Democrats have long maintained that higher turnout is the key to turning the state blue. It didn’t happen. The blue wave of 2018 crashed against the red seawall of rural and exurban Texas, and Republicans held their ground in the suburbs against spirited and well-funded challengers.
Democrats under-performed, or Republicans over-performed, across the state, in what turned out to be a status-quo election. Aside from a single state House district, Democrats retained their gains from 2018, but they made almost no headway from there. If 2018 was the first act of a two-act play, then the show ended at intermission.
Instead of claiming a state House majority, as we incorrectly projected, the Democrats wound up with nothing on balance. They flipped HD134 (S. Davis) but lost HD132 (Calanni). They led in the two Republican-held districts in Dallas Co., but those slipped away as Election Day votes came in. Nowhere else were they ahead. One of the reasons is any backlash – and it was limited – against Trump did not translate down the ballot. For example, in Collin Co., Democratic candidates for its five state House seats collectively received 30K fewer votes than Joe Biden.
Rep. Roland Gutierrez (D-San Antonio) ousted Sen. Pete Flores (R-Pleasanton), reversing a special election victory in a historically Democratic district. Republicans retain an 18-13 majority and control of all the levers of redistricting. That victory sidestepped one of the most significant developments of this election: the reddening of the border.
In the state’s 12 southernmost counties, President Trump gained more than 65K votes compared to 2016 while Biden received 27K fewer votes than Hillary Clinton. She won these 12 counties, 70%-30%, measured head-to-head against Trump. Biden’s margin was 56.5%-43.5%. Trump won Zapata Co., which Clinton won by 33 points in 2016.
Our model bullishly projected an 18-18 tie in the congressional delegation. Instead, the partisan makeup stayed right where it was, 23-13 in favor of the Republicans. Some races were closer than in 2018, some not, but none flipped. Most were not particularly close. The seat likeliest to flip, open CD23, went to Republican Tony Gonzales II as district’s move to the right accelerated.
Statewide, Trump led Biden, 52%-46%, with a few counties and precincts in the larger counties still to be reported. His win extends Republican presidential candidates’ win streak here to 10. All statewide Republicans won, extending that winning streak to 13 consecutive even-year elections.
Aside from Trump, the remaining statewide candidates were the most tightly clustered in state history. In races with a minor party candidate, the Republican’s vote share ranged between 53.1% and 53.8%. Those without a minor party candidate received between 55.1% and 55.6% of the vote. Tight groupings of candidates from the same party has historically been highly correlated to a high proportion of straight-party voting. The option was eliminated for this year, but we would not have been surprised to see straight-party voters comprise at least 70% of the electorate, which would have been a record (at least since the Poll Tax era).
We projected Biden would need to build a 1.3-1.5M vote margin in the 12 counties with 250K or more registered voters. His margin will end up south of 900K.
A record number of Texans voted, though it appeared that Election Day turnout may be among the lightest in recent history. In Harris Co., just over 10% of voters cast their ballots on Election Day, which is roughly the same number who voted absentee. In Tarrant Co., about 12% of votes were cast in person on Election Day. Our turnout projection of 12.4M appears to have been generous. It appears to be unlikely that turnout will wind up eclipsing 70% of registered voters.
Our model was pretty far off this year – much farther than in any other year we’ve prognosticated – but we were not alone. We missed the presidential race by around 3 points. Over the coming weeks, we’ll revisit what happened, and we’ll re-run the model with the actual presidential result to see how accurate it would have been had it been fed a more accurate benchmark.
©2020 Texas Election Source LLC