Joe Biden's New Best Friend
The last time any Democrat got anywhere close to a winner’s podium in Texas was when Jimmy Carter carried the state on his way to victory—it was so long ago that Democratic-haven California went to the Republicans in that election—in 1976. Democrats have gotten close: Beto O’Rourke sniffed a victory in 2018 only to come up just short to the incumbent Ted Cruz in an electric midterm race. O’Rourke and the sweeping changes across Texas have pulled Biden into a neck and neck race with the president for the state. Texas has been a long time coming but 2020 is the year where it goes right for the Democrats.
Bow Down to The Mighty Boot State
In most states, a political party losing their lead slowly over many decades would be hardly of notice. Texas has caught that attention; it is not difficult to understand why. Below are two electoral maps: one is the exact map of the 2016 election, the other a 2016 map where the only thing changed is Texas going for Hillary Clinton.
As you can see changing one state brings Clinton from having one of the worst electoral college nights in history to winning the presidency. Ya, but don’t states change their voting tendencies, like, all the time? You’re right, but when it comes to the four largest states in terms of electors—California, Texas, New York and Florida—
only Florida has been variable over the last 20 years. These states require large ideological or demographic shifts to change parties, making change lethargic, whereas smaller states don’t require as much change. Below is a chart of the four largest states and how many times they have changed parties over the last two decades.
New York 0
An overplayed expression goes: What happens when an immovable object meets an unstoppable force? Texas has been that immovable object, however, in 2020 it will relent, and Joe Biden will take the cake for the first time in 30 years.
There are two key voting demographics that have kept Texas red over the last few decades. First, even as Democratic-leaning Hispanic vote share rises, low turnout and lack of citizenship keep the group from having a large influence. Secondly, white voters make up 55 percent of the electorate, vote strongly Republican and come out in droves. This 1-2 punch makes Texas a scary place for Democrats. However, as the race has drawn tight over the last few elections, these two demographics have seen changes. Between 2010 and 2019, the population of Latinos in Texas grew to 1.9 million, with 230,000 thousand of that coming in the last year. With this the non-white electorate of the state has grown to 45 percent. Latinos specifically make up 36 percent of the electorate, higher than any other state. 2018 represented a perfect storm for Democrats in Texas as the state saw record setting Latino voter registration and participation as seen in the chart below.
With a higher turnout of Latino voters, O, Rourke was able to bring the race within three points in 2018. In addition, because so much of the Latino voting pool is first generation Americans, many of them are young and first time voters. As you can see in 2018 O’Rourke performed much better amongst young voters compared to Clinton in 2016.
O’Rourke performed 10 points better among young voters than Clinton in his race against Ted Cruz. We can expect 2020 to continue the trend of strong Liberal performance amongst young and first-time voters as these demographics fill with more of the Latino community.
The Latino voter pool is not consistent throughout the country, but that’s a good thing for Biden in Texas.
As you can see there is variability by state and race. Most notably in Texas, Democrats have a thirty point lead in the demographic versus Florida where they only have a 10 point lead. This variability may muddy the waters on Biden's performance in other swing states such as Florida, as the chart does show us that in Texas Latinos do strongly favor Democrats.
While the shifts I have described above are very important to O’Rourke’s strong performance in 2018—shrinking the margin of defeat from 9 points to 3—they don’t tell the whole story. White voters in Texas, until 2018, voted very heavily towards the Republican candidate.
2016- Vote Share by Race Trump Clinton
White 69% 26%
Non-white 29% 66%
2018- Vote Share by Race Cruz O'Rourke
White 66% 34%
Non-white 31% 66%
To understand the power of these two charts we must understand what Democrats need, or rather don’t need, to win in the boot state. Democrats do not need to win white voters. They have such a strong advantage among non-white voters who make up almost and equal amount of the electorate that winning the white vote is unnecessary. However, Democrats do need to have at least some white support. Looking back at these two charts, both Democrats get smoked among white voters, yet O’Rourke performers 13 points better than Clinton among whites allowing his non-white support to bring him close to Cruz. O’Rourke fell short of Cruz even with a massive swing of white voters going in his direction, so winning Texas for Biden seems like a tall order. That’s until I heard one word, a word that is going to become every democrat in Texas favorite word: “urbanization”. The south is the fastest growing region of the country and Texas is the fastest of the bunch. Below is a chart: 15 fastest growing cities in the country. Six are in Texas.
Frisco, Texas is the city that will flip the state. It is rapidly urbanizing—Democrats perform very well in urban areas traditionally--with 71 percent population growth over the last ten years. What is interesting about Frisco is that it's 67 percent white and only 11 percent Latino, very far from Texas’s statewide population. Just looking at the demographics you would think that the country is very right leaning, and it was, until 2018. Frisco is in the middle of two counties, Denton and Collin. Let’s see how they voted between 2016 and 2018.
Republican Democrat Margin
Collin + Denton County Average 2016 57% 38% 19%
Collin + Denton County Average 2018 53% 46% 7%
Spooky! O, Rourke killed it in these two very white counties cutting the margin by 12 percent. What this means is that Texas is seeing a new population of voters coming from all over the country, changing the status quo of how the state votes. If Biden can come close in predominantly white counties that are growing fast, he will win Texas. If we look at a map of the country by county growth, we can see that many areas of Texas are seeing the rapid growth of Collin and Denton counties.
All in all, O’Rourke cutting the margin so much in 2018 bodes well for Biden. Biden, like O'Rourke, has done very well among white voters which will be essential for his race in Texas. If he can maintain Clinton's performance among non-white and O’Rourke’s among white voters, Biden swill be in good shape to win.
Arizona is not only the home of our favorite Cohen brother’s movie; it is also the subject of push for Democratic control from a growing electorate. Arizona, like Texas, growing fast, diversifying, changing, is a solid president from what’s happening in Texas. Many states are growing and diversifying, however, Arizona has already undergone the political shift. After the next election, the state should have voted Biden in, a Democratic majority in state legislator, and two Democratic senators. This is speculation, however Biden has a 5-point lead in the polls over the president, and in the senate race democrat Mark Kelly is up 5 points, so my assumption is fairly safe. Texas has not undergone such a shift in political preference—yet—however Arizona provides us with a roadmap of how a state can slowly over time evolve. Let’s look at some numbers shall we. Here are three charts that put Arizona and Texas on eerily similar ground.
State Total population change 2010-2020
State Hispanic/Latino population
Let’s talk about these one by one. First off from the top left chart we can see that both states have seen similar large population growth. From the top right we can tell that both have a sizable Latino population. The population change map confirms the charts, showing deep blue all throughout Arizona, meaning that many counties grew by 10 percent or more. Arizona is proof that an undergoing demographic and populous changes is enough to swing a state's politics. A positive proof of concept the same can happen in Texas.
O, Rourke and Biden, best friends
In many ways the 2020 Biden vs. Trump race is similar to the 2018 O’Rourke vs. Cruz race. Cruz and Trump are both unpopular, both at around 45 percent approval. However, they both are incumbents improving their situation. Just like in the 2018 race, health care is the biggest issue of 2020. These comparisons are very helpful in understanding why Biden is popular in Texas. The healthcare similarities are helpful in particular. The “Biden Plan” and O’Rourke’s Medicare For All plan are very similar. Both support the right to choose between employer healthcare or government-sponsored Medicare. A healthcare plan like this is popular in Texas, two-thirds of people who named healthcare as their main issue voted for O’Rourke. As more people die in the pandemic and Republicans continue to roll back Obama Care Healthcare will only become a larger issue. An issue that favors Democrats in Texas. A strong performance over this issue could be a key boost for Biden
P.S. Some of these things aren’t so little.
My friends, we are in the last act. Our hero has confessed his love for the girl. People in the theatre are getting ready to leave. Before we call it a day, we need to tie up some loose ends. Texas polling has traditionally been skewed 2 points to the Republicans Advantage. In 2018, the RCP average before the election was Cruz +7, but he only ended up winning by 2.6. Conservative skewed polling could be showing us a less objective picture of the race before election day. Biden is very, very popular. No candidate has had a 10 point lead over an incumbent president a month before the election; such popularity improves his chances everywhere. Biden is leading in early return ballots by a sizable margin, up by seven points so far. Although mailing has shown to be Democratic skewed so that should come with a grain of salt. It's of note that Texas will have a winner on election night because the mail in votes are being counted as they come in, A Biden win would almost certainly cede him the presidency on election night.
'It's always darkest before it's totally black.' -John McCain
This quote seems fitting. Politics changes within a nation aren’t just demographic shifts. They also represent a deeply saddening yearning for change. Clearly in Texas and throughout the nation people are dissatisfied with the way they are treated. People want something different; the president hasn’t provided that. No one knows whether things will become ‘totally black for republicans’ after this upcoming election. We need to know,however, that regardless of a winner, two hundred thousand Americans are dead and whether Texas is blue or red doesn’t change that. An election does give us an opportunity to bring justice, to those lost and those oppressed.