A recent Gallup tracking poll suggests Texas is “competitive” as the spread between adults reporting a preference for the Republican and Democratic parties is just 3 points. Including leaners*, 41% of adults said they were Republicans and 38% said they were Democrats, leaving 21% unaffiliated. This finding has been circulating online and in Democratic fundraising emails for a few days, but there are at least three significant reasons why this poll is not a sign of an impending blue wave.

First, Texas was deemed “competitive” by the same Gallup tracking poll before the 2016 election, when 43% of adults identified as Republicans and 39% identified as Democrats. In the 2016 election, the split between Republican and Democratic straight-party voters was 55%-45%, and every statewide Republican candidate except for the presidential nominee won by 13 points.

Second, turnout in mid-term (gubernatorial) elections drops significantly from presidential elections, and the drop-off has been greater among Democratic voters in recent years. In 2014, the number of Republican straight-party voters fell 38% from 2012 while Democratic straight-party voters fell by half. As a result, the gap between Republican and Democratic straight-party voters was 62%-38% in the last gubernatorial election cycle. Gallup’s partisan affiliation poll deemed Texas “competitive” that year, too, as Republicans had a  41%-37% edge.

Third, because the poll surveyed adults and not “likely voters,” the results should be expected to skew toward Democrats. In recent years, several polls have shown that preference for Democratic candidates increases as the likelihood of voting decreases. For example, the October 2017 UT/Texas Tribune poll (PDF) of 1,200 adults found a similar, 47%-42%, split with a much smaller number of non-leaning independents. Republicans led, 50%-40%, among adults “extremely interested” in politics. Among all other interest levels, partisan preference was tied, 44%-44%

One interesting takeaway from the Gallup poll is the relatively high percentage of Texas voters who neither identified with a party nor leaned toward one. Texas was one of just four states where one out of every five adults did not claim any partisan affiliation or leanings. Only solidly blue Delaware, Hawai’i and Rhode Island had a larger proportion of unaffiliated adults. There is a caveat here, too. Unaffiliated adults may not become independent voters. They may simply be non-voters.

*Gallup defined leaners as those who said they were independent who were “probed for their party leaning.”

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