Signs of Hope Emerge for Texas Democrats


The 2020 election may serve as a sign of progress for Democrats in Texas (Courtesy of Twitter).

A few terms instantly come to mind when one hears the word Texas: “Lone Star State,” cowboys, wide open spaces, old pecan trees, bluebonnet blooms and, of course, the Republican Party. 

In fact, it often feels as if liberty-loving, gun-toting conservatism is as synonymous with Texas as a confident “alright, alright, alright” is with Matthew McConaughey. However, due in part to a consistently-rising Hispanic vote count, expanding urban areas and a politically-revitalized younger generation, there’s a good chance the right-leaning state could be more of a toss-up than previously expected. 

As a Texan isolated from deep conservatism — present pretty much anywhere other than large cities — in “hippie liberal hellhole” Austin (as my high school government teacher would put it), news of a potentially blue Texas is exciting. But, even as the nation fixes its eyes on a narrowly-shifting margin in the polls, hopefuls like myself have become ever cognizant of the hard facts regarding the general election.

Over the course of the past two months, Trump has maintained a steady 3-4% point lead over Biden in Texas. If these polls are anything like those from 2016, the end result will be pretty accurate. Based on trends, the Republican turnout on Election Day will most likely exceed the votes cast for the Biden-Harris ticket. 

In light of this reality and the fact that Texas hasn’t been blue since 1976, Texas Democrats have shifted their focus to down-ballot races. Texas’s Democratic base has consistently gained ground since the beginning of Trump’s presidency. This trend is most clearly evidenced by former Representative Beto O’Rourke’s razor-thin 2018 loss to Ted Cruz, the Republican U.S. Senate incumbent. However, after Cruz’s slim margin of victory, there is a stronger possibility that Democrats might take the Texas House of Representatives

Why might this year be the change, you ask? The blue wave, which nearly washed away several Republican incumbents in 2018, left in its wake a zeal for Democratic political activism and voting not seen in years. Therefore, it’s no surprise that my peers and I have been left with a tentative hope that 2020 might, perhaps, be the year when things change. 

Now, the Texas government has been controlled by a Republican trifecta since 2003 — meaning the governor, Senate leaders and speaker of the House are conservatives (that’s 18 long, misery-filled years, for anyone who’s counting). In 2020, Texas Democrats are counting on that blue wave to crest over Texas, bringing with it the nine seats it will take to gain a majority in the Texas House of Representatives (and it’ll be even fewer in the state Senate). As for national seats, there’s a better-than-usual chance that Democrat candidate M.J. Hegar could edge-out current Republican incumbent John Cornyn in the U.S. Senate race.

The most compelling evidence that a shift in this trifecta might occur is the number of votes that have been cast in Texas thus far. The Texan voter turnout in 2016 was around an abysmal 9 million — half of the voting-eligible population. On the other hand, the same number of votes has already been cast through early and mail-in voting in the past few weeks alone. With the reinvigorated Democratic vote, along with an eager 1.8 million new voters (630,000 of whom are from big blue cities), the left-leaning down-ballot polls make more sense. 

However, the new voters are not a sign that the glorious state of Texas has made it any easier to vote. Speaking of mail-in voting, the Texas absentee ballot system is atrocious. As a first-time voter, the absentee ballot response rate is dismally slow, and I can’t even track my ballot (let alone learn whether or not it has been counted). As a result, there’s a strong likelihood that certain ballots (especially from first-time voters) won’t be counted due to envelope-related mishaps or delays caused by the United States Postal Service (though it should be noted they’re trying their darndest).

This brings to the table a key concern for Democrats: The record-breaking level of mail-in voting due to COVID-19 will be more a curse than a blessing. All over the U.S. red states have made it difficult to mail ballots from home — which follows in a long list of Republican-led attempts to discourage voting. For example, in 2017, updates to Texas voter I.D. laws made it legal to use a gun license to vote, while a student I.D. is still considered an invalid form of identification

Aside from those extremely valid concerns, there is still a glimmer in the eye of Texan Democratic candidates. In the wrestling of power from right-wing politicians, many hope anti-Trump Republicans will keep with their general election trend and vote blue in non-presidential races. On top of that, there are plenty of signs that Republican politicians in Texas are scrambling in the midst of this huge wave of Democratic votes. Just today, the conservative-majority Texas Supreme Court rejected a GOP plan to invalidate over 100,000 drive-thru votes cast by voters wary of catching COVID-19.

Looking at the big picture, it seems the realistic and painful truth is that Texas won’t be turning blue this year. It’s a big state, and outside of this surge of new and young voters, the majority of Texas counties lean heavily Republican. However, these subtle shifts point towards a larger-scale change: It’s possible we could see Texas turn purple at some point in the near future. Most of my peers and I realize that Texas Democrats are playing the long game. I mean, sure, we might not be able to gain control of the House or the Senate in 2020, but perhaps I’ll be able to vote against Ted Cruz in 2024 if he runs for president

As this article will be published on Nov. 4,  the next president of the U.S. will probably be known (or not). Whatever the outcome of the presidential election is, it’s worth keeping in mind that Texas is a large state, and that there are several races taking place this election cycle. They say progress starts from the ground up — if that’s the case, there are many chances for progress this election season. Hopefully, Texas Democrats can make them count.

Hanif Amanullah, FCRH ’24, is an international studies major from Austin, Texas.