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Can Democrats Flip Texas, Arizona and Georgia?

Can Democrats Flip Texas, Arizona and Georgia?

By Sean Trende - July 29, 2014

Democratic political strategist David Plouffe made waves a few weeks back when he suggested that Texas, Arizona and Georgia would soon become blue-ish states.  His analysis is here and also reflected below:

“All three have large minority populations that, in the case of Georgia and Texas, have been getting larger at a rapid clip and that vote primarily Democratic. . . . Each of these states has postindustrial areas where the Democrats are doing well. . . . The Democrats have a chance in all three of these states if the minority vote continues to grow, if white voters eventually experience the same kind of cultural change that residents of other ideopolises have.”

Okay, Plouffe did suggest that these states would be the next ones to flip, but the quote isn’t actually from him.  It is John Judis and Ruy Teixeira, writing in their seminal “The Emerging Democratic Majority” back in 2002.  Here Judis and Teixeira are actually writing about Texas, Georgia, and Tennessee, though elsewhere they suggested that Arizona would be roughly as competitive as Colorado throughout the decade.

This chart shows how Texas, Georgia, Arizona and (just for fun) Tennessee have moved over the past decade:

 

Obviously, not much has changed in the first three states, especially when one takes into account George W. Bush’s favorite son status in Texas in 2000, and Barack Obama’s historic African-American turnout in Georgia in 2012. Tennessee has lurched rightward.

The point of this isn’t to disparage Judis and Teixeira’s predictions.  Although I’m skeptical of their core thesis, the book remains one of my favorite political books of the past few decades.  They deserve enormous credit for (rightly) observing that the coalition put together by Bill Clinton had legs, at a time when many thought that America would revert to a Republican-leaning mean.  Some of their projections -- that Nevada would lean Democratic, for example -- were far ahead of their time.

Instead, my point is twofold.  First, we need to be careful about making long-term predictions based on short-term trends.  These trends can change abruptly and -- more importantly -- new trends always seem to be developing beneath the radar screen.

Second, and more directly, the idea that these three states are on the cusp of competitiveness has been around for over a decade now, yet the states have remained essentially unchanged (or have even become a touch more Republican when one considers state-level developments). That’s not to say that this decade won’t be the one where we finally see Democrats break through in one or more of these states. It’s simply to say that these projections have been around for quite some time, and for whatever reason, have yet to bear fruit.

But to get a better sense of the time frame involved here, let’s use one of my favorite tools: Nate Silver’s demographic calculator from 2013. Silver’s algorithm freezes the vote shares of demographic groups at 2012 levels (though you can alter them), then makes projections in states based upon current projections of population growth (which you can also alter).

So I took Silver’s projection, assumed nothing changed electorally, and also assumed that immigration reform with a path to citizenship did not pass.  Then I simply marched through the years, waiting for Georgia, Texas or Arizona to flip.

I waited a long time. Arizona finally flips in 2036, and Georgia flips in 2048.  Texas never does.  Even if we double the rate of Hispanic and African-American population growth, Arizona doesn’t flip until 2024, Georgia until 2028, and Texas until 2032.  On the other hand, if we assume a marginal reversion to mean for Republicans among minorities -- 11 percent of the African-American vote and 32 percent of the Hispanic vote -- only Arizona flips, and then only in 2044.

Again, this isn’t to say that these states won’t flip in the next decade.  Nor should we assume that other states won’t either; very few people would have predicted that New Hampshire would go from being a state that leaned Republican by nine points in 1988 to one that leaned Democrat by a point in 1996.

Rather, it is just to remind us that these predictions have been around for quite some time, and that they should always remain subservient to the utter unpredictability of politics.

Sean Trende is senior elections analyst for RealClearPolitics. He is a co-author of the 2014 Almanac of American Politics and author of The Lost Majority. He can be reached at strende@realclearpolitics.com. Follow him on Twitter @SeanTrende.

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