This Week In Lazy Texas Reporting: TNR Puts Wendy Davis in a Vacuum

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The renewed interest in Texas as a potential future swing state has been growing throughout the year. This has been spurred in part by the launch of Battleground Texas in February, which has captured some national fascination given the staffers' presumed fundraising and organizing capability, as many honed their skills during Barack Obama's presidential campaigns.

However, there is also a recognition from some more thoughtful journalists that actually, Democrats did win a lot of important elections in 2012: Wendy Davis, Pete Gallego, Joe Moody, Abel Herrero, and Adrian Garcia, just to name a few.

Now our state is in the journalistic crosshairs of political writers across the nation as they offer their analysis of what Wendy Davis should do in 2014.

Most of these articles are passable, and a few are even exemplary. But one piece this week struck me as if the writer barely took more than 5 minutes to analyze some old election statistics and filed the story.

Read more about TNR's lazy reporting on Wendy Davis below the jump.Most of the passable articles on Wendy Davis's chances in a statewide election mention at least several of the following:

  • The bottom-of-the-barrel voter registration and participation in Texas provides a lot of low-hanging fruit to change the electorate
  • Battleground Texas is organizing across the state to register and engage currently-non-voting, likely Democratic voters
  • Wendy Davis's state senate seat is no slam dunk given that Romney and Perry both carried it by 8%
  • Favorable demographic trends give Democrats reason to be optimistic, but those same demographics aren't destiny given a more conservative Hispanic electorate than in California or other western states

The really, really good articles also include some of the following:

  • Democrats need to improve statewide results in 2014 (regardless of whether or not they win) to have a chance of investment from a Democratic presidential candidate in 2016 in the general election
  • A Republican party that can't seem to shut up about what rape kits do or their desire to curtail African-American voting
  • What's that third thing? … Oh right, Perry's waning popularity, Abbott's low name ID, and the fact that Abbott, the presumptive GOP nominee, has not had a serious challenge since 2002.

However, an article published in The New Republic this week manages to do none of these things, making it easily the laziest reporting on Texas politics I've seen this week.

To be clear, I have no problem with people arguing that Wendy Davis can't win Texas if they actually engage with any of the current conditions on the ground, the specific unique contexts of what a gubernatorial bid by Davis would look like, or the need for Democrats to begin organizing with a strong statewide candidate in 2014 to win in 2018. However, the TNR article, “Sorry, Wendy Davis Won't Win Texas” does none of these things, citing instead statistics about white evangelical voters, rural voters, and a non-evangelical white swing-voter electorate.

In short: TNR says Wendy Davis can't win because White People, but fails to engage with the existence of potential non-White People voters.

An article that bases its argument on 2010 exit polls without considering any ongoing efforts to change the electorate substantially in 2014 just isn't trying.

There's nothing about Hispanics or African-Americans, let alone Asians. Seriously, the journalist managed to write an article about Texas voters without the word “Hispanic,” while dwelling extensively on East Texas. Nothing about non-voters, unregistered eligible voters, or the lack of adequate statewide organizing here-to-present to boost base turnout in a gubernatorial year. Nothing about Battleground Texas, a revitalized TDP, or any of the serious, ongoing efforts on the ground that will change the electorate in 2014.

So here is some free advice for journalists who want to write hatchet jobs on Wendy Davis's chances: do your homework and present a broad picture of what's going on the ground. Then you can dismiss millions of dollars of grassroots organizing as “basically irrelevant” (perhaps in East Texas yes, but it's a big state with a lot of non-White people in it!). Then you might sound a little bit less like you faxed this one in from Seattle.


If you want to read some smart analysis of what would be a seriously uphill battle for Davis, I recommend “Wendy Davis's Catch-22” by Abby Rapoport in The American Prospect. In her piece, the Texas native explains that while Davis is likely to lose, but in so doing will pave the way for future Democratic wins. Rapoport is able to take actual past election returns and voter turnout statistics and incorporate them into the broader context of what's happening to change those statistics, while still remaining less than optimistic about Davis's chances.

Also worthy of your time this week is Michael Li's post “Texas Democrats and the Anglo Challenge” over on his Texas Redistricting blog. Again Li starts with numbers that don't look favorable to Democrats then demonstrates how turnout or vote share would have to change to get us into a winning position. He doesn't sugar-coat it by any means — but just a handful of tables of voters by ethnicity and turnout give a better picture of what would need to happen for Davis to win than an essay that seems grounded solely in white voters in East Texas.


About Author

Katherine Haenschen

Katherine Haenschen is a PhD candidate at the University of Texas, where she studies political participation on digital media. She previously managed successful candidate, issue, voter registration, and GOTV campaigns in Central Texas. She is also a fan of UCONN women's basketball and breakfast tacos.


  1. Too harsh on article?
    I don't think the article only focuses on East Texas.  It mentions “demographic change” a fair amount but recognizes that Democrats need to get a greater share of the white vote to win statewide, which is true, in addition to registering and turning out more nonwhite voters.  And whether that's in East Texas, the cities, or West Texaas, I do think Democrats can recover more in the white vote; the post you linked by Michael Li shows one way how.

    • Lack of distinction between “non-white” voter groups
      Yes, it is about white voters. Here's a quick content analysis:

      Word Counts in Article:

      White: 18

      Non-White: 1

      Minority: 1

      Asian: 0

      Hispanic: 0

      Latino: 0

      Black: 0

      African-American: 0

      Are you trying to argue that there's no need to distinguish between turnout or Democratic performance between different non-white voting groups?

      For instance, turnout increases in raw votes from African-Americans can potentially make a bigger difference than an increase in raw votes from Hispanics since African-Americans vote for Democrats at a higher percentage. But if we're talking about percent increases within each group that can be different given the larger number of Hispanic voters.  

      The article should have been titled “Wendy Davis Won't Win White Evangelical Voters.” That's what the article is really about. It utterly fails to engage meaningfully with any other demographic.

      That being said, we all pretty much know Davis won't win white evangelicals, so I'm not sure if there's much of a story here. But hey, TNR, way to climb aboard the Wendy Davis web-traffic train.

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