No one has a higher estimation of Texas than Texans. And, regardless of your opinion on the advisability of messing with the state, in at least one way Texas is at the forefront of the American imagination: politics.
The state has seen enormous population growth in recent years, thanks to immigrants arriving from the rest of the country and from across its southern border. Its future as a deep red state has been challenged, in part thanks to those population shifts, even as the state's Republican establishment affixes itself more firmly to the right.
Last week, the Census Bureau released its updated estimates of the country's population for 2013, resulting in a flurry of news reports about our nation's shifting demographics. "More whites died than were born last year, while the share of both Asian Americans and Hispanics grew," the Wall Street Journal noted. At Pew Research, the tack was different, creating the chart at right to show how much less dense the white population is in younger age groups. (We've discussed this before.)
The popular thinking is that the change in the American population portends bad news for a Republican Party that's still heavily dependent on support from those older, whiter voters. Our thinking: What better place to track how that evolution might occur than Texas. So we pulled data for every county in the state (true to the state's reputation, there are over 250) on voting history, population size, population composition and population age, to see what the state looked like.
In both 2000 and 2012, there was a close link between the density of a county's Hispanic population and its support for the Democratic candidate for president. But did voting patterns change noticeably as the county got more Hispanic? As the age gap between the white and Hispanic populations grew? Not really. But we'll let the maps explain.
Most of the population growth has happened in Texas's cities, which should not come as a surprise. The state's urbanization may play a critical role over the long term in shaping its politics, but that's a topic for another day.
Notice as you toggle back and forth: the increase even in the cities is subtle.
Next, we look at voting history. Since the four races we considered varied widely in nature -- favorite-son Bush vs. Gore and Kerry; Obama vs. McCain and Romney -- we measured the amount of support for the Democratic candidate and then how that changed. We then averaged the percent that Democratic support increased or fell between the four elections, giving us the first chart above. On average, support for the Democratic candidate dropped 10 percent by county between Gore and Kerry. It increased 5 percent between Bush and Obama, and then dropped another 13 percent between 2008 and 2012.
Between 2000 and 2012, cities and the border areas voted consistently more Democratic. But the central, emptier part of the state got a lot more red. On average, the state's counties voted less Democratic, and counties under the median population moved away from the Democratic candidates about twice as much.
So what role does the shifting composition of the population play? That shift is pervasive throughout the state. In 2000, the average density of Texas' counties was 28 percent Hispanic. By 2010, it was up to 32 percent.
Smaller counties became more Hispanic at a slower rate than larger ones. The average county under the median population saw its percentage of Hispanic residents increase by 4.2 percent. In above-median counties, the rate was 5.2 percent. And as the third tab shows, the population increase was largely in the same metro areas as the population growth at large.
More importantly, though, there doesn't appear to be any correlation to a county becoming more Hispanic and it voting more heavily Democratic. A graph of the two just looks like a swarm of bees, a big cluster showing no pattern whatsoever.
This is the data that both Pew and the Journal paid the most attention to: How the gap in age between the Hispanic and white populations played out. And, sure enough, the median age of Hispanic residents was lower than that of white residents in every single county in 2000 -- by 16.4 years on average. By 2010, that average gap had grown to 18.4, even as the average median age for Hispanics had gone up a year-and-a-half.
Translating that shift bluntly: white Texans will probably die before Hispanic ones, even as more Hispanics -- a younger population -- reach voting age. Which would mean a higher population of Hispanic voters and, going back to the first two graphs, more votes for Democrats.
Or maybe not. A Gallup survey found that Texas Hispanics tended to be more conservative than the population nationally, further complicating the picture.
All we can do is look at how the state evolves over time. Over the past 10 years, the population shift was subtle and the voting change barely noticeable. In 2000, Al Gore won 24 of the state's counties. In 2012, Obama did better. He won 25.