U.S. Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julian Castro recently tweeted that a combination of factors would place the Lone Star State “in play” in November:
Donald's insults, a high profile Lib. ticket, TX GOP rife w/ scandal & Hillary's strong track record in state–TX will be in play in Nov.
— Julián Castro (@JulianCastro) June 6, 2016
No Democratic presidential nominee has won Texas since Jimmy Carter in 1976, and no Democratic presidential nominee has received more than 45% of the vote here since Lyndon Johnson in 1964. No Democrat has won a statewide race in Texas since 1994, the longest such streak in the country. Straight-ticket voting favors Republican candidates – all of them, including the party’s presidential candidate – and voters are increasingly casting straight-ticket ballots. Quite a few trends would have to be bucked if Texas were to be competitive in this year’s presidential race.
We previously noted that both Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton are highly unpopular in Texas. Each is viewed unfavorably by a majority of Texas registered voters, according to a February UT/Texas Tribune poll. This is not the result of strong partisan dislike of the other party’s candidate. Trump’s favorability rating among independent voters was 32/55 and Clinton’s was 18/60. This latter number must be overcome by Clinton in order for Texas to be “in play.” Even if Trump’s favorability plummets because of “Donald’s insults” or other reasons, Clinton’s would likely need to rise.
Recent Democratic Presidential Nominees' Performance in Texas
51.1% – Jimmy Carter (1976) – won
43.8% – Bill Clinton (1996)
43.7% – Barack Obama (2008)
43.3% – Michael Dukakis (1988)
41.42% – Jimmy Carter (1980)
41.38% – Barack Obama (2012)
41.1% – Hubert Humphrey (1968) – won
38.2% – John Kerry (2004)
38.0% – Al Gore (2000)
37.1% – Bill Clinton (1992)
36.1% – Walter Mondale (1984)
33.3% – George McGovern (1972)
Clinton received 65% of the vote in the Democratic primary here, and Trump was the preferred candidate of 27% of Republican primary voters. He finished second to U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz (44%), who won the majority of delegates from his home state. More than 2.5M Texans voted in the primaries for other candidates. Clinton received more than 500K more votes in the 2008 Democratic primary, when she defeated Barack Obama, 51%-47%, than she did in 2016 – a loss of at least 36% of her previous supporters.
We previously noted that the state’s current alternative parties have not had much electoral success in presidential contests. The current high-water mark is Ralph Nader’s 2.1% of the vote as the Green Party’s candidate in 2000. The Libertarian Party’s most successful presidential candidate here was Gary Johnson, the party’s current nominee, in 2012. He received 1.1% of the vote. The rest of the Libertarian ticket has run for, and lost, statewide offices before. A strong independent candidate – Ross Perot in 1992, George Wallace in 1968 – can put the state in play, but there is no such candidate in the 2016 presidential race.
Libertarian Party's 2016 Texas Ticket
PRES: Gary Johnson – received 1% of the vote in 2012
RRC: Mark Miller – received 3% in 2014 RRC race
SC3: Kathie Glass – received 2% in 2010 GOV race and 1% in 2014 GOV race
SC5: Tom Oxford – making his 7th run for the Supreme Court
SC9: Don Fulton – received 3% in 2014 Supreme Court race
CCA2: Mark Ash – received 3% in 2014 Supreme Court race
CCA5: William Strange – making his 5th run for Court of Criminal Appeals
CCA6: Mark Bennett – making his 3rd run for Court of Criminal Appeals
The deadline for an independent candidate to obtain a spot on the November ballot has passed, but a court could grant ballot access.
None of the Republican state officeholders generating recent negative headlines are on the ballot in 2016, and it remains to be seen whether or not those headlines (and the details below them) will be a significant factor in the party’s 2018 efforts to retain complete control of statewide elective office.
As for Clinton’s track record in Texas, we already mentioned that a majority of voters hold negative opinions of her and she saw a significant drop in her primary voters from 2008 to 2016. Castro’s tweet may capture optimism that the Hispanic/Latino vote may lift Clinton and put the state “in play.” This has been the Democrats’ hope through two decades (and counting) of Republican dominance.
The same UT/Texas Tribune poll confirms that Hispanic/Latino voters strongly dislike Trump and, on balance, view Clinton favorably. Less than 20% of Hispanic/Latino registered voters had a favorable opinion of Trump, while 69% saw him unfavorably (57% very unfavorably). Just under 50% of Hispanics/Latinos view Clinton favorably (but just 21% very favorably), and 31% view her unfavorably. Is it enough? At this point, we would have to say, no.
Clinton has five months to build support here, particularly among Hispanic/Latino voters, and Trump has the same amount of time to win, or lose, supporters. Given the candidates’ high unfavorable ratings, the lack of compelling alternatives, the dearth of partisan competition locally in the state, the historic trend of low turnout among Hispanic/Latino voters, and the Republican advantage in straight-ticket voting, the state is less likely to be “in play” than it is to see voter participation drop in consecutive presidential elections for the first time in state history.