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Demographic Changes in Texas Could Transform the State in 2020
Natalie Jackson, Ph.D.,
Tags: 2020 Texas

Key Takeaways

  • Texas has the fastest-growing population in the U.S., with nine Hispanics relocating to the state for every white person
  • There is little change in Texans’ views on abortion and LGBT issues in 2018 versus 2014
  • The number of religiously “unaffiliated” residents in Texas is increasing, up to 22% in 2018 from 18% in 2014

Ten Democratic presidential candidates are converging in Houston this week for the third presidential primary debate, bringing increased attention to the question of whether the eventual nominee has any chance of winning the state’s hefty 38 electoral votes in 2020. Texas has been reliably Republican in presidential elections since 1980, but recent trends have indicated the state’s politics might be on the move again.

Texas has the fastest-growing population in the U.S., and the influx is not increasing the state’s traditionally white, Christian, Republican population. In 2018, for every white person who arrived in Texas, nearly nine Hispanics relocated to the state. While Hispanic populations are not monolithic in their views or voting habits, and they typically vote at lower rates than white residents, the increasing minority population typically leans Democratic. Plus, Texas Hispanics are starting to vote at higher rates, and the 2018 Senate election featured Democrat Beto O’Rourke finishing only 2.5% behind incumbent Republican Sen. Ted Cruz.

Despite the documented change in the Texas population, opinions on key issues that divide Democrats and Republicans have not moved in the last few years. PRRI’s American Values Atlas has tracked opinion on LGBT issues and abortion opinions over the last 5 years, and there is little change in Texans’ overall views. In 2014, 67% of Texans favored laws that would protect gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender people against discrimination in jobs, public accommodations, and housing. That proportion was exactly the same in 2018 – 67%. In 2014, 49% of Texans said abortion should be legal in most or all cases. In 2018, the number was 48%.

However, topline numbers can obscure key changes in subgroups. By race, the numbers have not changed substantially, and Hispanic and Latino views on these issues are more mixed than their voting habits might indicate. But the movement of the population is sometimes evident in other ways. For example, on the LGBT discrimination question, the proportion of Texans living in suburbs who favor discrimination protections jumped from 57% in 2014 to 67% in 2018. Rural Texans became less supportive, which allowed the topline number to remain the same.

Our American Values Atlas also tracks demographic shifts that would change the state of politics in Texas, and there are certainly some of these forces at work. The state is becoming less white, as the Census data shows, and PRRI data show that trend as most pronounced in the suburban areas of the state. The suburbs were 56% white in the 2018 survey, down from 62% in 2014.

Another trend with political implications is shifting religious affiliations. Statewide, the number of religiously “unaffiliated” residents is increasing, up to 22% in 2018 from 18% in 2014. Again, this is most pronounced in the suburbs, which are up to 22% unaffiliated from 16% in 2014. Although the religiously unaffiliated is a broad group with a variety of political leanings, they lean more liberal than conservative.

The movement of both race and religious affiliation trends in the Texas suburbs is important to 2020 election considerations. The suburbs are expected to be a battleground within each state, regardless of whether that state is a battleground. Suburbs have typically been more reliably Republican in most areas of the country, but population changes are bringing more racial, religious, and political diversity.