Texas remains red, but by smaller margin

Texas' voter turnout rate has steadily grown over the past few years, contributing to the possibility that it becomes a swing state. Graphic by Emileé Edwards | Photographer

By Ava Dunwoody | Staff Writer

Looking back on the now past 2020 election, voters are now able to formulate an answer to a question asked before the polls closed: is Texas turning purple? Though President Donald J. Trump won Texas by 5.8 percentage points, trends show a decrease in the margin by which Texas is going red.

In the 2016 election, President Trump beat Hillary Clinton by about 9.2 percentage points in Texas. In the election before that, Republican candidate Mitt Romney beat former Democratic President Barack Obama in Texas by 15.8 points.

“Texas Democrats thought this might be the year they’d breakthrough, but that wasn’t the case,” Dr. Patrick Flavin, associate professor in the department of political science, said. “It usually happens gradually. It would be hard to find an example of a state that voted 10 points for the Republican candidate in one election and flips 10 points for the Democrats in the next one.”

Flavin said while Texas may not have gone blue this election, polls are demonstrating Texas is becoming more competitive. He said it takes time for states to flip, and in this election, Georgia was a good example of a solid red state shifting over time.

Ohio is another example of a state that has flipped over time, Flavin said. He said in the 2004, 2008 and 2012 elections, Ohio was considered a swing state and now it seems to be reliably red. Trends are showing Texas is now beginning a similar process.

“I think in 2024, [Texas] will be a legitimate swing state,” Flavin said. “In terms of it becoming a blue state, I think that’s a ways off. If it becomes a tossup state — which I think it will — it will probably stay that way for at least two or three election cycles. Maybe someday, but not any time in the near future.”

Texas’ shift can be attributed to both the demographic change within the state and the migration of Democratic voters from out of state into Texas. Flavin said this, along with increased voter turnout, is what is giving Democrats hope that Texas will one day be blue.

McLennan County Elections Administrator Kathy E. Van Wolfe said they experienced record voter turnout and many voters took advantage of the three weeks of early voting.

“We are very excited about the turnout that we saw, not only across both lines — Democratic and Republican — but voters young and old and even first-time voters,” Van Wolfe said.

In McLennan County alone, 17,936 more people voted for the president in the 2020 election than in the 2016 election. The percentage of people in McLennan county who voted for the Democratic presidential candidate increased by 3.48 points between these two elections.

Van Wolfe said even within counties, voter trends shift between red and blue tendencies. In 1996, Van Wolfe said McLennan county was primarily a Democratic county, and now it typically leans right. Just like in different parts of the country, counties indicate similar shifts in votes.

Flavin said Texas played an important role in this election specifically because it gave hope to both sides of the political spectrum with the way it ended up voting. For the Republicans, Flavin said, it was crucial for President Trump to win. Because there was even more voter turnout, and Texas still went red, it diminished the argument that more voters would flip the state to blue.

“On the other hand,” Flavin said, “I think the trend is clearly moving towards Texas being more politically competitive. If you look at not only the presidential level but statewide races too, it’s not a given anymore that a Republican candidate is going to win, and that’s a reason to be optimistic for Democrats.”

Flavin said both sides had reason to be happy with the results of the Texas polls. In that way, Flavin said, Texas is becoming a purple state. He said both sides were also impressed with the big increase in youth voter turnout, which includes people ages 18 to 24.

“Like many things, you make a habit of [voting],” Flavin said. “Once you vote once, you are way more likely to vote again, so I’m hoping that all the Baylor students who voted for the first time in this election would [make] a habit going forward. I think that’s one really good thing to come out of this election.”