Two fundamental questions will be answered Tuesday, or shortly thereafter:
- Will Joe Biden become the first Democratic presidential nominee to carry Texas since 1976 and the first Democrat running statewide to win since 1994?
- Will Democrats capture the net nine seats necessary to become the majority party in the Texas House of Representatives for the first time since the 2002 election?
The second can happen without the first, but the first cannot happen without the second. We saw this in 2008, when Democrats came within 20 votes of a 75-75 tie while Barack Obama lost the state by 950K votes.
The answer to both questions hinges on the projected 3M+ Texans who did not vote in 2016.
Donald Trump defeated Hillary Clinton, 52%-43%, in the 2016 general election. Nearly 4.5% of votes cast for certified presidential candidates went to minor party and write-in candidates. Several hundred thousand voters wrote in other names, and those votes for president were not reflected in official results. Trump’s 9-point win over Clinton was the smallest percentage-point margin for a Republican presidential candidate here since 1996. Going backwards from 2012, the previous four Republican wins had been by 16, 12, 23 and 21 points.
Since he was elected, Trump’s status has switched from political outsider to incumbent with a record to be judged by voters. His opponent today is not nearly as highly or widely disliked as his opponent four years ago. Most Texans believe the economy is worse off now than a year ago. Cases of coronavirus are on the rise across the country. The political climate for Republicans in Texas is the most challenging it has been in a generation.
Reflections of 2010
I’m a numbers guy. Texas Election Source’s models are built upon longer-term historical shifts in the electorate from the state level all the way down to the precinct. Our data goes back 20 years and demonstrates slow, steady shifts toward Republicans or Democrats. The 2018 election produced wildly larger swings – nearly all in the direction of historical shifts – that resulted in our model under-estimating Democratic performance by 2 points across the state. It also set records for gubernatorial elections. The 2006, 2010 and 2014 gubernatorial elections averaged 39% fewer voters than their preceding presidential election. The 2018 gubernatorial election saw just 7% fewer voters than the 2016 general election. It was the second-highest turnout, measured by number of voters, for an election in state history, trailing only 2016.
The easiest explanation for this record off-year turnout and observed jumps toward the Democrats is, voters have on balance reacted negatively to the first two years of Trump’s presidency, and they took this displeasure to the polls instead of sitting the election out, as many would normally do.
We observed a similar effect in 2010, when voters first judged the Obama presidency.
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