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Voters are generally more optimistic about the direction of the country and the state than just before other recent elections, according to the latest Univ. of Texas/Texas Tribune poll (PDF).

Forty-two percent of respondents believe the nation is headed in the right direction and 49% believe it is on the wrong track. The minus-7 net rating is the second highest in the poll’s nine-year history, trailing only the minus-6 net rating back in June. In October 2014, only 25% of respondents believed the nation was on the right track while 65% believed it was on the wrong track, a net rating of minus-40. Four years earlier, the rating was almost identical: 25% right track, 64% wrong track.

In a related question, 32% of respondents believe the “national economy is a lot better off,” the highest number in the poll’s nine-year history. It was just 6% in October 2014 and 3% in October 2010. The percent of respondents believing the national economy is a “lot better off” has risen steadily since October 2016, when it was just 8%. During Barack Obama’s presidency, this percentage was in double digits just once (February 2015 – 11%).

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As for the state of Texas, 50% of respondents believe it is headed in the right direction for the first time since June 2015, and 35% believe it is on the wrong track. The plus-15 net rating is the highest since June 2015 (+18) and is a 6-point increase since June (46/37). The current net rating is slightly higher than in October 2014 (+13) and October 2010 (+12). More respondents believe the state’s economy is “a lot better” or “somewhat better off” than a year ago that at any point in the poll’s history, slightly better than in February and June of this year, and 12 points better than in October 2014.

Predictably, partisans’ views of the federal government flipped after the election of Donald Trump in 2016. Four out of five Republicans* believe the nation is on the right track, the highest such percentage in the poll’s history. Entering the 2016 election, just 4% of Republicans believed the nation was on the right track. Democrats are an almost exact mirror. Four out of every five Democrats believe the nation is on the wrong track, but that is not the high-water (or low-water, depending on perspective) mark. A year ago, 88% of Democrats believed the nation was on the wrong track.

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Notably, the current Democratic net rating of minus-75 is “better” than all but one Republican net rating during the Obama Administration. This suggests that Democrats’ rage against Washington, while intense, is less intense than Republicans’ prior rage against Washington. This same pattern plays out in presidential “strongly approve” and “strongly disapprove” job performance ratings. Democrats’ current “strong” rating of Trump is 3/82 (minus-79). Headed into the last two gubernatorial elections, Republicans’ “strong” ratings of Obama were 1/86 and 1/85.

Independents* are predictably in between and divided. Forty percent of independents, mostly those who lean Republican, believe the country is on the right track, and half, mostly those who lean Democratic, believe it’s on the wrong track. That minus-10 net rating is the second highest in the poll’s history, trailing only June’s minus-5. Looking at presidential approval ratings, independents with strong opinions rate Trump at 37/39 (minus-2). Heading into gubernatorial elections, their strong views of Obama were 14/59 in 2010 and 13/51 in 2014.

Hispanic/Latino respondents on balance believe the country is on the wrong track, but only slightly more so now (minus-28) than in October 2016 (minus-22). In other words, Trump’s first two years in office have not significantly altered their views of the national trajectory.

Looking at Texas, Republicans have never been more certain that the state is headed in the right direction. Just 8% think the state is on the wrong track, compared to 84% who believe it’s on the right track. That plus-76 net rating is up 24 points in a year and 42 points since October 2016. On balance, independents also put the state on the right track, 49% to 37%, a net rating of plus-12, the highest since February 2017 and second highest since June 2015.

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Hispanic/Latino respondents are divided, slightly favoring the wrong track by 5 points. This shows a significantly more optimistic disposition since June 2017, when the net rating was minus-31.

Collectively, these data points suggest that Democrats, while motivated by their disapproval of President Trump and the direction of the state, seem less intensely motivated than Republicans in 2014 and especially 2010, the last wave election in the state. It is not a wide difference, but it’s a difference, and potentially yet another hurdle Democrats must clear if they are to have a stronger than typical showing in Tuesday’s election.

* We include respondents who say they “lean Republican” or “lean Democratic” as independents on the theory that these leaners are much more likely to consider voting for candidates of another party than respondents who are “weak” or “strong” partisans. This latter group is theoretically likeliest to cast straight-party votes.

©2018 Texas Election Source LLC