With three weeks to go before the general election, the state of play up and down the ballot remains remarkably stable across Texas. However, as races remain close, that stability could mask a lot of volatility within polls’ margins of errors and assumptions about who the “likely voters” really are.

This stability is anchored by the presidential race, for which the vast majority of voters have long made up their minds and whose minds are very unlikely to change. On Friday, the latest Univ. of Texas/Texas Tribune poll (PDF) showed that 91% of likely voters were “not very” or “not at all likely” to change their mind before they vote. This is a little bit higher than in 2016, but there’s an important difference. This year, the 4% who said they were “very likely” to change their minds are evenly distributed between President Trump and Joe Biden. Four years ago, seven out of nine likely voters “very likely” to change their minds supported Clinton when the poll was taken. Trump led Clinton by 3 points in that October 2016 poll, and he won by 9.

The 2020 UT/TT poll, most of which was conducted prior to Trump’s October 2 positive COVID-19 diagnosis, shows the incumbent leading Biden, 50%-45%, which is within the poll’s margin of error. Since November 2019, UT/TT polls have found Trump leading Biden by 7 points (November), 4 points (February), 5 points (April), 4 points (July) and now 5 points.

It is the fifth time Trump has been at or above 50% out of the 45 polls we have tracked since January. He was over 50% in one out of the 16 polls we tracked in 2016. Clinton peaked at 43% in two October 2016 polls. Biden has been at or above 43% in 43 of the 45 polls we’ve tracked since January. Importantly, Clinton never led Trump in 2016, while Biden has led in 11 polls. Also importantly, Biden has led in only one poll since a stretch in August when he led in four out of a run of five polls, suggesting a possible peak in his support.

With few undecided voters left and few likely to change their minds, there is little room for Biden to close any remaining gap … unless the polls have missed, by design and sampling, a pocket of Biden supporters – or, more likely, Trump detractors.

We are projecting more than 10 million Texans will cast ballots for the first time in state history. By definition, this requires more than 1 million infrequent and first-time voters – people who may fall outside the definition of “likely voters” – to cast ballots. How these voters break is critical, not just to the top statewide races but also down the ballot. In the October 2018 UT/TT poll, U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz (R) led then-U.S. Rep. Beto O’Rourke (D-El Paso), 51%-45%. Cruz won that election, 51%-48%. Polling errors aside, the few remaining undecideds and un-polled infrequent and first-time voters broke for O’Rourke.

Statewide Projections

FiveThirtyEight’s poll average today (Sunday) has President Trump ahead of Democratic challenger Joe Biden, 51.1%-47.9% (3.2 points). Three months ago, on July 11, it was 51.4%-47.6% (3.8 points). RealClearPolitics sees the race as 49.2%-44.8% for Trump (+4.4 points). Cook Political Report has it as 53.3%-46.7% for Trump (+6.6%). That would indicate an improvement in Trump’s percentage over 2016, which we believe is an unlikely outcome.

At this point, we project a 50.8%-47.7% Trump victory, which is about a 0.7% larger margin of victory than we projected in July and affirmed in September. This slight shift is indicative of our perception that Biden has, at least for now, peaked in his polling numbers. We have also increased our estimated separation between Biden and the other Democratic candidates to 1.85 percentage points, which is indicative of our perception that Democratic challenger M.J. Hegar has also peaked in her polling performance against U.S. Sen. John Cornyn (R). We will see whether her strong fundraising quarter – her campaign announced $13.5M in receipts – will change the trajectory of that race. The remaining statewide races are simply along for the ride. None of the candidates from either party are likely to separate themselves from the rest of the ticket.

These slight shifts in projections do not change the ratings of the statewide races. They remain Lean Republican.

Ratings Changes

Stability at the top translates into stability down the ballot. We re-ran our model based on the adjustments discussed above and taking into account the state candidates’ 30-day-out campaign finance reports. All of that produced a total of four ratings changes:

  • HD17 (Cyrier) to Safe Republican from Likely Republican
  • HD32 (Hunter) to Likely Republican from Lean Republican
  • HD26 open to Toss Up from Lean Republican; and
  • HD66 (Shaheen) to Toss Up from Lean Democratic.

Our projections for legislative seat flips are unchanged. We continue to project SD19 (Flores), HD138 open, HD134 (S. Davis), HD108 (Meyer), HD66 (Shaheen), HD112 (Button) and HD67 (Leach) to flip to the Democrats.

We will make Congressional race rating adjustments based on candidates’ pre-general election campaign finance reports, which are due on Thursday. All of our race ratings are available here.

Volatility Ahead?

Despite the relative stability of the state’s political climate, there remains a significant volatility at the margins. In 2016, a significant number of undecided and soft-support voters broke against Clinton. In 2020, if the same magnitude of voters break against Trump, then more marginal Republican-held seats are at risk.

Keep in mind that FiveThirtyEight still gives Biden a 31% chance of winning Texas. This is more than double the 14% chance they give Trump to win a second term. They give Hegar a 12% chance of defeating Cornyn – roughly the same odds as Trump winning a second term.

Very little has changed in three months. A lot could change in three weeks.

Texas Presidential Polls

  • Trump 50, Biden 45 – Univ. of Texas/Texas Tribune (October) – LV
  • Trump 48, Biden 48 – Public Policy Polling (October) – V
  • Trump 51, Biden 44 – Crosswind (October) – LV
  • Trump 49, Biden 49 – EMC Research (October) – LV
  • Biden 47, Trump 45 – Data for Progress (October) – LV
  • Trump 48, Biden 48 – Civiqs (October) – LV
  • Trump 49, Biden 46 – UMass-Lowell (September) – LV
  • Trump 48, Biden 48 – Public Policy Polling (September) – LV
  • Trump 46, Biden 45 – Data for Progress (September) – LV
  • Trump 50, Biden 45 – Quinnipiac Univ. (September) – LV
  • Trump 46, Biden 43 – NYT/Siena Coll. (September) – LV
  • Trump 48, Biden 46 – CBS News/YouGov (September) – LV
  • Trump 46, Biden 46 – Morning Consult (September) – LV
  • Trump 48, Biden 47 – Public Policy Polling (September) – V
  • Trump 48, Biden 46 – DMN/UT-Tyler (September) – LV
  • Biden 48, Trump 45 – Data for Progress (September) – LV
  • Trump 48, Biden 47 – Morning Consult (August) – LV
  • Biden 48, Trump 44 – Tyson Group (August) – LV
  • Biden 48, Trump 47 – Public Policy Polling (August) – V
  • Biden 47, Trump 45 – Global Strategy Group (August) – LV
  • Trump 48, Biden 41 – YouGov/THPF (August) – RV
  • Trump 49, Biden 43 – Trafalgar Group (August) – LV
  • Trump 47, Biden 46 – Morning Consult (August) – LV
  • Biden 47, Trump 45 – Morning Consult (July) – LV
  • Trump 49, Biden 45 – SPRY Strategies (July) – LV
  • Biden 45, Trump 44 – Quinnipiac Univ. (July) – RV
  • Trump 46, Biden 45 – CBS News/YouGov (July) – RV
  • Trump 46, Biden 44 – Gravis/OANN (July) – LV
  • Biden 48, Trump 43 – DMN/UT-Tyler (July) – LV
  • Trump 48, Biden 44 – UT/Texas Politics Project (July) – RV
  • Biden 45, Trump 44 – Fox News (June) – RV
  • Trump 48, Biden 46 – Public Policy Polling (June) – V
  • Trump 48, Biden 48 – Public Policy Polling (June) – V
  • Trump 44, Biden 43 – Quinnipiac Univ. (June) – RV
  • Trump 47, Biden 41 – Emerson (May) – RV
  • Trump 50, Biden 43 – Morning Consult (May) – LV
  • Trump 43, Biden 43 – DMN/UT-Tyler (May) – RV
  • Biden 47, Trump 46 – Public Policy Polling (April) – V
  • Trump 49, Biden 44 – UT/Texas Tribune (April) – RV
  • Trump 45, Biden 44 – DMN/UT-Tyler (March) – RV
  • Trump 49, Biden 45 – Marist Coll. (February) – RV
  • Trump 46, Biden 43 – Univision/Univ. of Houston (February) – RV
  • Biden 48, Trump 47 – CNN/SSRS (February) – RV
  • Trump 47, Biden 43 – UT/Texas Tribune (February) – RV
  • Trump 44, Biden 42 – DMN/UT-Tyler (February) – RV
  • Trump 51, Biden 46 – Texas Lyceum (January) – LV
  • Trump 48, Biden 47 – CNN/SSRS (December 2019) – RV
  • Trump 45, Biden 39 – DMN/UT-Tyler (November 2019) – RV
  • Trump 46, Biden 39 – UT/Texas Tribune (November 2019) – RV

Links go to our coverage or commentary on the polls. If there is no link, then we either did not see the poll or otherwise did not have enough information to report on it. Legend: LV-Likely Voters, RV-Registered Voters, V-Voters

©2020 Texas Election Source LLC