Texas Democrats Rise as White Liberals Arrive In Search of Booming Tech, Energy Jobs

Longtime Texas Republicans and Democratic pollsters say predominately white new arrivals who moved to enjoy the state's economy are a primary factor behind the state potentially turning blue in 2020.

GOP politicians like former Governor Rick Perry have long bragged about the "Texas Miracle" which pointed to the state's economy growing while the rest of the country plummeted under the Great Recession. But the state's continuing energy and tech industry boom is bringing more liberals to Texas than its traditional Christian conservative base. Left-leaning think tanks and Republican strategists alike say it's not the state's Hispanic population which could turn the country's second-largest electoral prize blue in 2020 -- it's young, white liberals.

"The Latino growth gets a lot of the attention, but that's far from the only thing going on," said Ruy Texeira, a political demographer at the liberal Center for American Progress, in an interview with Bloomberg's Gregory Korte and Joe Carroll. "You can't understand or explain the way Texas has shifted in the last couple of decades without looking at what's going on with the white population."

Former President Jimmy Carter was the last Democratic candidate to win over Texas, which stands only behind California in terms of presidential electoral power. But Texas' recent leftward turn became evident as Republican strongholds such as Williamson County, located outside of the Democratic capital city of Austin, gained 32,000 new voter registrations and cast 5,000 more election day ballots in 2018. In that typically low-turnout midterm contest, Representative Beto O'Rourke won 6,000 more Senate race votes than Republican incumbent Senator Ted Cruz.

"There are some who are coming here for the jobs and they don't have the Republican or conservative mindset, if you will," said Republican activist Nancy Large. "We realize we can't sit on our laurels. We have to get out there and fight."

President Donald Trump won Williamson County by 20,000 more votes than Hillary Clinton in the 2016 election. Trump won the state by 9 percentage points and still holds a 70 percent approval rating among Texas Republicans. The state's economy has been propped up primarily by pro-business policies which have lowered taxes, cut corporate regulations and made the legal system more in favor of companies. But the energy and tech job boom created by these Republican-backed moves have brought in a wide swath of liberal, college-educated voters.

"Ironically, the strong economy that Republicans brag about and largely made possible is contributing to the demographic change that is now eroding their influence" in Texas, said Brandon Rottinghaus, a political science professor at the University of Houston, told Bloomberg.

According to Internal Revenue Service statistics first obtained by the business wire service, about 40 percent of Texans were born somewhere else, with more than half of those people having moved in from other states. Three deeply Democratic states have seen their residents moving to Texas: California, New York and Illinois.

The influx of new residents are not entirely liberal and Texas Hispanics have traditionally been more conservative than in other states. Texas Republicans have long appealed to Hispanic families and residents by opposing gay rights and abortion, which fits in with the beliefs of predominately Catholic families.

But Latino voter think tanks say Trump having "vilified brown people" helped stir up a near-record number of 2018 midterm voters and 74 percent of Hispanic voters saying they voted for O'Rourke.

The swarm of largely young, college-educated and white Democratic voters from other states is still not likely to move the state into true-blue liberal territory, but rather, some analysts say, a deep purple.

"I view it as more permanently purple than eventually blue. I see Texas in the future more like we see Florida and maybe Georgia," Professor Rottinghaus added. "But I think the short answer is that yes, Texas is going to be competitive."

Texas Conservative
A person holds a sign as others belonging to the Tea Party movement convene at a rally at the Texas state capitol during the first day of the 82nd Legislative session on January 11, 2011 in Austin, Texas. The demonstrators picketed demanding true conservative values from elected officials. Ben Sklar/Getty