Texas Counties: Comparing the 2016 Presidential Election to 2012

In 2012, Democrat Barack Obama defeated Republican Mitt Romney in the election for president of the United States. In 2016, Democrat Hillary Clinton received more popular votes than Republican Donald Trump, but Trump won more Electoral College votes and, therefore, won the election. Texas voted for the Republican in both elections. This article compares the way Texans voted for president in 2016 compared with the way they voted in 2012.

The Nationwide Popular Vote, 2012 and 2016

Before looking at the way Texas voted, it is useful to first take a look at the national context. The nationwide popular votes in 2012 and 2016 were as follows:

2012 2016 Change
Republican 60.9 million 47.2% 60.3 million 47.3% -0.6 million +0.1%
Democrat 65.9 million 51.1% 60.8 million 47.7% -5.1 million -3.4%
Other 2.2 million 1.7% 6.0 million 5.0% +3.8 million +3.3%
Total 129.1 million 100% 127.1 million 100% -2.0 million -1.5%
Table 1. The nationwide popular vote for U.S. president in 2012 and 2016.

As the above table shows, overall turnout was down slightly in 2016 compared to 2012. As a result, Neither Hillary Clinton nor Donald Trump received as many votes in 2016 as Mitt Romney did in 2012. However, Trump's share of the popular vote stayed about the same as Romney's - 47.3 percent compared to 47.2 percent - while Clinton's share of the popular vote dropped markedly to 47.7 percent, compared to Obama's share of 51.1 percent. The third-party and independent candidates, on the other hand, won a combined 5.0 percent of the vote, compared to only 1.7 percent four years earlier. In the aggregate, then, Trump had about the same amount of support from the electorate as Romney did, but Clinton's share of the vote decreased by about the same percentage that the "other" share increased.

To restate, the key points from this data are:

  • Turnout was slightly down in 2016 compared to 2012.
  • Trump received fewer votes than Romney, but maintained approximately the same share of the vote.
  • "Other" candidates (third parties and independents) received almost 3 times as many votes, despite the lower turnout.
  • The Democrat share of the vote dropped by about the same amount that the "other" share increased.

The Vote in Texas, 2012 and 2016

Table 2, below, shows the 2012 and 2016 presidential election results in Texas:

2012 2016 Change
Republican 4,560,227 57.2% 4,681,590 52.4% +121,363 -4.8%
Democrat 3,300,667 41.4% 3,867,816 43.3% +567,149 +1.9%
Other 115,775 1.5% 380,056 4.3% +264,281 +2.8%
Total 7,976,669 100% 8,929,462 100% +952,793 +11.9%
Table 2. The popular vote in Texas for U.S. president in 2012 and 2016.

Texas has voted Republican in every presidential election since 1980, and the Republican candidate always does better in the share of the popular vote in Texas when compared to the nation as a whole. Mitt Romney's margin of victory in Texas in 2012 was 15.8 percent, or 19.7 points better than his national average. In 2016, Donald Trump had a 9.1 percent margin over Hillary Clinton, which was 9.5 points above his national average.

Texas differed from the nation in 2016 in other ways. Note that turnout in Texas was up by 12 percent and was almost a million votes higher than in 2012. Another way of looking at this is that in the 2016 election, turnout was up in Texas by a million votes, while it was three million votes lower in the rest of the country. In contrast to the national results, Trump received more votes in Texas than Romney did, but his share of the vote was lower. The number of votes for the Democratic candidate was substantially higher, again in contrast to the U.S. as a whole, but Clinton's share of the vote was only 1.9 percent higher than Obama's - a gain, but not a dramatic one. The only thing Texas and the nation had in common in 2016 was the increased support for third-party and independent candidates. In both elections, "other" candidates received a smaller share of the vote in Texas than they did everywhere else, but even still, support for those candidates more than tripled from 2012 to 2016.

To restate, the key points from this data are:

  • Turnout was up in Texas by 12 percent in 2016 compared to 2012.
  • Trump received more votes than Romney, but his share of the vote was lower.
  • Clinton received substantially more votes than Obama, but her share of the vote went up only moderately.
  • "Other" candidates received more than 3 times as many votes, and their share of the vote almost tripled.

Does the change in the Republican margin of victory from 15.8 percent in 2012 to 9.1 percent in 2016 indicate a trend towards a less Republican-leaning electorate? In a word, no. In statistics, a trend is a pattern of change over a series of measurements. One cannot identify a trend based only on two data points. And while it is true that the Republican margin of 9.1 percent in 2016 was the closest out of the last five elections, it must be remembered that in two of those elections - 2000 and 2004 - Texas was Republican candidate George W. Bush's home state. Going back further, in 1992 and 1996, the Republican margins of victory were only 3.5 percent and 5.0 percent, respectively. These two elections, like 2016, also had a substantial third-party/independent vote, whereas the third party/independent vote in 2008 and 2012 was negligible. In 2016, a common opinion expressed by voters in polls was that they strongly disliked both Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton. This sentiment is reflected in the greater share of the vote received by other candidates. It is consistent with the results to hypothesize that a sizable block of Texans who would have ordinarily voted Republican decided not to vote for Trump, but also had no intention of supporting Clinton, so they voted for someone else instead. In conclusion, whether or not Texas will vote Democratic in future elections is yet to be seen, but in the meantime, it is impossible to know today whether or not Trump's reduced success compared to Romney was part of any certain trend.

Breaking Down the Texas Vote

A simple breakdown of the presidential vote in Texas in 2012 and 2016 reveals more about Texans and the way they voted. Tables 3 and 4, below, show the statewide information presented in Table 2 broken down by population. Table 3 shows the aggregate data for the state's ten most populous counties: Harris, Dallas, Tarrant, Bexar, Travis, El Paso, Collin, Hidalgo, Denton, and Fort Bend. Table 4 shows data for the other 244 counties.

2012 2016 Change
Republican 2,176,710 48.6% 2,109,376 41.6% -67,334 -7.0%
Democrat 2,234,914 49.9% 2,727,543 53.8% +492,629 +3.9%
Other 69,537 1.6% 229,919 4.5% +160,382 +2.9%
Total 4,481,161 100% 5,066,838 100% +585,677 +13.1%
Table 3. The popular vote for U.S. president in 2012 and 2016 in Texas' ten most populous counties.

2012 2016 Change
Republican 2,383,517 68.2% 2,572,214 66.6% +188,697 -1.6%
Democrat 1,065,753 30.5% 1,140,273 29.5% +74,520 -1.0%
Other 46,238 1.3% 150,137 3.9% +103,899 +2.6%
Total 3,495,508 100% 5,066,838 100% +367,116 +10.5%
Table 4. The popular vote for U.S. president in 2012 and 2016 in Texas' 244 least populous counties.

As the above tables show, there are two different Texas electorates: the center to Democratic-leaning voters in the large cities, and the solidly Republican voters of the suburbs, small-to-medium-sized towns, and rural areas. This fact becomes even more apparent when further breaking down the ten counties represented in Table 3. In 2012, Obama won Dallas County handily, but Romney won neighboring Tarrant, Collin, and Denton Counties by even larger margins, making the four counties Republican when lumped together. In 2016, Clinton made gains in all four counties, and while Tarrant, Collin, and Denton Counties remained Republican, the group of four was slightly Democratic in 2016. A similar situation existed in the Houston area. In 2012, Obama and Romney virtually tied in Harris County, but Romney won Fort Bend County. In 2016, both counties went for Clinton, with Harris County more solidly Democratic than Democratic-leaning Fort Bend County. Houston's other suburban counties - Montgomery, Galveston, and Brazoria - all stayed Republican in 2016, but Clinton gained ground in each of them.

Of the medium-sized and small counties represented in Table 4, the only ones that voted for Clinton were in Hispanic-majority counties in south Texas and along the Rio Grande. Clinton did better in most of these counties than Obama did. She also picked up Kenedy County, which voted for Romney. The only small-to-medium county in the state that Obama won but Clinton lost was Jefferson County in southeast Texas, where Beaumont is the county seat. Trump generally did better than Romney in east Texas. In the other major Republican strongholds - the rural, Anglo-majority areas of the Panhandle, west Texas, and north Texas - there was no significant shift.

To restate, the key points from this data are:

  • The top ten most populous counties in Texas, as a group, vote down the center or lean Democratic, while the remaining 244 counties are, as a group, solidly Republican.
  • Turnout was higher throughout the state in 2016, but especially in the large, urban counties.
  • In the ten most populous counties, Trump received slightly fewer votes than Romney, despite a much higher turnout. As a result, his share of the vote in these urban counties was much lower than Romney's.
  • Clinton received a huge increase in number of votes compared to Obama in the most populous counties. Third party and independent candidates also saw a large boost in votes. Both Clinton's and the "other" share of the vote increased substantially.
  • In the remaining 244 counties, both major-party candidates' share of the vote was lower in 2016 compared to 2012, while third party and independent candidates did better.

To see the exact vote in each county in Texas in the 2012 and 2016 presidential elections, along with a map, please use the following links:

By David Carson
Page last updated: November 15, 2016