Texas has been viewed for decades as a solid red state. Republicans have dominated Texas politics since the 1990s, and the state is home to many key figures in GOP politics, including the late George H.W. Bush and former President George W. Bush. But some political pundits and Democratic strategists believe that Texas is evolving into a purple state that will soon be a top battleground. While Texas is showing signs of moving in this direction, the lack of Democratic statewide wins and the shifting politics of South Texas show that Texas should not be viewed as a purple state just yet.
What’s driving the belief that Texas is turning purple? Well, recent election results have shown that the state is not as red as it looks. Despite Republicans winning every statewide election in 2018, the margin of victory for each race was less than 15% — anything over this mark is considered ‘safe’ by most pundits. Of the eight statewide races that year, Republicans won half of them by less than 5%. The closest race that year was a high-profile Senate election between Democratic Rep. Beto O’Rourke and Republican Sen. and noted island escapist Ted Cruz. Though Cruz won, O’Rourke’s 48.3% was the highest percentage of any Democrat in Texas since 1990. O’Rourke was also able to raise a whopping $80 million for his campaign, a record haul for a Texas Democrat.
Another factor in the argument for Texas’ purple status is that Democrats have been continually making gains in the state’s metropolitan areas. This was evident in the 2020 presidential election, where Joe Biden earned 46.48% of the vote, the highest percentage for a Democrat on the presidential level since 1976. Part of this was due to strong Democratic turnout in the Dallas-Fort Worth metro area. Here, Biden won Dallas County with nearly 65% of the vote and narrowly won neighboring Tarrant County — the first time a Democrat has done so on the presidential level since 1964. Biden also reduced Trump’s margin of victory in suburban Collin and Denton counties to under 10%. Biden also performed incredibly well in Greater Austin, winning Travis County with a staggering 71% and flipping long-time Republican Williamson and Hays counties into the Democratic column.
However, even with these Democratic gains, Texas still hasn’t shown that it is a purple state yet. By definition, a purple state is one that both parties can win in. While Democrats have narrowed the margins in recent years, they haven’t actually won statewide since 1994. There have been many close races since then, but Republicans have managed to win them all. To truly be considered a purple state, Texas Democrats need to get over the hump and finally notch a statewide victory.
It’s also important to note that while the statewide elections in 2018 and 2020 were remarkably close by Texas standards, they occurred during “blue wave” years during which Democrats performed well nationwide. To sustain the purple state argument, Texas Democrats will need to replicate or improve on these previous margins in the state’s elections this November to prove they can win in a national environment that isn’t a blue wave. Though the 2022 “red wave” that many have predicted has shown signs of slowing down, being able to match their previous margins in a potentially neutral national environment will still be an uphill battle.
But what complicates Texas Democrats’ hopes of the state turning purple is the changing politics of South Texas. Traditionally, this region has voted overwhelmingly for Democrats, even as the rest of the state has turned red. But the 2020 presidential election reversed that, as Trump made significant gains with Latino voters. He won eight counties that voted for Hillary Clinton in 2016 and many counties shifted rightward by 20% or more.
Republicans were likely able to make these large gains in South Texas because Latino voters in the region felt left behind by Democrats. Latino voters in this region tend to be socially conservative, religious, pro-police and support the region’s important oil and gas industry. As the party turned increasingly towards progressivism in 2020, many of these voters felt that their values were much more in line with Republicans and made the switch in 2020. With this new base, Republicans are now targeting the region this November to continue their 2020 gains. If Republican success in South Texas continues, then Democrats can say goodbye to the idea of purple Texas.
With the lack of statewide victories and shifting politics of South Texas, Texas is a long way from being known as a purple state. Unless Democrats can win back Latino voters in South Texas, record a victory statewide, and maintain their gains in the suburbs and urban areas, Texas will continue to be out of their reach.