What does the Democratic Party need to be competitive in Texas? – Houston Public Media
After a grueling 2020 presidential campaign and days of uncertainty about who won, Democrats finally got a sigh of relief when Joe Biden was named the winner last November.
But that relief was particularly short-lived for the Democrats who watched the election results in Texas. In the traditionally democratic border counties of Texas, more than expected voters have voted for Donald Trump. This result surprised some Democrats and dampened their post-election joy.
Then the questions began to fly: Should the Democrats have done more campaigns on the ground? Should Biden have visited South Texas? Were People of Color’s voices taken for granted?
Now, almost a year later, the question arises: what does the Democratic Party have to do to be competitive in Texas? In a recent article in the New York Times, columnist Ezra Klein examined data scientist David Shor’s theory that “Democrats are on the verge of an electoral abyss.”
Two experts joined Texas Standard to delve deeper into this big political talk and what it could mean for the Texas elections. Melanye Price teaches political science at Prairie View A&M University and is the author of The Race Whisperer: Barack Obama and the Political Uses of Race. Victoria DeFrancesco Soto is the Dean of the University of Texas at the LBJ School of Public Affairs in Austin. Listen to the interview with them in the audio player above or read the interview transcript below.
This interview has been edited slightly for the sake of clarity.
Texas Standard: This article has sparked a lot of discussion because it suggests that the Democrats are at risk in the upcoming election because young, mostly white, Democratic Party workers are trapped in an echo chamber operated by Twitter that doesn’t in places like Texas Has contact with the change voters. How worried should Democrats be about this?
Melanye Price: I think you should be very concerned, but I don’t know if you should be concerned about Klein’s explanation. You should be very concerned because Republicans have been in control of state houses for more than a decade. That means they control the ability to gerrymander. They have passed tough laws to suppress voters. I think these things are a much better explanation of why they’re in control than most of what Ezra Klein and David Shor suggest.
Was South Texas in 2020 kind of a harbinger of changed assumptions about which party will benefit from demographic change? How much can Democrats really rely on what has traditionally been their base?
Victoria DeFrancesco Soto: I think when we talk about the Hispanic electorate nationally, and especially here in Texas and in states like Florida and Arizona that tend to be swinging, we should remember that Latinos are one of the last real wildcards are when it comes to elections. Latinos voted for Joe Biden in the 2020 election, and they voted for Barack Obama. But there was a time in the early 2000s when the sizable swath of Latino voters voted for a Republican. The fact that they were Democratic, but then we looked back in the direction of the Republican Party [in 2020] reminds us that Latinos are swinging at heart.
They are a little more conservative, both for religious and social reasons. And when we look at some of these bags in the Rio Grande Valley along the border, I think we have to consider the rural slice of it too, right? So let’s not assume that all colored communities will automatically vote democratically. Yes, the majority of them do. But the devil is in the details, and I think that’s what preoccupied Shor and others in looking at this nuance of color pickers in our various regions.
One of the central arguments of this theory is that in order for the Democrats to maintain control, the swing states must win. And the only way to do that, according to Shor, at least, is for Democrats to do a lot of polls to find out which of their positions are popular and which are not. And then they should talk about the popular things and keep quiet about the unpopular things. Are there any risks in this strategy?
Price: I don’t know that it actually carries a huge risk. I mean, you can go all the way back to Clinton and rely on extensive surveys to understand what to say. I disagree with Shor’s statistics. What I think needs to be more nuanced are the conclusions he draws and how he conducts this type of analysis. In essence, he mathematically complemented the same argument that some centrist Democrats have made over the past 30 years, namely, to win over reluctant white voters, we need to push to the right. That means we can’t listen to progressives. That means we cannot enforce civil rights. That is, we cannot talk about things that people are uncomfortable with, such as abortion bans.
It’s actually kind of a processed argument with fancy math behind it. And that’s what I find the least interesting about it. What worries me most about it is that it kind of looks like he’s presenting something new. But what he’s actually suggesting is something moderate and centrist Democrats have been suggesting since Clinton and the Democratic Leadership Council in the early 1990s.
Shor also claims that the fault lines are no longer race or income, but education. Is that exactly?
Price: I think what people often miss when they make class and education arguments is the way class and education and race are intertwined. And that means that even the black middle class is much more fragile than the white middle class. That means their ability to stay in the middle class may be just a check away. And that means they are much more tied to what we would call the “lower incomes” in a way that Shor may not enact.
But I also think there was a lot of support for George Bush in the state of Texas because social conservatism was linked to religion. So there is always an opportunity to include potential people who could take advantage of these similarities with the Republican Party.
DeFrancesco Soto: I definitely think that’s part of it. But another point I want to make that was not discussed in the article is that public relations is key and in 2020 the Democrats were unable to seal the deal due to the pandemic. The Democrats made a conscientious decision not to enter into this face-to-face contact by relying on the phone, text messaging, and Zoom, while the Republicans aggressively entered and maintained face-to-face contact there. You know, I’ll leave it up to the listeners to decide if this was a good idea or not. But the public relations was really the key – the quality of the public relations – and the authenticity of it too, because when you have people going into a community in RGV [Rio Grande Valley] those who do not belong to this community, who are not trusted stakeholders, will not seal the deal.
Price: The answer to that isn’t necessarily what you have to do is then slide to the right. The answer to that is not what you have to do is move towards the center. The answer is that the Democratic Party should try once and for all what southern activists in Texas have said in places like Arizona and Georgia, which is to invest more in the ground game; invest more in reach. That doesn’t mean these people won’t vote, so we have to move towards swing voters; we need to move towards the people who are at the center; we have to give up liberal and progressive politics.
What other factors are we overlooking in this conversation?
Price: I think the most important thing that is overlooked in this process is the way we Republicans often reward their ability to stay in office, as if they were doing something that was strategic about democracy important is. But in many places they have managed to stay in power by addressing things like voter suppression, gerrymandering, and appealing to the most negative aspects of white fears about people of color – that is, immigration and crime. And how does Shor take this part into account?
Defrancesco Soto: Shor speaks about the Echo Chamber of Staffers and Consultants in DC, New York. What I want to see is a massive investment in local organizations and communities on the ground, even though the policy has been nationalized because we have become so non-partisan. At the end of the day where you touch people and where you have influence is the local level and I think that is where massive investments have to be made.
This story has been updated for the sake of clarity.