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The Latest Exercise in "Blue Texas" Wishful Thinking

The state's unlikely to vote Democratic by 2024

Brian Bahr/Getty Images

Texas electoral politics tend to elicit sensationalism. Jeb Bush has suggested the Lone Star state, which voted for Romney by 16 points in 2012, could somehow turn blue in 2016; Ted Cruz, who doesn’t even favor comprehensive immigration reform, similarly said that new Hispanic voters would turn Texas blue and bury the GOP alongside the Whigs. And yesterday, New York Times writer Thomas Edsall seemed to confirm Bush and Cruz’s worries with a sober, data-driven take on Texas’ Democratic future. Texas, Edsall argued, was “ripe for realignment” and on a “path to first turn purple and then blue.” Unfortunately, he was armed with suspect data.

Edsall relied on projections of the racial composition of Texas’s voting eligible population through 2025 that found whites would drop from 57 to 35 percent of eligible voters in just fifteen years. Meanwhile, Hispanics would surge from 26 percent of eligible voters in 2010 to a whopping 44 percent by the 2024 election. If true, the numbers would justify the hype about a blue Texas.

Edsall’s data came from Robert Stein, a political scientist at Rice University. But Stein’s projections were originally produced by the William C. Velazquez Institute (WCVI), which posted their findings as an undated power-point presentation. According to the WCVI, their projections were based on the 2000 Census, the most recent information at the time. The Census recommends that one “exercise caution” when using “historic” projections, since population trends can change substantially over a decade, especially in a rapidly growing state like Texas. Unfortunately, the 2010 Census does not offer state population projections, but the Census instead offers a link to the population projections by state governments. In Texas, population projections are done by the Texas State Data Center (TSDC).

TSDC estimates are based on the 2010 Census and suggest a different picture than the one that Edsall draws. With the exception of migration, the projections are pretty straightforward: After all, the new voters of 2024 are already alive. According to the TSDC, Hispanics are expected to be between 38 and 41 percent of Texas’ voting age population in 2024, depending on migration, and probably between 33 and 37 percent of the voting eligible population (since many Hispanic residents aren’t citizens, and therefore are ineligible to vote).2 In comparison, the WCVI projected that Hispanics would be 44 percent of the eligble population. The white share of eligible voters in the TSDC ranges from 44 to 50 percent of eligible voters, mainly depending on the pace of migration from elsewhere in the United States. Another study, by David Broockman at Yale University, found that the Hispanic share of the voting age population would increase to 37 percent—just slightly beneath the TSDC estimate of 38-41 percent, but it’s based on different data from the American Community Survey. 

There’s room for different methodological choices to produce marginally different conclusions than the TSDC, but projecting the composition of the electorate for 15 years is too straightforward to result in double-digit disagreements about the white share of eligible voters, especially if they both rely on the same data. After all, the racial character of Texas’ 6-to-18 year olds—the new voters between now and 2024—is well-known. As a result, Professor Stein acknowledged that the WCVI figures “[don’t] add-up.”

The TSDC data would still make Texas more diverse—and more competitive—than it is today, but it’s far less diverse than projected by the WCVI. Even the most diverse TSDC scenario shows 40 percent less change in the white share of eligible voters than the WCVI projection. As a result, re-running the 2012 election in 2024 would still yield a clear Republican victory. A Democratic win might require a 2008-redux and higher Hispanic turnout. That’s more like today’s Arizona than a “blue Texas.”

Nate Cohn is a staff writer at The New Republic. Follow him on Twitter at @electionate.

Updated on May 19, 2013 to reflect comment by the William C. Velazquez Institute. 

  1. WCVI has not yet replied to a request for comment.

  2. The TSDC does not project how many Texas Hispanics will be citizens in 2024. Currently, just 68 percent of voting age Texas Hispanics are eligible to vote. This article assumes that 93 percent of new Hispanic voters will be citizens, since 93 percent of young, Texas Hispanics are citizens.