Number of counties where 2014 Democratic gubernatorial nominee Wendy Davis received fewer votes than Democratic Gov. Allan Shivers received in his 1954 re-election bid.
Texas was conservative but politically different 60 years ago. Shivers received 85% of the vote while the Republican candidate barely cleared 10%. Shivers received at least 95% of the vote in 105 of the state’s 254 counties, including almost all of the Texas Panhandle. About 637K Texans voted in that general election, which was less than half the number who voted in either the Democratic primary or runoff that year. The state’s population was about 8.4 million. A lack of partisan competition and the imposition of the poll tax kept general election turnout low.
Sixty years later, the state’s population had more than tripled, and more than 4.7M Texans voted in the gubernatorial election, which Gov. Greg Abbott won by 960K votes, almost 50% more than the total number who voted 60 years earlier. Despite significant population growth across the state and a nearly 7-fold increase in turnout, Davis received fewer votes than Shivers in 59% of the state’s counties. In 63 of those counties, she received less than 25% of the votes that Shivers received.
The most extreme example is King Co., located a little southwest of Wichita Falls. With 286 residents, it is the state’s second least populous county. In 1954, Shivers carried King Co., 126 votes to one, over the Republican candidate (99.2%). In 2014, Davis received one vote to Abbott’s 90 (1.1%). Barack Obama received just 8 votes there in 2008, and three of those supporters abandoned him in 2012. Chris Bell received 12 votes in his 2006 race against Gov. Rick Perry (38 votes), Carole Strayhorn (22) and Kinky Friedman (13). Eight years earlier, Garry Mauro received 37 votes (22%), The late Bob Bullock and several other Democratic candidates carried the county in 1994. Bill White was the last Democratic gubernatorial candidate to win King Co. He received 58% of the vote in 1982.
King Co. is not the key to any Democratic resurgence, but it starkly tells the tale of how far the once-dominant party has fallen in its old stronghold: rural Texas.