by Kristin Tate
Texas is the archetypal conservative state, especially since it claims the mantle as having the most electoral votes for Republican candidates. Its fast growing economy and population are signs that its small government approach works. However, there is compelling evidence that in addition to data showing Texas is being pushed to the left thanks to migration from blue states, internal state migration is also changing the political map.
There are more than just interstate and international factors turning Texas blue. Like a variety of states with vibrant rural and urban areas within their borders, Texas itself is surprisingly divided. As a result, internal migration within the state itself provides as much pressure toward its future division as Californians and Mexican immigrants. On the whole, rural areas across the country are losing density. The rural population of the United States is about 60 million, almost exactly the same as it stood at the end of World War Two. The result is that this share of the total population has dropped from nearly half of the country back then to just under a fifth today. The urban population of the United States, meanwhile, has almost tripled.
Young people generally leave these sparse regions for job opportunities and education. This resulting “brain drain” often leaves an imbalance in age groups, with a rapidly aging rural population and decreasing share of educated young people. Many of the houses of formerly growing families in the state are inhabited by retirees rather than by members of the next generation. Despite Texas consistently ranking as the number one state for domestic migration, it is also home to 90 counties losing population.
This trend causes political shifts. Older rural voters tend to become more conservative, while younger voters tend to become increasingly liberal as they move to the cities for work and school. Millennials and Generation Z often bear the markers of new members of the Democratic Party. They are unmarried, childless, saddled with student loan debt, and do not own any property. This happens both among young people moving from red states to blue ones, and also from red counties to blue countries. In each case, the important factor is not the existing politics of the state. It is that when someone moves to a big city, his or her politics sharply skews to the left.
The concentration of young people in Texas moving from smaller to larger counties, sharply leaning to the left, and becoming more politically active brings on increasing electoral importance to cities such as San Antonio, Houston, Dallas, and Austin. This growth by leaps and bounds means that the political weight of cities is increasing more rapidly than that of rural areas. Whether it be a portion of the Texas electorate or state and federal redistricting, the major cities could soon have veto power over the wishes of the rural areas of the state, similar to that of Chicago or New York City.
The coming blue wave in Texas has already started. Democrats won more than a dozen seats in the state legislature in the 2018 election and even threatened the Senate seat held by Ted Cruz. The combination of sharply Democratic cities and suburban areas shading blue is a long run political disaster in the making for Republicans. We are fortunate enough to view the demographic changes in Texas in detail as a warning and potential model for other states. Any state with stagnant or declining rural areas and dominant or growing urban regions could also suffer a similar fate.
The 2020 election is not likely to hand Texas away from Republicans, but as I have previously written, it may be close enough to force Republicans to expend resources there. The growth of urban and suburban locales will play a major role in redistricting after the census. On the one hand, Texas will gain two or three seats in the House of Representatives. On the other hand, many changes in the state house after the 2020 election will allow for more competitive seats leaning toward Democrats. Left wingers have already made it a goal to flip the Texas state house blue, and are raking in millions of dollars in campaign donations from liberals outside the state.
If the census rearranges the legislature toward a marginal advantage for cities, and the next several years experience migration figures similar to recent history, the results will be striking. Texas is setting itself up to be a victim of its own success. It has a growing economy and booming cities backed by technology, oil, and gas that are all magnets. The movement of young Texans to cities will be a significant factor in the potential obituary of the Republican Party in the state. Since it has not been written just yet, there is still a chance to keep Texas red, and the national economy alive.
Kristin Tate is a libertarian writer and an analyst for Young Americans for Liberty. She is an author whose latest book is “How Do I Tax Thee? A Field Guide to the Great American Rip-Off.” Follow her on Twitter @KristinBTate.