Since 1976, there is one prediction you could take to the bank – Texas would vote for the Republican for President. Over the last 25 years, the state has turned a deeper and deeper shade of red. Senators, members of Congress, and statewide elected officials have all gone to the GOP. That may change this year, and it is due to a variety of factors.
According to the state demographer Lloyd Potter, Texas has gained 4 million people over the last decade. A million of those is due to internal migration from other states. Among the largest foreign migration groups are Asian Indian Americans, almost half a million live in the Lone Star State. Of course, Latin American immigration is also massive. Demographics and domestic migration are going to be factors in this year’s election.
Traditionally, voter turnout is not something they “do big” in Texas. In 2016, with a mere 51.1% eligible voters turning out, Texas was the fifth-worst state. With a 49.6% turnout in 2012 and a 54.1% turnout in 2008, they were near the bottom. Even in 2000, with native son George W. Bush in a tight national contest with Al Gore, the turnout was 49.1%. That is changing: The 45.6% turnout in 2018 represents a considerable increase over the measly 28.3% 2014 number. Also, for the first time since 2008, Democratic primary turnout was higher than Republican. Before you roll your eyes and say there was not a presidential primary, there were a ton of contested GOP primaries for Congress, the Senate, and the state legislature. Democrats seem to be motivated and voting.
Spending and Organization
For the first time in a while, Texas is getting some attention from national Democrats. The Biden-Harris campaign has announced they will be investing more than $6 million in the state. Incumbent U.S. Senator John Cornyn is in a tighter than expected race against Democrat M.J. Hegar. While Cornyn had outraised Hegar, the challenger raised $13.5 million for the stretch run. Also, seven of the state’s 36 congressional seats are contested by both parties. Several state legislative races are competitive. Beto O’Rourke, a U.S. Senate candidate in 2018, keeps his grassroots efforts alive by getting people involved in local races. This effort includes an attempt to call a million Texas voters over Columbus Day weekend. All of this money and time investment makes it a state to watch on November 3rd.
So, beyond those three factors, there are more reasons to keep hitting refresh on election night when you look at Texas results. Polling for the presidential race has been unusually close. Donald Trump won the state by a margin of 9% in 2016. Okay, but not great by Texas GOP standards. This year’s poll after poll has shown this to be a close race. If the poll models have not correctly factored demographics and turnout, they may be much closer than even the current polls show.
Recognizing these shifts, Republican Governor Greg Abbott has limited the number of absentee voter drop boxes to one per county. This order is still being battled in the courts. Regardless, you cannot simply request a ballot and have it sent to you in this state. To vote absentee, you either have to be over 65 years of age, swear that you will be out of state on election day, or have an illness that prevents you from getting to the polls on election day. Compared to other states, the amount of absentee voting here will be relatively small.
What could affect turnout is the week of extra early voting that Governor Abbott ordered. October 13th will be the first day that Texans can vote. Some in the GOP were a bit miffed about it and filed a lawsuit suit to challenge it. Still, despite this challenge, early voting will go on as planned.
All of this sets up what could be the best drama series to come out of Texas since Dallas. Episode One will be this presidential election, but then comes all the other elections on the state and federal level. Episode Two: Will Governor Abbott run for re-election? If he does, there will be enough room for prominent Democrats like Beto O’Rourke to challenge him and make the state even bluer.
If Texas is close – within the O’Rourke v. Cruz range – for either Joe Biden or MJ Hegar, who is running for Senate, take it as an indicator of how the election will end up nationwide. If either of them wins, it may usher in not a Blue Wave, but a Blue Tsunami. A close win by Trump/Cornyn may give some temporary relief to the GOP, but it will signal choppier elections on the horizon. A win by Trump in the range of 2016 will show that all of the hand-wringing was for naught.
So, to all of you political junkies: If you want to have a bunch of fun on election night, keep your eye on Texas as you watch the national returns come in. It could be an election hoedown of epic proportions.