Texas Democrats Shouldn't Rely on Demographics

The Democratic Party in Texas has had a rough time over the past decade or so. While Democrats do well in urban Texas and in the Latino-dominated border areas (see this map for a breakdown of blue vs. red counties in the 2008 presidential election), Democrats have not been able to win statewide office in Texas since 1994. For years, Democrats in Texas and outside of Texas have worked on the assumption that this will all change with the rise of the Latino vote in Texas, which will inexorably turn Texas into a blue or at least a purple state.

A recent article by Forrest Wilder in the April 2012 edition of the Texas Observer entitled "Demographics No Longer Destiny for Democrats" calls this sort of analysis into doubt. This article isn't available online at this time (but you can read it if you subscribe to the Texas Observer) and it discusses the serious efforts that the Republican Party in Texas, under the leadership of people like George P. Bush, is making in trying to woo the Latino vote. Wilder makes the following important point:

The GOP already dominates Texas; it doesn't need to win over every Latino, or even a majority. Victory for Republicans lies in the margins. They need only peel off just enough Latinos to keep winning every statewide office, both houses of the Legislature and two-thirds of the congressional delegation.

This is a key point regarding the Latino vote in Texas and is something I've written about in the past. According to a Houston Chronicle article about the 2010 midterm elections in Texas, 39 percent of Latino voters in Texas voted to re-elect Rick Perry as Governor of Texas. That obviously isn't a majority, but if the GOP can maintain about 40 percent of the Latino vote as part of its voting coalition, that is enough for the Republican Party to maintain its dominance of Texas politics, given its level of support among other demographic groups.

I'm not a professional political consultant, so I'm not going to pretend to come up with solutions for how the Democratic Party in Texas needs to increase both Latino voter turnout and its general support base among Latinos. But I will say this -- Texas Democrats who think that demographic tides will turn in a manner that will save them are being complacent and are making a terrible mistake. Latino voters in Texas may not be moving en masse to the GOP, but they are up for grabs. The Democratic Party needs to reach out to them and should not assume that they will support the Democratic Party as a matter of course.

This is an issue with national implications because Texas is the most populous state in the Union that the GOP has a virtual lock on for Presidential election purposes and other purposes. If the Democratic Party can turn Texas into a competitive state instead of a one-party GOP state for Presidential and statewide electoral politics, that would be a huge game-changer for the politics of the entire country. The wiser members of the GOP's leadership class know that and are acting accordingly. Democrats need to consider the possibility that the Latino demographic tide may not automatically move in their direction and they too should act accordingly.