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Why Texas Democrats Must Focus On An Urban First Strategy And Embrace Progressivism
Democrats can move from stagnation to progress, but they have to redefine their strategy in rapidly changing political landscape.
The graph above was posted on Twitter by Chris Tackett, and it makes a good point about how urban counties in Texas have exploded in growth in the last 20 years, but rural counties have remained stagnant. Tackett’s point is that there needs to be a more significant focus on GoTV efforts in urban areas.
Let’s check the math and see what we get. Below are the most populous 20 counties, the current number of registered voters, and the partisan swing based on the 2020 election.
Harris County: 2,586,475 registered voters - 55.96(D)/42.7(R)
Dallas County: 1,380,678 registered voters - 65.1(D)/33.4(R)
Tarrant County: 1,268,876 registered voters - 49.31(D)/49.09(R)
Bexar County: 1,191,715 registered voters - 58.18(D)/40.04(R)
Travis County: 870,024 registered voters - 71.62(D)/26.51(R)
Collin County: 681,271 registered voters - 47.05(D)/51.4(R)
Denton County: 596,920 registered voters - 45.15(D)/53.23(R)
Fort Bend County: 514,163 registered voters - 54.7(D)/44.12(R)
Hidalgo County: 411,143 registered voters - 58.04(D)/40.98(R)
El Paso County: 490,097 registered voters - 66.78(D)/31.62(R)
Montgomery County: 415,397 registered voters - 27.39(D)/71.22(R)
Williamson County: 420,091 registered voters - 49.66(D)/48.26(R)
Cameron County: 222,856 registered voters - 56.11(D)/42.94(R)
Bell County: 230,041 registered voters - 44.76(D)/53.3(R)
Brazoria County: 232,082 registered voters - 40.15(D)/58.35(R)
Galveston County: 229,869 registered voters - 37.95(D)/60.56(R)
Nueces County: 215,254 registered voters - 47.85(D)/50.75(R)
Lubbock County: 182,932 registered voters - 33.12(D)/65.27(R)
Hays County: 165,019 registered voters - 51.41(D)/43.59(R)
Webb County: 140,180 registered voters - 61.14(D)/37.86(R)
McLennan County: 149,108 registered voters - 37.49(D)/60.84(R)
The total amount of registered voters in those counties (as of January) is 12,594,191. The total partisan affiliation of those 20 counties is 54.3(D)/45.7(R). So, hypothetically, if Democrats had a large turnout in these top 20 counties, they would carry the state.
If someone wants to win a statewide election, they should focus on where the most voters are.
Perhaps this is where Beto went wrong. He spoke to crowds in Midland, population 132K, five or six times but never once showed up to talk to crowds in Arlington, population 400K (except at a college event, not open to the public).
As of January, there were 17,450,474 total registered voters in Texas, 72% of them are in the top twenty most populous counties.
Furthermore, rural Texas is shrinking. According to the Texas Tribune, more than half of all counties in Texas lost population between 2010 and 2020, and those were exclusively in rural Texas. While these rural areas were losing population, urban counties continued to see massive population growth.
A friend of mine is the Democratic Party County Chair in a rural Texas county and recently told me how for the last several years, they’ve been busting their hump trying to get Democratic voters to the polls, yet election cycle after election cycle, their (D) turnout numbers are stagnant. They told me they don’t think there are any Democrats left to GOTV with.
Some might say that rural Texas used to be blue long ago, and it’s possible to flip them back. Those were Conservative Democrats, and as the Democratic Party moved toward equality and rights for all, they became Conservative Republicans. Unless the Democratic Party takes a hard right turn, they will never return.
We must stop thinking about what Texas was when it was Conservative and blue and picture how it can be blue now, with progressivism.
Democrats in Texas must stop pandering to so-called moderates if they want to win.
Over the last several years, the ideological alignment of Texas Democratic voters has been a topic I’ve discussed with many people. Every once in a while, I’ll hear older white Democrats say that the Democrats have moved too far left and talk about how we can only win by catering to moderates or the independent vote. I’ve long disagreed with that, and since we’re getting into the 2024 election season, let’s talk about why and the data that backs it up.
The chart above came from the Democracy Fund and shows where American voters lie on the ideological spectrum and where they voted in 2016. The chart above says that almost all the persuadable voters in the electorate aren’t “moderates.” Meaning there weren’t socially-liberal, economically-conservative Clinton voters. Any voters on the “economically-conservative” spectrum are typically GOP voters.
The “no labels” style centrists are corporate folks who push the idea that most persuadable voters are socially liberal but economically conservative. Romney types. This is blatantly false. As you can see, almost NO ONE is in that bottom right quadrant. That doesn’t mean that the suburban Romney Democrat doesn’t exist. They do, but their numbers are actually quite limited, and they are far less economically conservative and more socially liberal than usually given credit for.
And the younger they are, the more likely they are to be in the bottom-left quadrant.
As counties get less white, they also get less Republican.
The following charts are also courtesy of Chris Tackett.
If Democrats want to win Texas and flip this state blue, they have to start focusing on where the voters are, and they have to focus on the groups that will get them there with the policies that matter. While I would never advocate ignoring any Texan, statewide candidates could ignore 147 counties in Texas and still reach 95% of the electorate.
The Democratic Party in Texas hasn’t been focusing on building a Democratic infrastructure and fighting against Christian Nationalism, and they’re out of time. Democrats must focus on legit untapped votes in areas most likely to vote progressive.
Millions of “registered-not-voting” voters are in blue/urban areas in Texas. Rural areas are losing population, not gaining. That means we should expect little to no increase in Democratic voters in rural areas in the upcoming elections.
Texas Democrats can win with an urban-first strategy, a strategy which, to this day, they still haven’t used. They need to be appealing to younger voters, and they need to focus on turnout in Black and brown communities.
The changing demographics in Texas and the decline in rural populations demand a strategic shift for Democrats. By focusing on where the voters are, targeting Black and brown communities, and embracing progressive policies, Democrats can harness the power of these demographic shifts and pave the way for a more inclusive and representative political landscape in Texas. The time for bold action is now, and Democrats must seize this opportunity to shape the state's future.