If a Republican presidential nominee isn’t winning by a substantial margin in Texas, they’re probably in trouble.
Donald Trump is still winning in the deep red state, but his advantage has dropped precipitously from double digits to under 5 percent in the last two weeks. The last three polls in the state show him ahead of Hillary Clinton by only 2 points in a Washington Post-SurveyMonkey poll, 3 points in a University of Houston poll and 4 points in a Survey USA/Texas Tenga poll.
All of those most recent polls were conducted after the Oct. 7 release of a tape in which Trump bragged about sexually assaulting women. Polls conducted in the prior month show the GOP candidate leading by at least 12 and up to 22 points. A couple of earlier polls had signaled the race might be closer than expected, but there hasn’t been consistent evidence until now.
Texas hasn’t awarded its sizable electoral vote share to a Democrat since 1976. And, to be clear, it’s not likely to do so this year either. The HuffPost Pollster chart shows Trump leading by just under 7 points. This kind of model isn’t designed to react to individual polls, so it hasn’t come all the way down to the 2- to 4-point range. (The trend also doesn’t bump up in September after adding the new October polls since there weren’t all that many earlier polls.)
Still, even a 7-point win margin for Trump would be breaking the state’s trend. Mitt Romney won the state by 16 points in 2012. Republican candidates have won the state by 10 or more points since 1980, with the exceptions of 1992 and 1996, when Texas native H. Ross Perot ran as an independent and split the vote.
It’s difficult to get a read on exactly what’s going on in Texas polls ― most of the pollsters active in the state don’t release detailed data that would allow anyone to analyze splits by gender, race or education level. But what we know about the state’s demographics reveal a lot about why Texans are reluctant to accept Trump: There’s a substantial minority population that Trump has angered, a substantial college-educated population and lots of in-migration to the state as its economy expands.
Nearly 40 percent of Texas residents identify as Hispanic or Latino in the 2015 Census estimates. The 2015 estimate of 38.8 percent isn’t all that different from the 2010 estimate of 37.6 percent, but voter registration has increased recently among the Texas minority ― likely in part due to Trump’s racist remarks and hostility toward Hispanics and Latinos.
The state also has relatively high concentrations of white voters with at least a college degree. Over a third of the state’s white population has at least a bachelor’s degree, which equates to around 29 percent of the state’s population. This demographic has been key in 2016 ― these voters have historically leaned Republican, but have been turning away from Trump.
The Lone Star State experienced the largest population growth of any state between 2010 and 2015, according to the Census. The state’s population grew by over 2.3 million people ― 9.2 percent. Even if only half of those new residents are voters, that’s enough to change the state’s voting patterns.
Texas is also the home state of Sen. Ted Cruz, who challenged Trump for the Republican nomination and was the last man standing (with a chance) against the nominee. The senator beat Trump by nearly 20 points in the Texas Republican primary in March. And Cruz famously didn’t endorse Trump at the Republican National Convention in July, although he finally did near the end of September. Cruz’s reluctance to embrace the party’s nominee likely influenced some Texas Republicans to be wary of Trump themselves.
All together, these factors spell trouble for Trump, but Democrats shouldn’t get too hopeful. Trump will probably prevail, and the state isn’t likely to turn blue for a long time. All statewide elected offices are dominated by Republicans, and Democrats haven’t fared well in challenging gubernatorial or senate races.
What we’re seeing is a Trump effect, not a fundamental reshaping of Lone Star State politics.