On June 20, Mayor Sylvester Turner announced that Houston is a finalist for the 2020 Democratic National Convention — a statement that made local political junkies alternately sit up and take notice and scratch their heads.
The Bayou City is known for many things — medicine, energy, food — but politics is not necessarily one of them. Although, to be fair, an announcement that Houston is maybe, possibly being considered as a host city for convention that won’t happen for another two years barely counts as a political story. This far out, the story is really more about the possible economic impact the convention could bring to Houston.
The 2016 Democratic National Convention had an economic impact of about $230 million, according to host city Philadelphia’s Convention and Visitors’ Bureau. There was about $132 million in direct spending, things like venue, hotel room and car rental. Another $96 million was spent on labor and $11 million went to taxes.
The PCVB report also found that the convention brought 54,000 visitors to the area, of those more than 19,000 were media. The convention also generated about 26 million media impressions. Strangely, there is no hard data on the amount of short term or long term jobs created by the convention.
Despite the lack of jobs data, a national political convention is a nice boost to a city’s economy — which is why Milwaukie, a finalist city with a struggling economy, is hopeful that Democrats will decide to head for the land of cheese and beer in 2020.
Like a good mayor, Turner described Houston’s bid as the strongest and trumpeted our ability to host large-scale events. What Turner didn’t say, and in fact hasn’t really been discussed, is whether the decision to hold the convention in Houston makes political sense. Spoiler alert: it doesn’t.
Since 2000, both the Republicans and Democrats have favored swing states for their conventions six out of 10 times. The only two times the Democrats held their conventions in safely blue states were 2000, in San Diego, and Boston, in 2004.
The only two Republican conventions that weren’t held in swing states were the 2004 RNC in New York, a post 9-11 show of strength, and the 2008 convention in St. Paul. From a campaigning perspective, holding a Republican Convention in Minnesota, a state that has voted for a Democrat for President since 1972, makes about as much sense as the Dems holding a convention in Texas.
To be fair, a convention’s impact on how a state votes in November is highly debatable. In 2008, the Democrats held their convention in Denver and won Colorado, four years later they were in Charlotte and lost North Carolina. In 2012, the Republicans held their convention in Tampa and wound up losing Florida.
However, by looking at the margins of victory in states that have recently hosted conventions, an argument could be made that conventions provide both major political parties with a bump in November. In 2012, Republicans lost Florida by less than 1 percent, and won North Carolina by a little bit more than 2 percent.
In 2016, the Democrats held their convention in Philadelphia and wound up losing Pennsylvania; the Republican margin of victory was only 0.72 percent. Conversely, after the Republicans held their convention in Cleveland, Donald Trump wound up carrying Ohio with more than an 8 percent margin of victory.
Considering how close presidential elections have become, and how many of them now hinge on the electoral rather than popular vote, the Democrats or Republicans holding a convention in a state that they most likely won’t win, or one that they don’t really need to campaign in, is a massive waste of both money and media attention.
This is all to say that, even if the Democrats hold their convention in Houston and spend $1 billion campaigning, the dream of a blue Texas will remain just a dream.
Since Texas turned reliably red in 1994, Texas Democrats have been saying that if they could just turn out the Latinx population the state will flip. That’s just wishful thinking, there simply aren’t enough Latinx voters to offset white voters.
There are about 4.8 million eligible Latinx voters, out of a population of roughly 10.5 million. Of those possible voters, about 1.7 million cast ballots in the 2016 election, according to the Texas Secretary of State’s office. Comparatively, there are 9.7 million eligible white voters in Texas and about 60 percent of them regularly vote.
A slightly deeper dive into Texas’ demographic breakdown shows that, despite the state’s large immigrant population, about 70 percent of the state’s Latinx population is U.S. born. Which means that citizenship and residency status aren’t really the deciding factors when it comes to Latinx voting.
As depressing as those numbers are for Texas Democrats, they do have the side benefit of shooting down the Republican argument that immigration reform will create millions of new Democratic voters — a line of reasoning that has always been a thin glaze of realpolitik on a steaming chunk of racism.
The idea that if they just work harder, the Democrats will be able to turn out Latinx voters isn’t really the case because of one immutable fact: The Latinx population is simply too young. Texas’ Latin/Hispanic population has a media age of 20 years old, according to a 2015 Pew Research Center report.
While the Texas Latinx population’s median age may be that of an eligible voter, the real numbers tell a slightly different story. Fully one-third of Texas’ Latinx population is under 18, according to a 2015 U.S. Census Bureau report. Comparatively, the largest segment of the state’s white population, 28.4 percent, is in the 45-64 age range with another 18 percent over the age of 65.
Breaking down the data even further shows that another 40 percent of Texas’ Latinx population is under 44 years old. It’s also worth noting that Texas’ black population is in a similar situation as the Latinx population. About 25 percent of Texas’ black population is under the age of 18, and another 40.8 percent is under the age of 44.
Given the fact that voter participation increases with age, with only 27.5 percent of eligible 18-24 year olds going to the polls compared to more than 65 percent of eligible voters over the age of 65, the idea that Latinx and black voters will turn Texas blue and defeat Trump is basically a fantasy.
That’s not to say that Texas will never turn blue. Back in 2013, Nate Cohn at the New Republic crunched the numbers and came up with a prediction that — based on current demographic trends — Texas could become a stronghold for the Dems, in 2036.
Hate to put a damper on those hopes of a blue wave, but we’ll probably be debating electoral votes for Martian colonists around the time Texas becomes a battleground state.