Texas Redistricting – To Whom Go the Spoils?

by Ernest McGowen

Tom Delay has moved on from the Texas political stage but this current round of redistricting may be no less contentious. The traditional goal of redistricting in a one-party dominated government is increasing party strength. Given the supermajority of Republicans in the state House of Representatives, we should not expect 2011 to be any different. What will be different, however, is the population explosion in Texas, the groups that have fueled this increase, and the geographical regions in which they reside. If Tom Delay’s mantra was that in our Republican state the congressional delegations should look Republican, what happens when much of the population increase is amongst traditional Democratic groups in Democratic areas?

If we look at the presidential popular vote from Texas in the last four cycles, Delay’s words may come back to haunt him. After a lukewarm 49% Republican share in 1996, Texas became solidly Republican in the next two cycles with a 59% Republican share in 2000 and 61% in 2004. However, the Republican share fell to 55% in 2008 and Democrats got their largest vote share (43.68%) since 1996. Yet these gains have not translated into a shift in party identification. The number of Texans identifying as Democrats did increase in 2008, but so did the number of Republicans, with slightly more independent identifiers leaning Republican.

The question is whether the new districts will be drawn to reflect the new elected officials or the new population? According to the Census most of the Texas population gains have come from Latinos and African Americans. The Latino population has grown by 42%, the African-American population by 22%. Compare this to the modest 4.2% of growth in the White population.

If we look at population growth by county, the numbers become starker. Only 22 of 253 counties (8.6%) saw any kind of decline in their Latino populations, and 6.7% saw their Latino populations more than double. For African Americans the average decline by county was only 17.8% while the average increase was 87.9%. Whites saw an average decline of 6.4% and an average increase of only 15.2%. The White population is stagnant, Latinos are fast moving into Texas and African Americans are concentrating in metropolitan areas.

If we look at the cities and surrounding counties with the largest population growth (in order) Ft. Worth, Laredo, Plano, Austin, San Antonio and Houston, we see that these were the areas with the largest Democratic vote shares in 2008. These particular cities grew at an average of 22.2% and Obama received an average of 52% of the vote. Even the traditional Republican counties of Tarrant, Williamson, and Ft. Bend had an average Obama vote share of 44.8%, higher than the state average.

So while it is clear by almost any measure that Texas is still a Republican identifying state, it is also clear that most of the population gains that have produced the four new seats have come from minorities in urban areas, a majority of whom voted for Obama.

What is unclear is who will get the state’s new four seats. The numbers could allow another majority African American seat in the Houston area, but that is unlikely. If three of the four are majority Latino and one of the seats should come from Southern Texas, Republicans may appease both sides given the recent defection of Rep. Aaron Peña of Edinburg. In this state, it is difficult to bet against the conservatives in power, and there are good reasons to believe that the Republicans may once again (remorselessly) rule the day.

Ernest McGowen is an assistant instructor of government. He earned a government B.A. with honors in 2003, took a master’s degree in 2008 and will receive his Ph.D. this year. He becomes assistant professor of political science next academic year at the University of Richmond.