As the books close on the 2014 Texas governor’s race, it’s now clear that Texas isn’t trending blue amid a tidal wave of new Democratic voters. Instead, Texas voters — specifically, new registrants — are identifying in much greater numbers with Republicans.
Each month, Attorney General and now governor-elect Greg Abbott’s campaign compiled a large voter file of new registrants from Texas’ large counties. What they learned from this data shocked them.
First, Republican strategists used demographics data to determine where new registrants were located and modeled each new registration to determine how they were inclined to vote. To confirm what it thought it was seeing, the Abbott campaign went a step further and began polling new registrants.
Those results confirmed an unmistakable trend: Over the last year, Texas wasn’t becoming bluer — it was becoming redder. And the numbers weren’t even close.
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About 56 percent of new registrants said they intended to support Republican candidates, a margin that remained fairly consistent. Election results show that over the past year, the number of new Texas Republicans exceeded the number of new Democrats.
Even more alarming for Democrats is the fact that this trend occurred while its affiliated groups were spending millions on their efforts to increase Democratic registration and turnout. This was long before the Abbott campaign and the Texas Republican Party started spending large sums of money to identify new Republicans who may have recently moved to Texas.
Gov. Rick Perry is known to say that people vote with their feet — usually a reference to companies moving to Texas for a more favorable business climate. But his claim now may pertain to more than just business.
Part of Perry’s legacy may ultimately be that Texas has become so identified with a favorable business climate that it attracts new voters who deem those values important enough to move here. In other words, Texas isn’t just a magnet for jobs — we may have also become a magnet for people who identify with conservative politics.
As you might expect, many of these new GOP registrants live in the deeply conservative, fast-growing suburban areas of Texas.
A mobile workforce chooses to move based on criteria that have little to do with regional employment opportunities. If this is true and more Republicans move to Texas every day, it’s also possible that the converse is true — that Texas Democrats are moving to Boston or Seattle from Plano or Conroe.
Election night belonged to Republicans, who swept statewide offices for the 10th consecutive election. The reasons for the sweep and the GOP’s margin of victory are much more complex than the strength of Republican candidates and the president’s unpopularity.
Demographic trends portend a more competitive Texas in the future, but there are additional trends at play — some barely mentioned or scarcely reported — that may be more important from cycle to cycle.
The influx of new voters may be a crucial, if little understood, factor in why Texas remains a deep shade of red.
Ted Delisi is a Republican political consultant based in Austin.