Texas Redistricting: The Effects of Exurbanization

Everyone agrees that Texas will be the big winner in reapportionment. Thanks to the state's rapid population growth, Texas is expected to gain 3 or 4 ...
by | April 12, 2010

Everyone agrees that Texas will be the big winner in reapportionment. Thanks to the state's rapid population growth, Texas is expected to gain 3 or 4 new U.S. House seats and 3 or 4 additional Electoral College votes.

But, Texas is a big, diverse place. So, where the growth is taking place matters quite a bit (for questions such as whether Republicans will be able to hold their razor-thin margin in the Texas House of Representatives). Following up on my post on California, here's a look at whether Republicans or Democrats will benefit from population trends in Texas.

Let's start with Texas' 20 largest counties. These counties together have about 71% of Texas' population. This chart shows their growth over the course of the decade, as well the performance of John McCain in 2008 and Republican Lieutenant Governor David Dewhurst in 2006 in each county (I wanted to use a 2006 election and thought the four-way governor's race was too bizarre to be a good measure of anything).

Texas Largest

In California, all of the big Democratic counties were growing more slowly than the state as a whole. In Texas, the data is much more of a mixed bag.

I usually think of Texas as having 5 big Democratic cities: Houston, Dallas, San Antonio, Austin and El Paso. The counties that are anchored by these cities typically are less Democratic than the cities themselves (Houston's Harris County, for example, regularly voted Republican until 2008), but they're still more Democratic than the state as whole. The next time a Democrat wins in Texas, it will be by winning big margins in these five counties: Harris, Dallas, Travis, Bexar and El Paso.

Of those five, Travis County (Austin) is growing faster than the state as a whole, Dallas County and El Paso County are growing somewhat slower and Harris County and Bexar County (San Antonio) are just about typical. When you combine those numbers with the solid growth in some of South Texas' heavily Hispanic, heavily Democratic counties (Hidalgo County, Cameron County, Webb County), there is plenty for Democrats to like.

Still, the very fastest growth is in places that either vote like Texas as a whole (Williamson County, Fort Bend County) or places that tilt Republican (Collin County, Montgomery County and Denton County). That gets me to my second chart: Texas 15 fastest growing counties.

Texas Fastest

Here, Republicans have a big edge. Other than the aforementioned Hidalgo County, none of these places vote overwhelmingly Democratic. Many of them are heavily Republican. These aren't just the fastest growing counties in Texas. Many of them are among the fastest growing counties in the entire country in the last decade (Rockwall County is 3rd and Williamson County is 9th). So, where are they?

Other than Hidalgo County, every one of them is adjacent to one of Texas' five most populous counties. Texas' major metropolitan areas have seen a dramatic outward expansion. Despite my headline, I'm not quite sure how to describe these places: Are they suburbs? Exurbs? Or are they new urban centers that are forming adjacent to existing ones?

Regardless, I'd expect fairly large political consequences from this trend, even beyond the shift of seats to more Republican places. Far more seats will be located in Texas' major metropolitan areas after redistricting. That has to make rural state legislators nervous, especially when you consider that 119 of Texas' counties actually have shrunk over the last decade. Here are the largest shrinking counties (which seemed more important than the ones that are shrinking most quickly -- there aren't grand political implications from, say, Loving County going from 67 people to 45 people).

Texas Shrinking

The easiest way to describe these places (and Texas' other shrinking counties) is by saying what they are not. They're not located adjacent to one of the major metropolitan areas and they aren't generally heavily Hispanic (though Kleberg County is). Correction: Some are located adjacent to the metropolitan areas, but they aren't located next to Harris, Dallas, Tarrant, Bexar and Travis counties. Somewhat condescendingly, you could call them the rest of Texas.

As you can see, most of these places are quite Republican, although the largest among them, Jefferson County (which has a fairly large black population) isn't. Some of the Republican gains in the suburbs/exurbs will be blunted by the population losses in these places, though it's worth remembering that the places that are growing are much, much larger.

As with California, in Texas rapid growth in Republican areas doesn't really translate into rapid growth among likely Republican voters. As of 2008, Texas' population had grown by 3.5 million since the 2000 Census. Population growth among Hispanics in the state accounted for 2.2 million of that figure.

Josh Goodman
Josh Goodman  |  Former Staff Writer

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