There’s a big reason Donald Trump’s victory in 2016 was such a shocker. Given the massive Democratic advantage in highly populated states over the last quarter century, he literally needed to thread the needle in order to overcome Hillary Clinton’s 2.9 million vote edge in the popular vote. Looking at Electoral College results going back to 1992, only a few states with 10 or more congressmen have consistently voted Republican in that time. One of those states is the second-biggest prize in the Electoral College–Texas.
Indeed, for almost half a century, the Lone Star State has usually been an automatic deposit in the Republicans’ bank account. The GOP has carried Texas in all but one election since 1972–when Jimmy Carter narrowly won it in 1976. It swung from a four-point victory for Carter to a 14-point victory for Ronald Reagan in 1980. Since then, only the Clintons–Bill in 1992 and 1996, and Hillary in 2016–have kept the margin within single digits.
That’s why a new poll conducted by the Dallas Morning News and the University of Texas at Tyler can only be described as seismic. It shows Joe Biden with a modest, but significant, lead over Trump in the race for Texas’ 38 electoral votes.
The poll, conducted over 11 days from June 29 to July 7, shows Biden with 46 percent support to Trump’s 41 percent–just outside the 2.24 percent margin of error. The Morning News and UT-Tyler also turned on a likely voter screen–with similar results. Among likely voters, Biden leads with 48 percent to Trump’s 43 percent–just outside the 3.4 percent margin of error.
Any way you slice it, this is absolutely disastrous news for Trump. According to UT-Tyler political scientist Kenneth Bryant Jr., Trump is losing a lot of ground among “folks in the middle”–whom he believes will decide who ultimately carries Texas in November.
Peering into the guts of this poll, one conclusion is unavoidable–Trump only has himself to blame. A whopping 52 percent of registered voters disapproved of how Trump is handling the coronavirus pandemic, with only 38 percent approving. In contrast, a Morning News/UT-Tyler poll in April showed an almost even split, with 44 percent disapproving of Trump’s response to 43 percent approving.
As in most of the nation, Trump’s mishandling of the pandemic has been a significant drag around his overall job approval among Texas voters. While the April poll showed voters more or less evenly divided on Trump’s performance, this latest poll shows 50 percent disapproving and only 42 percent approving. Tellingly, 42 percent strongly disapprove of Trump’s performance.
Those numbers alone would be enough to hike eyebrows into hairlines at Trump Tower. But consider that this poll was conducted by a newspaper that has historically tilted conservative. The Morning News turned rightward well before Texas as a whole began shaking off its “Solid South” roots. In 2016, Hillary became the first Democrat to receive its endorsement since Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1940–and that was only the second time since then that it didn’t endorse a Republican.
Additionally, the sample from this poll may skew slightly more Republican than the state as a whole. Of the respondents, 40 percent identified as Republican and 37 percent identified as Democratic. In contrast, a recent Pew Research poll found that 40 percent of Texas voters identified as Democrats, while 37 percent identified as Republicans.
So it’s no wonder that when this poll dropped, the political world’s collective jaws dropped. For instance, MSNBC’s Garrett Haake pointed out how dire Trump’s math becomes if Texas is even potentially close–or if Biden does manage to win it.
Lest you dismiss this as hyperbole, if you take away Texas’ 38 votes from Trump’s raw electoral vote total from 2016, he drops from 306 electoral votes to only 268–two short of victory. Indeed, an argument can be made that Texas is one of the few reasons the GOP has even been in the game since 1992.
Realistically, though, if Texas is even potentially close in November, Biden has likely already locked up the presidency. After all, if Texas is at all close, Biden has likely scooped up most, if not all, of the swing states. And if Biden somehow manages to pull it out, he has probably bagged a number of other historically red states, which would push his electoral vote count close to or over 400.
Evan Smith of the Texas Tribune noted that it’s a big deal that Biden seems to be doing well among likely voters.
This poll has already led to calls for Biden to ramp up his ground operation in Texas. After all, with four of the nation’s top 40 markets (Dallas-Fort Worth, Houston, San Antonio, and Austin), Texas is a very expensive state in which to advertise. Even if it’s not enough to push Biden over the line, significant advertising in Texas will force Trump to spend money that would normally go elsewhere.
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