Elections 2020Statewide News2020 Election Signals Political Realignment in Texas Border Counties

Significant gains for Republicans in South Texas and along the border show that the region is turning purple.
November 9, 2020
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For all of the talk about Texas potentially voting for a Democratic presidential candidate for the first time since 1976, President Donald Trump received nearly the same percentage of the vote that he did in 2016.

According to the latest numbers reported by the Texas Secretary of State, Trump received 52.17 percent of the vote this year as opposed to the 52.23 percent he won against Hillary Clinton — though Joe Biden received three points more than Clinton.

Despite the little amount of change in the support for the Republican at the top of the ticket, the location of that support has shifted some — most notably in the southwest Texas counties along the border.

Net change in percent of votes received by Donald Trump in each county between 2016 and 2020. Data obtained from the Texas Secretary of State.

While some suburban counties like Kaufman, Collin, and Ellis shifted a greater portion of votes away from Trump in 2020 compared to 2016, a more significant shift was seen in southern Texas.

The South Texas counties of Starr, Maverick, Jim Hogg, and Kenedy all shifted toward Trump by over twenty points between the 2016 and 2020 elections, though Kenedy, with only 296 registered voters, was the only of the four that Trump carried.

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38 other counties swung more than five points toward Trump, mostly along the border.

Percent of the vote received by Donald Trump in each county. Data obtained from the Texas Secretary of State.

Though the shift was not enough to swing many of the staunchly Democratic counties toward the GOP, such wide differences between the two presidential elections suggest that districts in the region are turning purple.

House District 74, for example, consists of 12 counties in West Texas and along the U.S.-Mexico border and was carried by Clinton with 56 percent of the vote.

This year, Trump carried the district with 53 percent of the vote, while Biden only received 46 percent.

On races down the ballot, voters in the district leaned slightly more toward Democrats, but a clear shift is still seen.

In 2016, the Republican running for a seat on the Texas Railroad Commission received 36 percent of the vote in the district. This year, the Republican running for another seat on the commission received 49 percent of the vote.

Likewise, the average votes that Republican Texas Supreme Court candidates received in the district shifted from 40 percent in 2016 to 50 percent in 2020.

The district’s representative, Rep. Poncho Nevárez (D-Eagle Pass) ran unopposed in 2016 and 2018, but decided against seeking reelection after an arrest for cocaine possession.

While the Republican running for his open seat, Ruben Falcon, led part of the election night ahead of Democrat Eddie Morales, Morales came out on top after the district’s most populous county reported its votes.

Morales defeated Falcon with 54 percent of the vote.

A similar shift occurred in House District 31, where incumbent Rep. Ryan Guillen (D-Rio Grande City) defeated his Republican challenger with 58 percent of the vote.

However, while Trump received only 42 percent of the district’s vote in 2016, his support grew to 56 percent this year.

At the congressional level, Rep. Vicente Gonzalez (D-TX-15), whose district stretches across a strip of counties in South Texas, faced a closer race than expected against Republican Monica De La Cruz-Hernandez.

In a district that Clinton carried in 2016 with 56 percent of the vote against Trump’s 40 percent, Gonzalez’s margin of victory this year was much smaller. He walked away as the winner with 50.5 percent of the vote.

“Clearly, last night’s election was a phenomena at the top of the ticket that impacted campaigns down ballot across Texas and throughout the country,” said Gonzalez about the close race.

The presidential race was apparently a significant factor, given that while support for Trump in some of the border counties swung as high as 28 percent between 2016 and 2018, the median support for other Republicans in statewide races swung only as high as 20 percent.

Net change in the median percent of votes received by statewide Republican candidates in each county between 2016 and 2020. Data obtained from the Texas Secretary of State.

All the same, Republicans do appear to be gaining some momentum in the region.

In 2018, when Democrats gained more support throughout most Texas House districts, an analysis from The Texan found that 21 districts actually shifted toward Republicans.

The top 10 of those — House Districts 37, 42, 36, 38, 39, 74, 43, 80, 31, and 40 — are all located in South Texas or along the border.

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Daniel Friend

Daniel Friend

Daniel Friend is a reporter for The Texan. He participated in a Great Books program at Azusa Pacific University and graduated in 2019 with a degree in Political Science. He has studied C.S. Lewis’s science fiction trilogy and in his spare time you might find him writing his own novel partly inspired by the series.