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Something is happening in Texas

Something is happening in Texas

Texans don’t vote. With the exception of a decade or so between 1994 and 2002, when the flight of the state’s Dixiecrats into the Republican Party was in its final phase, Texas has never had competitive elections. Like the other Deep South slave republics, Texas operated from its earliest days under monolithic one-party rule by Democrats until they switched sides. Since then the state has continued its tradition of single party rule under a different brand. In a state where the government doesn’t do anything and there’s no partisan competition for offices, voting is generally a waste of time.

It should come as no surprise that Texas always ranks near the bottom in voter participation. Those numbers get even more stark when you look beyond Presidential elections. Fewer than 10% of eligible Texas voters participate in primary elections. Turnout on the Republican side is consistently around 7%, with about 3% of eligible voters showing up to a Democratic Primary.

As early voting in Texas’ March 6th primary comes to an end, Democratic turnout has nearly doubled from 2014. On the Republican side, turnout is up only 17% from 2014, and down from 2016. These numbers seem consistent with the roughly 15% swing toward Democrats we’ve seen in special elections across the country since Trump’s victory, but does primary turnout really tell us anything about potential results in November? Maybe. Maybe not.

Turnout in the 2008 Democratic Primary in Texas was up more than 400% from the prior Presidential election cycle. At an overall voter participation mark of 16%, it remains the highest turnout for a primary election in Texas from either party since the 70’s. That surge of interest translated into nothing in November, as McCain easily defeated Obama in the state.

What we’ve never seen in Texas is a surge in primary turnout from the party out of power in an off-year election. Even in the watershed year of ’94, the only hint we saw of the coming wave was Republicans closing the gap in voter participation slightly. In statewide elections, serious Democratic candidates generally lose to Republicans by about a 9 point swing. That sounds daunting, until you look at the raw numbers, and the structure of the system. Turnout among eligible voters in Texas off-year elections ranges between about a quarter and a third. Eligible voter turnout hasn’t approached half in the fifty years that Texas has published the statistic. Texans don’t vote, until one day they do.

In a one-party system, turnout is concentrated among members of the ruling party. The composition of the non-voting bloc is heavily weighted against the ruling party. Demographics of Texas’ non-voters indicate that they are overwhelmingly urban, less religious, young, and disproportionately non-white, especially Asian. Turnout among younger voters is a particularly important figure. Their raw numbers are impressive, as they’ve become the largest bloc of the population, now outnumbering the Baby Boomers. And this younger voting bloc is entering the age at which participation rates begin to climb, around 30. If Texans registered and voted at rates similar to a median turnout state, Clinton would have beaten Trump there. All it would take to flip Texas now is to raise voter participation to normal, national rates. 

Southern governments have been organized for almost two hundred years to suppress voting. If their techniques ever fail they face an avalanche of resistance. A surge of Democratic turnout in the Texas primary is interesting, though not necessarily indicative of any looming shift. However, taken in the context of the wider national pivot away from the GOP, and the demographic trends in the state’s population, we might be seeing a shift in the landscape. A purple Texas would be the end of the Republican Party as a national force, with serious implications for local governments across the South. It’s too early to take such an outcome for granted, but the rise of younger generation increasingly hostile to conservative ideas seems to make it inevitable at some point. 



  1. An interesting article by David Brooks on the future after Trump. Basically, once the genie is out of the bottle, like tooth paste, there is no getting him back in easily!
    Brooks doesn’t say it, but look at the Republican Party. Once the wackos started getting elected, everyone seemed to try to be more outlandish than the others. Nothing seemed to be too outrageous. Deny facts, deny science! Alternate facts! Didn’t matter as long as the uneducated believed what you said. Hell, I ran into someone last year who believed the earth was flat! He saw it on Youtube! Must be true!!

    1. I read the column this morning and thought that he was little bit far out. He’s attempting to stretch what happened in the Italian elections to the US. There are not enough similarities to really justify the comparison. Brooks has started getting into some rather esoteric subjects in the last few years, because the Republicans have become so unhinged and he is supposed to be a moderate Republican. He really should leave the party, but his livelihood depends on being a moderate R.

      In most parts of the US and particularly the prosperous urban areas, the wackos are regarded as exactly what they are – WACKOS. The reasons we have these wackos in power are manyfold. But some of them are the single party rule in the South using extreme tactics of gerrymandering and voter suppression, the electoral defects in the US Constitution consisting of the Electoral College and bias towards rural areas, the problems with Hillary as a candidate, FAUX News, the press not being objective enough in their reporting, the anti-elite bias of the blue-collar class, the despereation of the Republican Party and many more. Basically the Electoral College this time malfunctioned as it did in 2000 and is increasingly likely to do. Don’t forget that Trump lost the popular vote by over 3 million votes.

      1. Not only is Brooks stretching Italian elections to the U.S., he’s conveniently glossing over the fact that they’re two very different systems. He doesn’t even both to address the fact that, by being in the EU, Italy’s leaders have less scope for action, which could contribute to the growth of extremism (not just in terms of anti-EU sentiment, but the reduced pressure to cast a “responsible” vote.

    2. Well, let’s see.


      1. The puppet tyrant doubled down and then tripled down on starting a trade war during the press conference, stating they are a good thing when you have a deficit
      2. Cohn is now on his way out, and Dow futures dropped 300 points on the news. He is supposedly going to be replaced with another free-trader, but we shall see.
      3. McMaster is likely gone by the end of the month, and he will likely be replaced with Bolton, who advocates attacking Iran and North Korea.

      The insanity continues, but I take hope that soon some outside power or industry group will do the sane thing and rid the world of disaster. I say the odds are at least 10% now that the puppet tyrant does not make it to the end of his term, and it won’t be by impeachment. The planet simply cannot afford to wait that long.

      1. EJ

        Bolton? Has nobody hammered a wooden stake through his heart yet?

        The one thought that I had been consoling myself with is that Bush-era imperial neoconservatism has gone the way of the dinosaurs. It’s a bad day for the world when it’s back.

  2. Big election coming up in PA between Republican Sarconne and Democrat, Lamb – who is running his election a little differently than most Dems do in red districts. His focus is purely local AND targets Congress not Trump. Frankly, I don’t know how you separate the two but he seems to be doing a pretty good job in appealing to enough voters that the race is not classified by Cook as a “toss up”. We could buy every gun in America with the money that has been spent on this one race! America’s politics is really off the charts nuts!

    1. Daring Mueller to arrest him. This could be some brilliant 38-dimensional chess move from and underrated master masquerading as abject stupidity and arrogance. Or it could just be abject stupidity and arrogance. Or abject stupidity and arrogance on some really mind-bending substance.

      1. EJ

        The only thing that makes sense to me is, as a friend put it, Nürnberg is a trial balloon to see whether people can get away with defying Mueller. That’s the only way that I can interpret this as anything close to the work of grown adults.

    2. The nut is well, a nut. The timeline indicated he was fired by the puppet tyrant in Aug 2015, long before collusion with russia likely began. This is a move by Mueller to get to Stone, who certainly has inside knowledge of the regime’s moves.

      This nut is toast, but if he ever sings and gives Mueller leverage on Stone, then things get interesting.

  3. A pertinent Vox article:

    What the TX GOP did to Austin should be illegal. I’m all for busting the gerrymandering that disenfranchises minority voters, but White voters who get shafted in this manner don’t have much legal recourse. The WI case may help in the future, but it won’t help now. A big wave flipping a few of these district would be poetic justice, and it is possible. Difficult, but possible.

    1. GOTV. It has never been more important. We will all be watching Travis County election results closely. I have yet to read a TX -generated article that gives Dems a real shot at making a substantive impact on flipping enough red seats blue to make a difference. Long shots happen. Ask Doug Jones. His situation was admittedly different in the opposing candidates was so repulsive to AL voters, but turn out was key to capitalizing on every positive force that could be leveraged to help his win. I believe that can happen in TX too….if, enough liberals and independents vote.

    1. I’ve been dipping into some of the old history books I somehow kept as I winnowed my book shelves in an effort to understand today’s populism vs yesterday’s populism.

      In the past, monopolies were the enemy of the populists. Interestingly enough, Salerno has an essay about the problem with monopolies today.

      Her essays rings true to me. A former co-worker invented a paper device that made it easier, less sloppy, to eat a pita sandwich.

      Individual chain sandwich shops liked it very much, but they only ordered supplies from very large suppliers who carried multiple products. Despite the enthusiasm of individual shop managers, the big companies couldn’t be bothered to stock her product.

      (That many was many ago. I think today she could have used social media to her advantage.)

      Solerno’s essay is both new fashioned and old fashioned. I like it.

  4. Very interesting article for this Texas resident, and TX Tribune data link was equally informative. We’ll know more following the primary election Tuesday (March 6th), in terms of raw turnout and run-offs by party, but I expect the rural and suburban areas to remain solidly Republican for a few more years while urban areas will more rapidly turn blue. That will help Dems win a few more state level seats and positions within the urban areas, but there are several factors in play. Demographics (as noted in post) in which white voters continue to demonstrate outsized voting numbers as a percentage of total voter registration; reluctant/low voter turnout of Hispanic, Black, Asian and other minority voters; low voter turn-out generally; and the lack of effective Democratic Party organization at the local level. All of these factors can be overcome but the challenge will be to make it happen for the 2018 mid-term election. I continue to be optimistic about mid-terms but there are eight months before November in which anything can happen to impact the election.

    It will be interesting to see what shenanighans Republicans will engage in across America to suppress and manipulate the vote in the lead up to the mid-terms. Wisconsin Republican Governor Scott Walker and others are refusing to call special elections for vacancies that will exist for almost a year – leaving constituents without representation…they say due to “cost”, but most believe to avoid any possibility of more state seats flipping from red to blue….(39 thus far).


    I have not seen confirmation that SCOTUS will rule on the various pending gerrymandering appeals prior to the mid-term election but expect a decision in time to impact the 2020 presidential election. Several states are also experimenting with different methods of drawing election districts. It is sad that the right to vote, which is so basic to Democracy, is fraught with political flim-flam. America’s elected officials spend more time co-opting the process than they do earning their re-elections. In business, CEO incompentency usually results in dismissal. The American electorate is the Board of Directors of Members of Congress and President, and it is high time we do our job! 2018 will provide a great test of the resolve of the American people.

  5. It’s not just Texas. I think the real movement is that cities everywhere are expanding, and rural areas everywhere are dying. This is true even in red states. What’s turning Texas purple, aside from the growing Hispanic population, is that Texas is increasingly being driven by its cities, not its vast landscapes of ranches, farms, and oil fields. Dallas, Houston, San Antonio, and Austin are all growing by leaps and bounds, and they are all increasingly democratic. No amount of gerrymandering will prevent that slow urbanization tide from crashing on the GOP shores.

    Texas and California are actually a lot more alike than they wish. The old Texas of cattle ranchers and rural towns is fading fast. The same is true of California, which has a rich ranching, farming, and oil field tradition that is slowly being overwhelmed by its cities. Texas’s economy is increasingly being driven by the same things that drives California: renewable energy (largest wind power producer in the country), technology (Dallas and Austin are booming), health care (the Texas Medical Center in Houston is staggeringly large), etc.

    Even in deep red states like Alabama, its cities (while still small) are blue and growing, while the rural areas are emptying out. When Republicans crow about growth rates in red states compared to blue states (e.g. NY, IL), they conveniently don’t mention that all that growth is occurring in the blue cities within those red states, not the rural red parts. At some point, that catches up, and the turning point can come quickly. Colorado, Virginia, North Carolina, all transitioned (or are transitioning) pretty fast due to similar urbanization trends. Texas, Georgia, Arizona, and Florida are probably not too far behind.

    1. WX, That is totally correct. I have seen that happen in WA & OR. Both states were not that long ago heavily rural. WA started changing post WWII due to Boeing, but even so the big influence was in the suburbs and the people were fairly conservative. When Microsoft boomed in the early 90’s, we really began to become far bluer. MS is however located in the suburbs. With Amazon and the other tech companies located right in Seattle, the complexion of the area has changed rapidly. With OR it is Intel and Nike located in the Willamette Valley and near Portland. Of course in CA, with Silicon Valley located just South of San Francisco, the blue wave has been pushed all the way to San Diego. San Diego itself has a high concentration of high tech. Of course Pete Williams support for the White Supremacist legislation did not help either. In a nutshell that is the reason that the West Coast continually becomes more blue.

  6. A side note. A citizen initiate state constitutional amendment in Florida this fall will be the ballot. To restore felon voting rights. It is favored to win. This takes away a major voting suppression tool and could turn purple Florida to blue.

    1. There’s also the massive influx of Puerto Ricans (the last estimates I saw ranging from roughly 250K to 300K+) and, of course, the Parkland students. As much uncertainty as the whole country has going into November, Florida has all that and a bag of chips. Going to be really interesting to watch what happens to my beloved, but often infuriating home state over the next few years.

      1. Agree, but I have read that the Kochs have been spending capital in outreach via services to arriving Puerto Ricans in Florida….to encourage them to look kindly upon Republicans. They (the PR) still have to register to vote….they have a right to vote but will have to follow protocols in their new counties of residence.

        As for the kids impact – I really believe this issue has legs. IF Congress doesn’t act on nation-wide policies, regardless of some of the initiatives Scott has proposed (who, of course, is gunning for a US Senate seat). USA poll (1000 people Feb 21-24) indicated gun control (tied with immigration) were people’s top issues, with school safety number seven in the list…and this was before the Parkland shooting.

      2. Insofar as our Puerto Rican friends, I’m not particularly worried about the Kochs’ efforts. Having your home utterly destroyed and then being left to rot isn’t something a few well-made commercials or mailers will make you forget.

  7. Helps that the Democrats actually have some interested contested races this year. Usually I look at the Democratic primary ballot and think, what’s the point of voting there since almost every race is uncontested? But this year the Dems have given people some real choices.

      1. I’ll definitely do some volunteering for Beto this summer (after the grants are submitted), and certainly for whomever is the TX22 nominee. I met 4 of the 5 candidates. I found them all suitable, but I can only pick one. I’m thinking that Gibson, Brown, and Kulkarni have the best odds for the two runoff spots. If time permits I may venture over to TX7 (have lots of friends in that district).

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