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Democrats could win Texas by 2024 if current trends continue

Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump speaks during a campaign rally, Thursday, Oct. 27, 2016, in Geneva, Ohio.
Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump speaks during a campaign rally, Thursday, Oct. 27, 2016, in Geneva, Ohio. AP

Texas continued its streak of electing Republican presidential candidates, but the final numbers give Democrats a glimmer of hope for winning statewide in the future.

Hillary Clinton in 2016 outperformed Barack Obama in 2012 by 6.7 percentage points in Texas, although she still lost to Donald Trump by 9.1 percentage points statewide.

However, if the trend from 2016 continues, Democrats would beat Republicans in Texas by 2024. In 2020, when Trump will try to win a second term, Texas may have shifted into competitive territory for both parties.

Democrats perform better in Texas during presidential elections than midterm elections, and will likely face an uphill slog to unseat incumbent Republicans Senator Ted Cruz and Governor Greg Abbott in 2018.

For decades, Democrats have claimed that changing demographics will make Texas a competitive state.

But Democratic state Sen. Wendy Davis of Fort Worth was trounced by Abbott by over 20 percentage points despite gaining national attention for a filibuster over a bill that would ban abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy.

“The Democratic Party lacks the galvanizing issues the Republicans have, particularly in terms of immigration and anti-Washington sentiment,” Director of The Texas Politics Project Jim Henson said before the election. “Before you start talking about mobilizing independents and Republicans, you need to mobilize your base.”

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Texas shifted toward Democrats in the presidential race more than every state except Utah, which was an outlier after independent candidate Evan McMullin turned the state into a three-way race.

The results in suburban areas outside of major cities, the fastest-growing parts of Texas, trended in Clinton’s favor.

Hays County, just south of Austin and the fastest-growing county in the state from 2010 to 2015, went Trump’s way by 0.85 percentage points. In 2012, Mitt Romney beat Obama in Hays county by more than 10 percentage points.

Fort Bend County, the third fastest-growing county in the state just south of Houston, flipped from 2012 to 2016. Romney won nearly 53 percent of the vote while Trump captured just under 45 percent.

Near Fort Worth, Collin and Denton counties are among the fastest growing in the state and could be predictive of future results.

“If Denton and Collin go 6 or 8 percent less than they were in 2012, that’s a big difference in the margin of Republican victory,” said University of Houston politics professor and pollster Richard Murray before the election.

Clinton improved on Obama’s showing by 3.8 percentage points in Denton County and 5.7 percentage points in Collin County, according to results by the Texas Secretary of State’s office.

Even though a record 15 million Texans were registered to vote and 4 million voted early, turnout across the state was still low despite a nearly 12 percentage point increase from 2012.

Just under 43 percent of eligible voters cast a ballot during the presidential election, which represented 8.8 million total votes in Texas. Before the election, some experts thought the conditions were right for 10 million Texans to turn out and vote.

Republicans have won every statewide election in Texas since 1994, the longest streak in the nation.

Alex Daugherty: 202-383-6049, @alextdaugherty

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