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On the future of Democrats in Texas

By now you’ve probably read Mike Lux’s HuffPo piece (crossposted at BOR) about the future of the Democratic Party in Texas. The main thrust of Mike’s piece is about turnout, and where there’s numbers there’s my curiosity getting piqued. Let’s take a look at this and see what we can come up with.

Look at these Texas statistics (according to data from the Forward Texas Foundation):

  • Anglos will be down to 52% of the adult population by 2010, and 49.99% – less than half – by 2012. 


  • 85% of the new adult citizens eligible to vote since 2002 are minorities, most of them Hispanics. 


  • Barack Obama, who didn’t spend a dime targeting Texas in the 2008 general election, lost Texas by about 950,000 votes. Between 2008 and 2012, there are projected to be 1.2 million additional eligible minority voters added to the population of the state.


But the fundamental problem for Texas Democrats will not be solved until the political class there and nationally finally does something about the elephant in the room: the abysmal turnout of minority voters, especially Hispanics. In 2008, Hispanics made up 32% of eligible voters in Texas, a number which will likely be about 35% by 2012, but they were only 20% of the electorate. In the 2006 off-year elections, while 45% of eligible Anglos voted, only 37% of African-Americans, 24% of Asian-Americans, and 25% of Hispanics voted.

These voter turnout problems are not inevitable. Texas is 47th in the country in turnout of eligible voters. And other states, with investment of resources to make it happen, have shown dramatic increases in Hispanic voter turnout that Texas has not seen: Colorado increased Hispanic turnout by 86% in 2008 over 2004, while New Mexico had 50% Hispanic turnout in the 2006 off-year elections compared to 25% in Texas.

It is a simple, undeniable fact: if Texas got the number in Hispanic turnout that these other states got, they would become a purple or even blue state overnight.

Greg attacks some of these numbers here. That’s worth reading, but I’m going to take a simpler approach and assume all of the cited figures are correct and see what that leads to. Here are the assumptions:

– 1.2 million additional eligible minority voters added to the population, representing 85% of the new eligible voter population. That leaves about 200,000 newly eligible Anglo voters.

– These new minority voters will vote for Democrats at a 70% rate, and the new Anglo voters will go Republican at an equivalent rate.

Given those assumptions, let’s further assume that all of these new voters will participate in the 2012 election. That yields the following:

1.2 million new minority voters, 70% of whom vote Democratic = 840,000 Dem votes – 360,000 Rep votes = +480,000 net Democratic votes

200,000 new Anglo voters, 70% of whom vote Republican = 140,000 Rep votes – 60,000 Dem votes = -80,000 net Dem votes

All told, if every single one of these new voters casts a ballot in 2012, Dems pick up an additional 400,000 votes, Which would be an outstanding achievement, but would also be less than half the votes needed to close the 950,000 vote gap from 2008.

You can quibble with these numbers if you’d like, but it won’t get you where you want to go. Assume the new minority voters go 80% Dem (too high) and the white voters go 60% GOP (too low) and you net 680,000 Dem votes. You’d take back the Texas House and maybe win a couple of Congressional seats, perhaps turning counties like Tarrant and Fort Bend and Williamson blue, but you’re still not over the hump. You’d need the entire set of 1.4 million new voters, white and non-white, to vote Democratic at an 84% clip to close that gap, and we haven’t even discussed what a realistic turnout model for these new voters might be. Suffice it to say, you can’t get there from here.

What that says to me is that we can’t depend on a boost in minority turnout alone. Of course it’s a key part of the equation, even the 100,000 to 200,000 vote net that’s probably a more realistic goal, but it’s insufficient. We’ve been talking about this for years now – certainly since 2002 – and the target date for demographic change to turn Texas blue has always been in the 2020-2030 range. I don’t know about you, but I have no desire to wait that long.

I’ve made this point before and I’ll make it again – you need persuasion as well as turnout to effect change in this state. Barack Obama certainly benefited from the boost in minority turnout that he helped generate last year, but the fundamental reason he won – the fundamental reason that any Democratic nominee would have been heavily favored to win – is that the voting public was ready for a change of direction. I think the voting public in Texas is at least open to the idea of a real change in direction, but until we have solid, properly-funded candidates out there on the trail explaining why a change in direction would be good for them, we’ll be stuck in the incremental gains model. I have hopes that some of this can happen next year, and I have even greater hopes that more of it can happen in 2012 if Team Obama makes the decision it wants to try and win Texas. Put that together with the ground that can be gained by getting more Democratically-inclined voters to the polls, and we’ll see just how much we can accelerate that timeline.

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