Latinx person was deterred by his anti-Mexican rhetoric in 2016, his treatment of immigrant families at the border has horrified many who share their origins and stories and has accentuated the anger they feel towards the President. Moreover, the increased presence of Latino Democrats in the state at a representative level (for example, the Castro brothers) has inspired the Latino base in the state and has served the party well in increasing both general turnout and Democratic support.
In addition, the Democrat Party has done well to ensure Biden’s moderate image is reminiscent of the Old Democrats in order to harness the ideological centre-ground. In comparison to other potential nominees, Biden stood out as a reminder of the stability felt under Obama’s presidency and was highly appealing to voters deterred from Bernie Sanders’ democratic socialist image. Indeed, when presented against Trump, Biden succeeds in appearing less extreme in his views and his modelled himself as the candidate of unity.
The Biden campaign is paying particular attention to Texas via advertising, spending a record $6 million so far in the state. Whilst he is not personally scheduled to visit the state, he was furthermore sent his Vice Presidential nominee Kamala Harris to visit the state on Friday the 30th. Although financial limitations prevent the Democrats from investing further in Texas, support from other establishment figures may also improve the party’s performance in the traditionally red state. Mayor Micheal Bloomberg, for example, has promised to use his super PAC to fund $15 million worth of statewide ads in both Texas and Ohio. This will undoubtedly aid Biden in his attempt to claim victory on November 3rd, and could alter the modern perception of the Democrats in Texas.
Shockingly the percentage of Texas registered voters who had already cast ballots on Monday has surpassed the share of people who voted early in 2016. On the other hand, historical trends suggest another Republican win remains well within reach. The statistics are certainly stacked up against the Democratic establishment, yet perhaps this decline in Republican support is symbolic of change that may not manifest itself this November, but some time in the near future. Although this is certainly a positive implication for the future of the Democrat Party, their current situation is dire, and an all Republican Executive and Senate in this pivotal year would arguably be damaging for their future influence.
In addition, when considering the relationship between Democrat nominee Joe Biden and Texas, no particular attachments stand out. Whilst he did secure a simple majority of the state’s delegates in this year’s primary season, he contrastingly Biden lost the overall Latino vote to Bernie. The majority of the latino vote are young, so are therefore less likely to vote and may be deterred from the age of both candidates, but in particular Biden, who does not present a fresh approach to politics or offer an alternative generational image when compared to Trump.
Furthermore, the expenses for campaigning in Texas, as a large and populated state, are very high, and thus it may be more effective for the Biden campaign to pursue other, more volatile swing states such as Arizona or Ohio. Reclaiming the rust belt (including states such as Michigan) will be more important for the democrats than securing a traditionally Republican state. As Biden currently has no official plans to visit the state, it seems unlikely that the Democrats are taking any bold assumptions about recapturing the ‘Lone Star’ during the current election cycle. It has been dubbed a potential tossup, a term which whilst being far from confirmation of a Democrat victory, certainly is a positive indication in itself.
The long-term consequences of this potential change should not be ignored. Under a system already so heavily criticised by its indirect democracy, a state with a changing role signifies the power of the American people, who are currently more empowered than ever to take their future into their own hands. Meanwhile, the political future of Texas is about as unpredictable as the current election cycle, and one can only wait to see how the climate develops and the 2020 presidential election unfolds. Will Texas firmly maintain its Republican allegiance and pledge itself to Trump, or will the unprecedented times that dominate our future radically alter the state’s behaviour? We will find out on Tuesday, November 3rd.