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Big Growth Could Shake Up Texas' Old Political Equation

It's no secret: Texas is big. And it's getting bigger.

The Lone Star State has added about 5 million people since the turn of the century, and its population is expected to swell by another 5 million by 2020.

This week, NPR examines the dramatic demographic shifts underway in the Lone Star State in our series Texas 2020. We'll look ahead to how the second-biggest state could change in the next decade — and what that could mean for the rest of America.

In the first decade of this century, the population of Texas grew more than twice as fast as the rest of the country.

Former state demographer Steve Murdock says that's nothing new.

"Texas has always been a rapidly growing state," says Murdock, now a professor at Rice University in Houston. "In fact, in every decade since Texas became part of the U.S., it has grown more rapidly than the country."

What is new, Murdock says, is how Texas is growing: Two-thirds of the increase comes from Hispanics, while the population of non-Hispanic whites — the group Texans call "Anglos" — is barely growing at all. Anglos are no longer the majority in Texas, and Hispanics are expected to outnumber Anglos within about a decade.

"The face of Texas is changing from one where non-Hispanic whites were dominant in numbers to one where we're an increasingly diverse population, a multiracial and ethnic population, with lots of dimensions of that," Murdock says.

Political Effects

One of those dimensions is political. Democrats haven't won a statewide election in Texas in almost two decades. But if they could capture a large share of that fast-growing Hispanic population — as they have elsewhere — they would be a lot more competitive.

Steve Munisteri, the chairman of the Texas Republican Party, is on the lookout for that. A few years ago, he started going to Republican National Committee meetings toting a slideshow about changing demographics — and a simple warning for his fellow GOP leaders: "The Republican Party could never win a national election again unless it did a more effective job at reaching more diverse communities."

"Frankly," he says, "that wasn't paid much attention to at that time, but then when we lost 80 percent of the traditional minority vote in November, I got asked to re-give the same presentation I'd made a couple years earlier. So I think the RNC gets it now, but they certainly should look to Texas as to how to do it."

The Turnout Challenge

Munisteri notes that Texas Republicans like Gov. Rick Perry and former President George W. Bush generally fare better with Hispanic voters than Republican candidates elsewhere.

"We recognize the importance of the Hispanic community in our state," Munisteri says. "This idea that the Hispanic voters in Texas overwhelmingly vote Democratic is simply not accurate."

What is accurate is that most Hispanics in Texas don't vote at all. Last year, turnout among eligible Hispanic voters in the state was just 39 percent — nearly 10 points below the Hispanic turnout nationally, and even further behind the turnout in battleground states like Colorado, Florida and Virginia.

Ruy Teixeira of the left-leaning Center for American Progr