Battleground 2020Elections 2020IssuesIs Texas A Swing State? Election Experts Weigh In

Sean Trende believes Democrats have opportunities in Texas while Jay Cost predicts that next year's election will look more like 2016 than 2018.
August 7, 2019
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These days, elections start approximately 24 hours after the last one ended. The perpetual horserace can often be viewed as entertainment — and as a culture that seemingly craves more entertainment by the day — coverage of electoral politics becomes more voluminous.

The focus of this coverage is often on whoever occupies the White House, and thus the electorates that vote for him/her are constantly polled, probed, and politicked.

Some quintessential presidential “swing states” like Ohio and Florida have swung to the right in recent years, and others such as Virginia and Colorado have moved to the left.

As the Bob Dylan song goes: “Oh the times they are a-changin’.”

With the nail-biting nature of Senator Ted Cruz’s 2018 victory over challenger Beto O’Rourke, the gains made by Texas Democrats in the state legislature, in the state courts, and the Democrat congressional pickups, some believe Texas could be on the verge of swing-state status.

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One person who believes Texas could be in play in 2020 is Sean Trende, the senior elections analyst at RealClearPolitics.

Trende told The Texan, “Too many people take a demographics-is-destiny approach to elections…but it really depends on the choices as a party.”

“Trump is definitely opening up opportunities for Democrats in the suburbs, which is especially felt in Texas since it is overwhelmingly urban and suburban,” Trende continued.

But it also depends on what Democrats do, he added. “If Democrats nominate Senator Sanders or Warren — who are kind of out there on economic issues in ways that matter to urban and suburban voters — it might not be as good of an opportunity as other candidates,” Trende stated.

The Texan also spoke with Jay Cost — a visiting scholar with the American Enterprise Institute and columnist for National Review — who does not share Trende’s view on Texas’ near future.

“Hillary Clinton won the nationwide popular vote in 2016 by 2 points, but lost Texas by 9 points. That is an R+11 advantage. Romney lost by 4 points nationwide in 2012 but won Texas by 16. That is an R+20 advantage,” Cost said, explaining why Texas’ 2018 election was less indicative of a trend and more of an outlier.

“Though I have been wrong before,” Cost added.

Cost continued by saying, “If the 2020 election is close, I would be very surprised to see the Democrats invest heavily in Texas on the presidential level. If they win Texas, they’ll win over 350 electoral votes, anyway.”

He expects them to focus more on the Midwest.

About the future political makeup of the state, Cost added, “Also, I think Trump is sui generis in his political style (if not his policy substance). In other words, I do not see subsequent Republican nominees behaving in the same manner. And I think that insofar as Texas is slipping toward the Democrats, it is because of Trump’s style.”

Cost also rejects the demography equals destiny that many Texas Democrats embrace, stating, “Electoral coalitions are not forged at the ballot box. They are forged through governance.” The question that should be asked, Cost elaborated, is “[Can] Democrats govern in a way that sustains Texas within the Democratic coalition?”

If Texas Democrats do make the gains they are aiming for in 2020, Cost says, “it will be incumbent upon the Democrats to build on those gains through governance. And I personally see very little in the Democratic Party right now that points to a capacity to do that.”

Both respondents believe the turnout makeup to be mostly affected by the top of the ticket, and not really affected by the recent slew of retirements among Texas Republican congressmen. But Trende added that the suburban shift presents Democrats an opportunity to possibly whittle the Texas delegation down to a 20-16 Republican lead. The current composition is 23 Republicans and 13 Democrats.

And it remains to be seen how many new congressional seats Texas may gain after the census next year and what those new districts will look like–a key political prize for the party that emerges victorious.

With 2020 being a presidential election cycle without straight-ticket party voting, some hypothesized it could foster a significant undervote on lower-ticket races, affecting their outcomes. 

Trende doesn’t buy it because “Most voters vote straight-ticket for their party anyway.”

As far as the turnout makeup for the election, both respondents believe it will more so resemble the 2016 election than 2018 since it is a presidential year. Trende added that, depending on the Democrat’s nominee and the significance of the suburban shift, it could lie somewhere in the middle.

The Texas Democratic Party’s communications director, Abhi Rahman, told The Texan, “With Texas’ growing and diverse population, it’s clear that we are 2020’s biggest battleground state. From 2014 to 2018, Texas added 1.8 million new people to the voting rolls.”

Rahman added, “Now, it’s on us to get folks registered to vote, engage them substantively about the future, and speak to their issues.”

Republican Party of Texas Chairman, James Dickey, gave the following statement to The Texan: “Texas is an increasingly diverse state that continues to grow every day because businesses and individuals are moving here for our low taxes and business-friendly environment.”

“These can be directly attributed to Republican leadership which has instituted policies that have led to a prosperous, diverse and growing population. Many who move here are escaping states that over-tax, over-regulate, and hurt businesses — and we will fight to prevent repeating those tragedies here,” Dickey said.

Texas has remained firmly red in presidential elections since 1980 and has been the largest consistent electoral prize for Republican candidates.

Cost said the talk of the population surge leading to electoral change in Texas reminds him of 2008 and 2009 when “Republican electoral prospects were at a low ebb and Democrats were supposedly on the cusp of a thousand-year reign.” But once Republicans began governing, Cost added, “the result was the largest Republican House majority since the 1920s, 1,000-plus state legislative seats gone, and a Democratic bloodbath in governors mansions.”

Cost concluded, “The Democrats will get back in power sooner or later. Let’s see what they actually do.”

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Brad Johnson

Brad Johnson

Brad Johnson is an Ohio native who graduated from the University of Cincinnati in 2017. He is an avid sports fan who most enjoys watching his favorite teams continue their title drought throughout his cognizant lifetime. In his free time, you may find Brad watching and quoting Monty Python productions.