Democrats have invested heavily in the Hispanic vote since 2008. And while the Hispanic vote has turned reliably red states such as Nevada and Colorado blue since that time it has failed to make the biggest electoral prize, Texas, any less red. This cycle Democrats sought to change that.
Battleground Texas, a massive project aimed to turn Texas blue was the centerpiece of the effort. The group, activated after 2010, focused heavily on registering new Hispanic and black voters and getting them to vote Democratic. But the group has hit roadblock after roadblock. Since its creation the entity has suffered with fundraising, in 2012 Romney won more of the vote than McCain and has failed to register a new swath of voters this cycle.
This is not surprising when one looks at the demographics of the state. According to Wayne Thorburn, an elections analyst and Republican strategist, about 10 million of Texas’s denizens are Hispanic. But, this number includes over 1 million undocumented immigrants. three million Hispanics under 18 and numerous Green Card and work visa holders. Further, it does not recognize that Texan Hispanics are more conservative than their national counterparts.
In 2012 Mitt Romney won 27% of the Hispanic vote nationally. There were two places where he beat his national average, Florida (with its large Cuban-American population) and Texas where he won 37% of the vote. Texan Hispanics are arguably more conservative in self-identification than any other Hispanic population in America. In some surveys over 40% of Texan Hispanics identify as conservative and a mere 20% as liberal.
It has helped the Texas GOP has recognized that they need to maintain loyalties within this voting bloc. The party has maintained a robust Hispanic outreach effort and their gubernatorial candidate, AG Greg Abbott, has aired numerous Spanish language ads. Abbott also has a special appeal to the Hispanic community in that his wife is a Hispanic.
Of course Democrats are not going quietly into the night. Their gubernatorial nominee, state senator Wendy Davis, rose to fame by filibustering a GOP abortion bill (which recently was upheld by the 5th CC). Many Hispanics are culturally conservative and Davis has struggled to appeal to the group partly because of her positions.
Since the inception of her campaign Davis has done her party few favors. She has flip-flopped on gun control, provided contradictory statements on abortion and ultimately decided to try to dodge the issue before her campaign finally settled into a stable gear. Texas’s natural Republican tilt has only been amplified by external factors such as the President’s unpopularity and Democrats sinking morale.
Still, Democrats are optimistic. They argue GOP overreach will weaken the party’s standing among Hispanics if not in this cycle than the next. They could be right. Afterall, the GOP state senate has cut funding for education, particularly in urban majority-minority school districts (where the most money is spent regardless). However, the GOP is running more Hispanic candidates than ever. In 2012, the number of Hispanic elected officials with an (R) next to their name increased from 58 to 78.
The Democrat’s primary base of Hispanic support in the state is Southern Texas. Of the eight Congressional districts considered in Southern Texas, seven of them are held by Democrats. All are majority Hispanic though TX-23 is considered a swing district. Only Blake Farenthold’s TX-27 is held by a Republican today.
Five of the seven Democratic seats are held by Hispanics. Even Farenthold can claim some Hispanic lineage. Being able to appeal to Hispanic voters, whether in the suburbs or solidly blue Southern Texas, culturally shows. In the Democratic primary, Davis, showcasing her limited appeal to the voting bloc lost 27 Southern Texas counties to her little known Hispanic opponent. Turnout in those counties also dropped from 2010. Republicans are not saying they can win these counties next month but they hope to make incremental gains with a weak Democrat at the top of the ticket.
Long term, Battleground Texas and state Democrats argue Hispanics combined with the black vote will eventually surpass the white vote. Few demographers argue this point. However, whether this automatically benefits Democrats is a dubious proposition at best. Arguing how a group will behave 10 to 20 years from now is extremely perilous. Especially when one considers how social and demographic variables will inevitably impact Hispanics electoral habits.
Intermarriages and ethnic identification among Hispanics and whites has increased significantly since 2000. Southern Texas has the lowest interracial marriage rate of any part of Texas (perhaps why Democratic appeals on race play so well). Many Hispanics have surnames more reminiscent of Italian or Irish Americans. Today, take Southern Texas out of the Hispanic vote and Hispanics actually behave very much like a swing voting bloc.
Census data has revealed that Hispanics are increasingly moving to the suburbs. These areas, reliably red, have virtually every major policy decided by Republicans. Hispanics may leave their swing or Democratic tendencies behind just to have a say in the process. More likely, suburban Hispanics will begin to behave as suburban whites do as their policy preferences mirror those of their white counterparts.
Democrats are unlikely to abandon Texas to the GOP. But their focus solely on Hispanic and black voters comes at a major disadvantage. First, Hispanics are not as nearly Democratic as they appear (support candidate driven). Second, their share of the vote is going to be significantly smaller than their share of the population for the foreseeable future. Lastly, Republicans refuse to cede the Hispanic vote and demographic and cultural factors could move the group closer to Republicans. If the Democratic party continues to identify based on gender and race it is hard to see them making inroads with a Hispanic community that is increasingly biracial. Battleground Texas, probably not.