The story of the political change in Texas begins with the enormous population growth the state has experienced over the past decade, with most of it concentrated in the major metropolitan areas of Houston, Dallas, Fort Worth, San Antonio and Austin.
Between 2010 and 2018, the 27 counties that comprise these major metropolitan areas collectively added nearly 3 million people — an increase of 19 percent — and today they make up one of the most vibrant economic areas in the entire country. Republican elected officials have bragged about the state’s ability to attract new businesses, but the added growth has helped to change the political balance in the state.
One change is the increased dominance of the big cities and suburbs in overall turnout. According to data compiled by Richard Murray and Renee Cross of the University of Houston, the 27 counties that make up the major metropolitan areas account for 69 percent of the statewide vote, compared with 60 percent in 1996 and 52 percent in 1968.
For a long time, the balance between metro and non-metro Texas didn’t make much difference. The metropolitan areas split their votes between Republicans and Democrats in about the same proportions as in the smaller towns and rural areas, according to Murray and Cross. That began to change in the past two decades and has quickened in the past five years. Not only do the big cities and surrounding suburbs account for a larger proportion of the statewide vote, they are increasingly voting Democratic.
Changing demographics are a major factor as well, as Texas becomes increasingly diverse. For years, Democrats have pointed to the growth in the Latino community as the pathway to turning Texas blue — the demographics-as-destiny argument. With birthrates in the Anglo community having slowed, the Latino population is on pace to equal or surpass the non-Hispanic White population by 2022.
Before Trump came on the scene, some Texas Republicans had made more significant inroads among Hispanic voters than, say, Republicans in California. Former president George W. Bush focused on Latinos and was rewarded in both his gubernatorial and presidential races. Other Republican elected officials are still able to attract good levels of Latino support.
The success of Republicans like Bush and others frustrated the predictions of Democrats of a more rapid red-to-blue shift in the state, as the party’s disappointing showing in gubernatorial and Senate races over the years has shown. But Trump’s anti-immigrant rhetoric has made it more difficult for Republicans to maintain, let alone expand, their Latino support.
Beyond the growth in the Latino population, another demographic change that is affecting the political balance is the rise of Asian Americans: Vietnamese, Indians, Chinese and others. Asian Americans are now the fastest-growing segment of the Texas population, and they are voting for Democrats more than they once did.