Democrats Fail To Catch A ‘Blue Wave’ In Texas

Two experts say misunderstanding the Texas electorate, including Latino voters, led to inaccurate polling.

By Terri Langford, Jill Ament & Shelly BrisbinNovember 4, 2020 8:38 am, ,

Democrats hoped – and polling gave them reason to – that Texas could be part of a “blue wave” that would propel them to victory in places where they have been unsuccessful before. But by and large, Tuesday’s election results in the Lone Star State favored incumbents, many of them Republicans. And Democrats were less dominant among voting groups that have supported them in the past, including Latinos living near the border. 

Sharon Navarro is professor of political science at UT-San Antonio. She told Texas Standard that despite excitement on the part of Democrats based on high early voting and mail-in ballot turnout, Republican voters turned out on Election Day. 

Jim Riddlesperger is professor of political science at Texas Christian University, and says the election means the balance of power in Texas remains at “status quo,” with Republicans continuing to control the state House and Senate. 

“Virtually every incumbent running for reelection at virtually every level won in Texas,” he said.

Riddlesperger says he never expected Democrats to win big in Texas, and Navarro says polling doesn’t capture Texas’ political culture.

“If you want to understand how a state votes, you have to understand the individual state’s electorate,” Navarro said. “And I think when you have polls out of New York and out of state who try to gauge a culture and a population that they don’t understand, it creates difficulty.”

Though Democrats spent a lot of money in Texas, Riddlesperger says that alone was no guarantee of success. He says Democrats’ decision not to do extensive door-to-door canvassing because of COVID-19 hurt their efforts.

“Dollars don’t vote, people do,” he said.

Navarro agrees. She says the Democratic Party’s messaging and targeting efforts were misplaced. 

In the 23rd Congressional District, where incumbent Will Hurd struggled to hold onto the seat before deciding not to run in 2020, fellow Republican Tony Gonzales has declared victory. Riddlesperger says understanding a sprawling, primarily Latino district like that one means concentrating on local issues.

“The other mistake that we make with Latinos is throwing them all in one basket as if they are one set of voters, when, in fact, they are a very diverse set of voters,” he said. “One of the things we don’t talk about, for example, is the number of Latinos who are Pentecostal, and very conservative in their religious beliefs.”

In Central and North Texas, Democrats had success in suburban counties, especially at the presidential level, with Williamson and Hays counties outside Austin going to Biden, and close races in Tarrant County. Riddlesperger says Republicans can no longer take the growing suburbs for granted.

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