America’s “Deep South,” one of dragging vowels, hospitality, great food and faith. But also a bitter South, one of inequalities, marks of history and racism, where tense relations between communities mobilize Donald Trump’s electoral base. The duty is on the road to understand these divisions and shed light on the changes underway. Can Texas Really Go Blue Today?
The current political face of Texas couldn’t be better expressed than at this table in a gentrifying downtown area of Houston. She, Katherine Forero, a recent Colombian immigrant, will not be eligible to vote this year, but is reportedly leaning towards Democrats. He, Rolmar Polio, born in Honduras and now an American citizen for more than two decades, voted and will vote for Donald Trump in November.
“You’ll see when it’s been over ten years since you’ve been living here, you’ll change your mind,” he slips. She rolls her eyes.
The conversation took on the air of debate, but without animosity since the couple, married for two years, share something else: the thirst for success and the entrepreneurial spirit. In just 18 months, they created a cleaning company that employs up to 12 people a week, all from Latin America.
Mme Forero nevertheless caught it, the fever that rises every year from the ashes of seeing Texas turn blue.
Democrats could once again emerge empty-handed from next November’s general election, but the state is emerging as a real battleground and not just an unattainable fantasy.
The latest poll compilations show Donald Trump almost tied with Joe Biden, in a state that has not voted Democratic since 1976. And again, it was for Jimmy Carter, a president also from the South who presented himself as a farmer peanuts. The mammoth state, of nearly 30 million people and with a GDP greater than that of Canada, could certainly influence the outcome of the poll with its 38 main voters.
Democratic enthusiasm isn’t just in the air: Republicans’ margins of victory have shrunk considerably in recent years. In 2012, Mitt Romney had won by around 16 percentage points over Barack Obama, a margin reduced to 9 points between Trump and Clinton in 2016. In the 2018 midterm elections, charismatic Democratic Senate candidate Beto O ‘Rourke narrowed that margin to 2.5 points against libertarian Republican Ted Cruz.
Suddenly, the idea of a Texas blue, not quite a storytelling? “It’s possible that will happen, but I can’t predict it,” insists Sherri Greenberg, former politician and now professor of public affairs at the University of Texas at Austin.
Beyond Beto O’Rourke’s personal charisma, there are several factors that explain why Texas appears to have left the “strong Republican” column in the vote predictions for good.
“There is clearly a political transformation going on,” says Cynthia Rugeley, professor of political science at the University of Minnesota in Duluth, Tex.
Internal migration – especially Americans from California – account for part of the change, she says, along with youth voting.
Asa Stahl, seated at a voter registration table on the Rice University campus in the heart of Houston, embodies both and a certain exasperation. “I am so worried that I felt the need to be more active in this election,” says the 24-year-old astrophysics student from California.
And even in a deserted campus, where the few students wear the mask even outside, Mr. Stahl does not lose hope: “I know that registering students here, with their profile, is a bit like accumulating democratic votes. “
If these students live in Harris County, around Houston, their blue vote may not change anything, however. The map of Texas is a large, dark red, Republican territory dotted with blue dots, and major cities, like Houston, have already won the Democratic vote.
The patience of generations
The other key demographic, a crucial groundswell, is the population of Latin American origin, which will form the majority group in Texas by the end of 2021 according to estimates by the US Census Bureau. They will then represent 41% of Texans, more than the 40% who say they are “white” and almost 15% more than in Florida, where the Latin vote has long been courted.
“Demographics don’t vote, statistics don’t vote. People vote or don’t vote, ”insists Professor Greenberg. Texans vote very little: barely half of those of voting age exercised their right in 2016, and Latinos vote even less, less than a third. “Texans have never been big supporters of a government at all,” said Professor Rugeley, noting strong currents in favor of a minimal state.
The political weight of Latin Americans, 30%, is also lower than their demographic weight, 40%. People like Katherine Forero, a resident but not yet a citizen, explain part of the difference.
There are also 1.6 million undocumented people in Texas, mostly Latino, according to the Pew Research Center, almost the same as the population of Montreal. Parents who arrived 20 or 30 years ago may not be able to vote, but they should not give up their political participation, says Martina Grifaldo, director of the organization Alianza Latina Internacional. “I tell them that even if they can’t vote, they can still help their children or their friends to vote,” she says, organizing transportation for example.
Above all, Latinos do not represent a uniform block and necessarily easy to seduce. President Trump’s rhetoric and his hard line against immigration have not completely alienated them, if Rolmar Polio is to be believed.
“Just because I vote for him doesn’t mean I agree 100% with everything he says,” the 42-year-old replied when asked this delicate question. Maybe someone “could take her Twitter account off her,” he suggests. And when he said Mexicans were “rapists” in his first campaign speech? “His problem is that he generalizes,” he argues.
But for his wife, Katherine Forero, he crossed the line. Although she agrees with “her value of hard work” and her protectionist economic policies, the separation of families on the southern border has robbed her of being a Republican, and for a long time. So for her it is only postponed until 2024.
This report was funded with support from the Transat International Journalism FundThe duty.