Texas GOPers need their ‘Howdy!’ back

Texas Republicans — like Republicans in the rest of the nation — have some fence-mending to do. This will surprise outsiders who wrongly suppose that Texas is the reddest of red states. The challenges facing the Texas GOP are real, and a new statewide poll of 636 Texas voters, interviewed by yours truly, provides a road map for the trail drive ahead.

To understand that Texas today is not the same Texas that George W. Bush inherited in 1994, you must begin with growth. Steve Murdock, the state’s leading demographer, has observed, “The demographic history of Texas has been one of growth. Texas’s population has increased more rapidly (in percentage terms) than the population of the nation in every decade since Texas became a state.” With all this growth has come change that affects politics.

In the 1990s, Murdock calculates that half of this growth came from in-migration — people moving to Texas from elsewhere. Many newcomers have brought different viewpoints about politics with them. Texas is also becoming more heterogeneous, racially and ethnically. From 1990 to 2000, the Anglo population grew by just 8 percent while Hispanics soared by 54 percent, African-Americans by 23 percent and other racial or ethic groups, like Asians, by an incredible 81 percent.

These trends continue unabated. Assuming the same rates of net migration, the Anglo population will grow by just under 6 percent in time for the 2010 gubernatorial election while the Hispanic population grows by 52 percent, the black population by 18 percent and other groups by 70 percent.

Given that all these fast-growing racial and ethnic groups are more likely to vote for Democrats than are Anglos, it doesn’t take much more than rancher math (“My spread’s bigger than yours”) to calculate that Republicans face a big challenge.

This is where the poll results come in. We asked Texans some questions that bear on the prospects for Republicans being able to woo enough of these non-Republican newcomers to remain in the game. For example, we asked which party’s elected officials are best described as “caring about the concerns and problems of people like me.” Only 32 percent of Hispanics, 24 percent of other ethnic groups and 8 percent of African-Americans felt that might be the Republicans.

More directly, we asked which party is best described as “racist.” Forty-one percent of Hispanics, 54 percent of other ethnic groups and 68 percent of blacks were apt to see the Republican Party as racist.

Only 38 percent of Hispanics are willing to characterize Republicans as “open and welcoming,” when polled. Even fewer blacks and other ethnics see the Republicans as friendly.

All these facts and figures about racial and ethnic in-migration miss the just-as-important trend of Yankee and Californian Anglos moving here, making Austin and other inviting Texas destinations more Democratic politically, albeit in a different demographic manner.

The impact of growth in the minority population, however, is the most ominous trend for Republicans, unless we change. Only 18 percent of Hispanics say today that they plan to vote for a Republican for governor in 2010.

Just 6 percent of African-Americans and 17 percent of all other groups are prepared to vote Republican. Unless these numbers are changed or the migration patterns suddenly shift, it will be all but impossible to elect a Republican in 2014 and beyond. 2010 could be tough. Or Republicans can change.

When I myself first landed in Texas in the late 1970s, a freshly minted newcomer professor at Texas A&M University, I recall we celebrated a “Say Howdy Day” each year, whereon we got our Texas on by greeting each passer-by with a friendly “Howdy.” Texas Republicans need to get our Howdy back, becoming more friendly and welcoming to the new Texans. To do otherwise is loss.

Hill is director of Hill Research Consultants, a Texas-based firm that has polled for GOP candidates and causes since 1988.