Some Notes on the Political Geography of the 2022 Election in Texas

A look at the geography beneath the status-quo-preserving results of the 2022 Texas election reveal gradual patterns of change that both confirm and confound the received knowledge about the state’s most recent elections and the longer-run trajectory of the state. Looking at the distribution of the vote between the two major parties from among urban, suburban, and rural counties* reveals patterns that are more subtle than the Republican tromping of Democrats in statewide and legislative races might initially suggest.

Texas Gubernatorial Election Results
  2022 Votes 2022 Percent 2018 Votes 2018 Percent 2014 Votes 2014 Percent
Abbott Votes 4,424,776 54.82% 4,655,344 55.81% 2,796,251 59.27%
Democratic Votes 3,535,621 43.80% 3,545,673 42.51% 1,835,458 38.9%

Returns from the last three Gubernatorial elections clarify where Democrats, despite improvements in the most populous counties in the state over this span, are falling short. It also illuminates how Republicans have managed to maintain their substantial, if gradually declining, victory margins statewide as the state’s population both grows and shifts. Their efforts to hold on to their advantage have taken a geographically multifaceted approach to targeting voters and piecing together winning efforts by increasing their margins in the rural areas they dominate while still maintaining majority status in the suburbs and substantial minority shares in the major urban areas. Democratic efforts to eat into the wide GOP majorities in rural areas have demonstrably failed, and perhaps even been counter-productive, to the extent that they may have had the dual effects of triggering counter-mobilization among rural Republican voters while also subtracting resources better spent in the more vote rich, and competitive, suburbs and urban areas.

Below are a few observations based on a closer look at the county-level returns.

1. Democratic margins are improving in urban areas of the state. In the five counties with the most registered voters (Harris, Dallas, Tarrant, Bexar, and Travis), Democrats narrowly edged Republicans in 2014 (49.84% v. 48.40%), then widened their margins in 2018 (53.58% vs. 44.12%) and 2022 (57.58% vs. 40.99%). These counties combined accounted for 41.69% of registered voters in the 2022 election, and 40.91% of all votes cast.

Gubernatorial Election Results in Harris, Dallas, Tarrant, Bexar, and Travis Counties
  2022 Votes 2022 Percent 2018 Votes 2018 Percent 2014 Votes 2014 Percent
Abbott Votes 1,353,767 40.99% 1,580,451 44.12% 982,030 48.40%
Democratic Votes 1,901,803 57.58% 1,933,402 53.98% 1,011,362 49.84%

2. Republicans continue to generate substantial numbers of raw votes in their losing efforts in majority-Democratic urban centers. Greg Abbott’s margins in the urban areas have worsened over his three gubernatorial elections (receiving approximately 227,000 fewer votes in 2022 compared to 2018 — O’Rourke’s total declined by just under 32,000). But Abbott continues to collect a lot of votes in these same counties – including more than 1.35 million in 2022 (compared to Democrats’ 1.9 million).

3. While the suburbs were competitive battlegrounds in legislative races over the last few election cycles, overall, these fast-growing areas remain solidly Republican, even if the Democrats are making slow progress. In 2022, Abbott received 60.41% of the vote in suburban counties to O’Rourke’s 38.16%. But this comfortable victory represented significant declines from his 2018 (63.28%) and 2014 (67.08%) performances. These counties combined for 25.94% of registered voters in the 2022 election, and 28.84% of all votes cast.

Texas Gubernatorial Election Results in Suburban Counties
  2022 Votes 2022 Percent 2018 Votes 2018 Percent 2014 Votes 2014 Percent
Abbott Votes 1,406,624 60.41% 1,394,751 63.28% 787,070 67.08%
Democratic Votes 888,493 38.16% 770,616 34.96% 363,348 30.97%

4. Even in the cities, there is considerable variance in the strength of the Democratic vote. Travis and Dallas counties much more closely resemble the frequently assumed default of “blue cities” than do Harris, Bexar, or (especially) Tarrant counties. O’Rourke received 72.61% of the vote in progressive Travis county (up from 66.81% in 2018 and 63.16% in 2014) and 62.78% of the vote in Dallas county (2018: 58.74%; 2014: 54.79%). In Bexar, O’Rourke received 57.47% of the vote (2018: 52.25%; 2014: 48.42%), while in Harris, he received 53.94% of the vote (2018: 52.11%; 2014: 47.08%). Abbott narrowly carried Tarrant after both O’Rourke and Biden narrowly won the county in the 2018 Senate race and the 2020 presidential election, respectively. While O’Rourke was not able to hold onto Tarrant in 2022, the same pattern of gradual Democratic improvement is evident: the Democrat received 47.42% of the vote this year, compared to 43.75% in 2018, and 41.08% in 2014.

5. Republicans have benefitted from increases in both the GOP vote share and the raw number of votes cast in rural Texas. Most counties in Texas can be classified as rural, and in these counties, Abbott improved his margins over prior elections (from 75.23% of the vote in 2014, to 77.19% in 2018, to 79.35% in 2022) — despite high-profile Democratic efforts to clawback at least some rural votes, particularly in the last two midterm elections. But despite the focus of both the press and pundits on the attention given to rural Texas by the campaigns, the 886,166 votes Abbott earned in these counties, which surpassed his total in the much higher turnout 2018 election by about 26,000 votes, is still equal to only 65% of the votes he gained in the 5 largest urban counties. The geographically large rural areas of  Texas combined for 13.37% of registered voters in the 2022 election, and 13.84% of all votes cast.

Texas Gubernatorial Election Results in Rural Counties
  2022 Votes 2022 Percent 2018 Votes 2018 Percent 2014 Votes 2014 Percent
Abbott Votes 886,166 79.35% 860,700 77.19% 547,056 75.23%
Democratic Votes 217,799 19.50% 242,109 21.71% 167,312 23.01%


*All data referenced herein was collected from the Texas Secretary of State's reporting of election results. For the purposes of the results reported above, suburban counties include the following: Wise, Denton, Collin, Rockwall, Hunt, Kaufman, Ellis, Johnson, Parker, Williamson, Bastrop, Hays, Caldwell, Kendall, Comal, Guadalupe, Wilson, Atascosa, Medina, Bandera, Galveston, Chambers, Liberty, San Jacinto, Montgomery, Waller, Fort Bend, Brazoria, Austin. Rural counties include all those counties that can neither be classified as urban or suburban, including: Anderson, Andrews, Angelina, Aransas, Archer, Armstrong, Bailey, Baylor, Bee, Blanco, Borden, Bosque, Brewster, Briscoe, Brooks, Brown, Burleson, Burnet, Calhoun, Callahan, Camp, Carson, Cass, Castro, Cherokee, Childress, Clay, Cochran, Coke, Coleman, Collingsworth, Colorado, Comanche, Concho, Cooke, Coryell, Cottle, Crane, Crockett, Crosby, Culberson, Dallam, Dawson, Deaf Smith, Delta, Dewitt, Dickens, Dimmit, Donley, Duval, Eastland, Edwards, Erath, Falls, Fannin, Fayette, Fisher, Floyd, Foard, Franklin, Freestone, Frio, Gaines, Garza, Gillespie, Glasscock, Goliad, Gonzales, Gray, Grimes, Hale, Hall, Hamilton, Hansford, Hardeman, Hardin, Harrison, Hartley, Haskell, Hemphill, Henderson, Hill, Hockley, Hood, Hopkins, Houston, Howard, Hudspeth, Hutchinson, Irion, Jack, Jackson, Jasper, Jeff Davis, Jim Hogg, Jim Wells, Jones, Karnes, Kenedy, Kent, Kerr, Kimble, King, Kinney, Kleberg, Knox, Lamar, Lamb, Lampasas, Lasalle, Lavaca, Lee, Leon, Limestone, Lipscomb, Live Oak, Llano, Loving, Lynn, Mcculloch, Mcmullen, Madison, Marion, Martin, Mason, Matagorda, Maverick, Menard, Milam, Mills, Mitchell, Montague, Moore, Morris, Motley, Nacogdoches, Navarro, Newton, Nolan, Ochiltree, Oldham, Orange, Palo Pinto, Panola, Parmer, Pecos, Polk, Presidio, Rains, Reagan, Real, Red River, Reeves, Refugio, Roberts, Robertson, Runnels, Rusk, Sabine, San Augustine, San Patricio, San Saba, Schleicher, Scurry, Shackelford, Shelby, Sherman, Somervell, Starr, Stephens, Sterling, Stonewall, Sutton, Swisher, Terrell, Terry, Throckmorton, Titus, Trinity, Tyler, Upshur, Upton, Uvalde, Val Verde, Van Zandt, Walker, Ward, Washington, Wharton, Wheeler, Wilbarger, Willacy, Winkler, Wood, Yoakum, Young, Zapata, Zavala.