Will Trump Nomination put Texas in Play for the Democrats...In the Long Run?

Donald Trump has repeatedly vexed the expectations and predictions of political observers since his entry into the 2016 presidential field, continuing to do so even as he has becomes the odds-on favorite to win the GOP nomination – the efforts of Republican elites notwithstanding. Even as he time and again demonstrates his ability to confound predictions based on precedents, his candidacy continues to inspire speculation and further predication. In Texas, it has even led to whispers that Trump at the top of Republican ticket could help Hillary Clinton in the Lone Star State. While we still think that a Trump candidacy is unlikely to put Texas into play for the Democrats in 2016 – even in the wake of his increasingly disrespectful (at minimum) comments about women, including the wife of his chief rival and our home state Senator – Trump's persistent reliance on harsh anti-immigrant rhetoric could make the long-term prospects for some party competition in Texas seem more of a realistically open question than it has been for at least a decade.

This isn't an instance of "2013 called and they want their unrealistic optimism back": demographics alone are not destiny, as we've written previously, because demographic change doesn't take place in a vacuum: Many assumptions about the latent partisanship of Latinos are contradicted by patterns in their attitudes, their actual partisan identification, and their political behavior that place significant limits on even reasonable expectations of partisan change that would make Texas a competitive two-party state (let alone "turn it blue").

And yet...Donald Trump's candidacy seems to threaten these limitations on our expectations of medium and long-term change. Recent national polling has found more than 80 percent of Hispanics holding an unfavorable view of Trump, while February 2016 University of Texas/Texas Tribune polling found 69 percent of Texas' Hispanic voters holding a similar view. Seventy-two percent even said that he would make a "poor" or "terrible" president.

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Very favorable16%6%9%
Somewhat favorable19%11%10%
Neither favorable nor unfavorable10%9%9%
Somewhat unfavorable18%8%12%
Very unfavorable35%62%57%
Don't know/no opinion2%5%3%

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Great president14%3%9%
Good president17%7%9%
Average president15%12%8%
Poor president12%10%10%
Terrible president35%65%62%
Don't know6%3%2%

Even in a conservative Texas whose politics have recently been driven in large part by the politics of the GOP primary process, there have been notable efforts, though sometimes unevenly, to avoid alienating Latino voters. But one of the things that won't become apparent for at least a few election cycles (but maybe fewer) is the impact that Trump's, and to a lesser degree Cruz's, rhetoric and overall policy orientation towards immigration and immigrants will have on Latino attitudes toward the brand of Republicanism, and toward conservative ideology – especially among young voters just coming of political age, who can be expected to vote in larger numbers as they mature.

Texas Department of State Health Services, 2016 Population Estimates
  Whites Hispanics
15-24 Years Old 32.48% 48.75%
25 and older 47.08% 35.27%

According to Texas Department of State Health Service's population estimates for 2016, 47 percent of Texans over the age of 25 are white while 35 percent are Hispanic. But among Texans between the ages of 15 and 24 years old, people who are are either just becoming aware of the political process, or are potentially eligible to vote for the first time, 49 percent are Hispanic and 32 percent are white – almost a perfect mirror. The important consideration to keep in mind as it relates to the future of Texas politics is a simple one: how a group enters the electorate is not deterministic, but it does set an important baseline for any future movement. If Hispanics voting for the first time in 2016 end up voting for Hillary Clinton over Donald Trump by wide margins – let's say for argument's sake, 75-25 – that group won't vote that way forever, but we would expect them to vote at roughly similar rates, albeit with steady declines in the Democratic vote share over time (all else equal). This very well could make demographics destiny in Texas, albeit with a strong push from two Republican candidates using a national stage to repeatedly shout rhetoric that may well define the identity of the Republican Party among young Latinos with many elections still before them while at the same time increasing their interest in voting. It's no secret that this is something that some in the Texas GOP are no doubt considering as they look to their future, even as they appear unable or unwilling to displace the shouters from center stage.