Murray, the University of Houston political science professor and pollster (although he says he doesn’t do much political polling any more), spoke yesterday at the LBJ School of Public Affairs. I asked him beforehand about the Thibaut-Murphy race. (His son is a consultant for Thibaut.) He said that it was going to be very close, but Thibaut might have a slight edge because the Anglo population in the district has been declining by around 2% per election cycle.
Murray began his talk by describing himself as a moderate Democrat. He addressed the difference between the one-party Democratic state that existed when he arrived here in the sixties, and the one-party Republican state that exists now. “The problems are more serious with the current one-party system than with the one-party system of the sixties,” he said. “The voters in the Democratic primary were more representative of the state as a whole than the voters in the Republican primary are today.” This is true. The Republican party did not hold primaries in most counties. Texans were conservative, but they were conservative Democrats. The Democratic party was split between liberals and conservatives, so that a broad spectrum of opinions was represented in the primary. Almost everybody voted in the Democratic primary, including the small number of people who identified themselves as Republicans.
Murray addressed the subject of Hispanic voting. Hispanic registration, he said, was 21%, but Hispanic voter turnout was only 12%.
The Anglo vote will keep going down, he said. This decade will see 400,000 to 500,000 more Anglos coming to Texas – but 4 million “other.” Anglos will be 10% of the total increase.
Republicans have competed for the Hispanic vote, Murray said. They have competed well, but Murray foresees a significant reversal.
He does not expect the national Democratic party to provide any resources to Texas. Under the current electoral map, Democrats do not need Texas to win. Clinton wanted to contest Texas in 1992, but it made little sense to do so, and the national party has written Texas off since then. No major effort has been mobilized since. There is a transfer of Democratic money FROM Texas to somewhere else.
The best bet for Democrats to be competitive, Murray said, is a governor’s race. It’s the easiest office for a party out of power to win. The governor is a highly visible official about whom the public is well informed. (He did not talk specifically about Bill White.) If Democrats are going to be competitive this year, the economy needs to improve by July or August. There any many red states that have Democratic governors, including Oklahoma.
Murray believes that redistricting will help Democrats in Harris County. “You can’t gerrymander House districts by cutting county lines,” he said. In areas like Gulfton (toward Main Street from Bellaire), Anglos are moving out, minorities are moving in.
The Democrats’ biggest problem occurs in midterm elections. D’s gain 750,000 voters in every presidential cycle.
For White to be competitive, he needs 95% of the African American vote, 70% of the Hispanic vote, and a third of the Anglo vote. His predecessors D’s who tried to defeat Perry, Tony Sanchez and Chris Bell, did “horribly among Angly voters,” Murray said.
Murray’s assessment of Perry is that he “makes mistakes as governor, but not as a candidate.”
Texas primary turnout today, Murray said, is particularly low. In the four election cycles leading up to 2010, the average turnout was a little over 650,000. (This is something I have written about before: 325,001 voters determine the fate of a state of 24 million people–and they are the most conservative voters in the state.) “It’s a white’s-only primary,” Murray said. Republican voters define themselves as “conservative” or “very conservative.”
The most important demographic statistic, Murry said, is that whites are now a minority in Texas–45%. It is inevitable that the state will move toward competitive politics in gubernatorial elections. “You can’t maintain a static political system in a dynamic state,” Murray said. Maybe not, but nothing that has happened in the past ten years suggests otherwise.
I had to leave early, but the last thing in my notebook was about redistricting. “Republicans can’t maintain a House majority after 2016 or 2018,” he said. By 2020, the Democrats will have the majority, and they will keep it for a long time.