A new cottage industry has sprung up among political punditry. In dozens of articles, analysis pieces and opinion columns, the new conventional wisdom is that urbanization, an influx of blue staters attracted to jobs and a low cost of living, along with international immigration are combining to inexorably turn Texas blue.
The blue Texas theme is so powerful among anti-Trump writers because of Electoral College math: Trump can win Texas and still lose reelection in 2020, but he can’t lose Texas and win reelection.
Endlessly repeating a falsehood may not make it true, but it does increase the likelihood that it becomes accepted wisdom.
The latest example was a piece in The Atlantic by Derek Thompson entitled, “American Migration Patterns Should Terrify the GOP.” Thompson starts his piece by noting that urban cores are liberal, not just in America, but worldwide. This is true. High cost cities tend to attract young, single professionals. Thompson leaves out the postscript though. These young professionals, once they’ve earned some money, often move to the suburbs to raise a family, where they begin the process of becoming more conservative.
Thompson then asks the rhetorical question that he later sets about to answer:
So just imagine what would happen to the American political picture if more Democrats moved out of their excessively liberal enclaves to redistribute themselves more evenly across the vast expanse of Red America?”
Regarding the Lone Star State, Thompson sets up the proof for his thesis as follows:
But domestic migration is key. Just look at Texas. CNN exit polls for the state’s 2018 Senate election showed that Beto O’Rourke was buoyed by recent movers, winning more than 60 percent of those who had moved to Texas within the past 10 years. At current migration rates, the ‘Texas Five’ counties could easily add another 200,000 votes from 2016 to 2020, putting more pressure on Trump’s margin in the state.”
Which sounds imminently reasonable—until you read the CNN exit poll cited by Thompson. The fact is it comes to the exact opposite conclusion! Native born Texans narrowly supported former Congressman O’Rourke by 3%, while people who moved to Texas supported Sen. Cruz by 15%. In fact, “recent movers,” as Thompson writes, did not favor O’Rourke by “more than 60 percent” – they favored Cruz by 63%.
CNN’s exit poll was so interesting and counterintuitive that it was widely reported on at the time. The Dallas Morning News, for instance declared, “Native Texans voted for native Texan Beto O’Rourke, transplants went for Ted Cruz, exit poll shows,” while The Hill noted “Exit poll: More native Texans voted for O’Rourke than Cruz.”
What’s more, The Atlantic’s Thompson cites the election trends from 2016 and 2018 to bolster his case. But regarding Texas, at least, this “trend” might not be all that’s it’s cracked up to be.
First of all, in 2016, Donald Trump was leading the national Republican ticket. Trump, in case Thompson didn’t notice, is a Yankee. What’s worse, he’s a New Yorker—and not just any sort of a New Yorker, he’s from New York City—Queens to be exact. Trump’s cultural background doesn’t exactly mesh well with the traditional South. It’s instructive that Mitt Romney picked up a slightly higher average state percentage of the popular vote in the South in 2012 than did Trump in 2016, but lost Florida—coincidentally a state where millions of New Yorkers have moved to upon retirement.
Here, it’s easy to consider the counterfactual: what might have happened if the Republican nominee hailed from the South? In all likelihood, the Republican margin in Texas and across the South would have been far higher—the national popular vote might have even been closer as well—but, that candidate would have likely lost Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin and, therefore, the election.
Unfortunately, Thompson’s incorrect narrative has legs, and not just among the left. Breitbart quickly ran a story on The Atlantic’s conclusions, “Analysis: Young White Liberals Helping to Turn Red State Cities Deep Blue” largely founded on the falsely reported CNN exit poll.
Meanwhile, rank-and-file members of the Republican Party of Texas are riled up and worried that their new neighbors from California are going to vote in Texas the same way they did in California. Ultimately, California voters are responsible for making California the state with both the highest income tax rate in the nation and the highest poverty rate in the nation as well.
Perhaps that’s why a 2013 University of Texas/Texas Tribune poll of California expats in Texas showed that by 57% to 27%, they were conservative vs. liberal. After all, moving to another state can be a difficult ordeal. Moving to a state that’s not a cultural fit is even harder. The city of Austin excepted, the average California liberal likely wants little to do with Texas and Texans.
The feeling may be mutual.
This false narrative may simply cause otherwise welcoming and friendly Texans to jump onboard an angry anti-welcome wagon. But Americans can move wherever they want; if a Californian wants to move from the Golden State to the Lone Star State, there’s nothing a Texan can do to stop them.
Not welcoming our new neighbors would be a mistake. Houston-born native son Lyle Lovett has the best advice for his fellow Texans when encountering Americans looking for a better life. It was in his song, “That’s Right (You’re Not From Texas)”:
That’s right you’re not from Texas
But Texas wants you anyway”
As for the 2018 election in Texas, it’s important to point out that the top of the ticket featured the titanic struggle between Sen. Ted Cruz and then-Congressman Robert Francis (Beto) O’Rourke. This race was the costliest in U.S. history, fed by Sen. Cruz’ national notoriety, both as a candidate for president in 2016 and as a senator known for taking tough stands that stokes anger on the American left. 2018 was also Texas’ last election featuring straight ticket voting, meaning the down ballot effects aren’t likely to be repeated.
Elections results are formed by specific circumstances—candidates, economic conditions, overseas troubles, and the gradual long-term tug of demographics. It’s far too early to tell where Texas will end up in future elections, but it is clear that misciting polls and bending past results to fit a preordained thesis won’t presage a correct prediction, but instead will lead to an embarrassing 2020 election forecast.
In any case, it’s more likely than not that President Trump will win Texas again, misconstrued CNN polls notwithstanding.