AUSTIN (KXAN) — More than 30 million people now call Texas home, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.
County population estimates as of July 2022 were released late last month. The statewide population grew by about 3% since the 2020 Census, but that growth isn’t being seen evenly across the state.
In fact, 102 of Texas’ 254 counties saw a population decline in that two-year span.
So which parts of the state are seeing the most growth, and how could that impact future election results in Texas?
We’ve divided the state up into five categories:
- Major Metros (Bexar, Dallas, Harris, Tarrant and Travis counties)
- Smaller Cities (places like Amarillo, Corpus Christi, Lubbock and Tyler)
- Suburban Counties (such as Collin, Denton, Fort Bend, Hays and Williamson counties)
- the Border Region (including Brownsville, El Paso and Laredo)
- and all of the Other Counties in Texas
Of these categories, major metros are by far the most populated. The five counties in this category have more than 12.9 million residents combined, accounting for more than 43% of the statewide population as of 2022.
Suburban counties overtook the other counties in 2022, with populations of 5.7 million and just under 5.6 million respectively. Smaller cities account for 3 million people, while the border region is home to more than 2.7 million.
When looking at recent population change, the suburban counties have exploded. In just the past two years, the populations of those 11 counties grew by more than 462,000, an increase of almost 9%. In the new estimates, Kaufman County, just outside Dallas, was the second-fastest growing county in the country.
More than 1 million people now live in suburban counties than at the time of the 2016 presidential election, estimates show.
Continuing a trend seen in recent years, population growth in the major cities themselves has been much slower than in the suburbs. The five counties in the major metros category saw a comparatively-low increase of about 170,000 people in the past two years, an increase of just 1.3%.
The border region, meanwhile, is growing at the slowest pace, at less than 1% over the past two years and just 2% since 2016.
How do the county categories vote?
Texas, as a whole, while still a red state, has shifted notably to the left in recent cycles. Donald Trump won the state by more than 800,000 votes in 2016, a margin of 9%. That margin dropped to just over 630,000 in 2020, or 5.6%.
Similarly, Gov. Greg Abbott won the 2018 election with a margin of more than 1.1 million, or 13.3%. That dropped to less than 900,000 in 2022, or 10.9%. It should be noted that turnout is typically much higher in presidential elections.
Here’s a look at how our county categories voted in each of those elections:
Population growth has contributed to significantly-higher vote totals. In 2016, just under 9 million votes were cast statewide in the presidential election. That figure ballooned to more than 11.3 million in 2022.
Suburban counties in particular are leading the charge. In the 2020 election, Texans as a whole cast 26% more ballots than in 2016. In suburban counties specifically, that figure was 37%.
The same trend is seen when comparing the 2018 and 2022 gubernatorial elections. Turnout was actually higher in 2018, by about 240,000 votes, or 2.9% statewide. But suburban counties cast 5.5% more ballots in 2022 than in 2018, contradicting that statewide trend.
There are also interesting changes in the margins of victory within our county categories. Generally speaking, large cities are getting bluer while rural Texas gets redder.
The other counties category, which includes much of rural Texas, netted Trump about 982,000 votes in 2016, which increased to more than 1.1 million in 2020. For Democrats, the margin in the major metros increased from about 560,000 in 2016 to 925,000 in 2020.
Really driving the tightening statewide margin though is significant change in the suburban counties category. Those 11 counties gave Trump a margin of almost 360,000 in 2016, but that dropped to about 260,000 four years later.
Echoing that trend, Abbott enjoyed a 380,000 vote margin in the 2018 gubernatorial election, but that dropped to 272,000 in 2022.
Democrats will be hoping to capitalize on those gains in 2024, not only at the presidential level, but also in the U.S. Senate election. Republican Ted Cruz has already announced his intention to seek a third term.