For years, political observers have been bracing for an electoral shake-up in Texas. After all, it’s the only reliably Republican state in which minorities make up a majority of the population.
Since Hispanics lean Democratic, but participate in elections at lower rates than their black and Anglo counterparts, the conventional wisdom holds that their apathy has prolonged the GOP’s firm grip on Texas. It’s generally accepted, too, that getting Latinos motivated to vote is the key to a future resurgence of the party of Lyndon Baines Johnson.
Both are valid points. But there’s a highly ignored factor in this demographic debate: the allegiance of Anglo voters. Republicans have a huge advantage there. It helps explain why no Democrat came close to winning statewide from 2000 to 2010 even though minorities accounted for 89 percent of the state's population growth over the same period.
Call it political white flight: As the minority population booms in Texas, Anglos have increasingly cast their lot with the GOP. Even after Democrats started losing everything statewide in the mid-1990s, they continued to rule many of the courthouses throughout Texas. But Republicans have taken over those local offices in recent years despite an increasingly diverse population. Democrats haven’t won statewide in Texas since 1994, and the GOP has controlled both chambers of the Legislature since 2003.
The political ramifications of the GOP's lock on the Anglo vote, in state and presidential elections, are huge. In swing states like Ohio, Mitt Romney and Barack Obama are splitting the white vote almost evenly.
In North Carolina, which has a larger percentage of black voters than Texas but far fewer Hispanics, Obama is getting almost a third of the white vote and remains competitive in the state, according to a recent poll.
In Texas, Hispanic and black voting mirrors trends in other large states and in swing states. About two-thirds of the Latinos prefer Obama, as do about 90 percent of the African-American voters.
But it’s not even remotely close among Anglo voters, and that's why Texas isn't anywhere near swing-state status. Romney is beating Obama among Anglos 77-17, and his advantage overall — 55-40 — is larger than the margin John McCain racked up against the Democrat in 2008, according to a survey by Texas GOP pollster Chris Perkins.
Anglos no longer constitute a majority in Texas, but they comprise 60 percent of the pool of likely voters in the survey. Latinos made up about 26 percent and blacks were at 12 percent in Perkins' poll.
It’s hard to imagine Republicans going much higher with Anglo voters, which is clearly a danger for the party since Anglos are declining as a share of the total population. But if the GOP can maintain its position with them and then increase even slightly their percentage among Latinos — by getting, say, 40 percent — they could remain dominant for a long time.
By the same token, if Democrats were able to increase even slightly their percentages among Anglo voters — while holding on to their share of Latinos and African-Americans — they would give Republicans a run for their money.