Differences in Party Unity Will Likely Trim GOP Margin in Texas Presidential Race

The October 2016 University of Texas / Texas Tribune Poll reveals different levels of unity among Democratic and Republican voters, which portends a better year for Democrats compared to a number of recent election cycles, though an outright upset remains a longshot. While Republicans still outnumber Democrats in the electorate that we should expect to show up in a presidential election in Texas, going into Election Day, there are signs of a shift toward a historically smaller GOP margin of victory in the contest between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton for the state's electoral votes. Early turnout set records in counties across the state and seems to portend an increase in Hispanic turnout based on some preliminary analyses, such as the useful breakdown by Ryan and Associates that is circulating, but in addition to an increased presence for a group expected to improve Democratic prospects, early voting also shows indications of higher turnout in GOP strongholds.

Democrats are more positive and unified about their party than are Republicans. We asked Texans about whether they thought each party was “welcoming to people like you.” 62% of Republicans said “yes” about the GOP compared to 80% of Democrats who said “yes” about their own party.

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Don't know/No opinion10%28%9%

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Don't know/No opinion11%29%14%

Similarly, in items directly assessing how favorably Texans viewed each of the major political parties, Democrats viewed their own party more favorably than Republicans viewed theirs by a margin of 30 points. The net rating among Democrats (favorable minus unfavorable) was +68, among among Republicans, it was +31.

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Very favorable34%2%1%
Somewhat favorable42%4%1%
Neither favorable nor unfavorable13%26%6%
Somewhat unfavorable6%13%11%
Very unfavorable2%50%78%
Don't know/No opinion3%4%4%

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Very favorable1%1%12%
Somewhat favorable3%6%34%
Neither favorable nor unfavorable11%21%16%
Somewhat unfavorable23%22%25%
Very unfavorable58%46%10%
Don't know/No opinion5%4%3%

The approval gap of partisans was less pronounced when it came to the actual candidates, however. As a group, Republican partisans displayed a more favorable disposition toward their candidate than toward their party. There was also more parity in partisans' views of their respective candidates, though Democrats were 13 percentage points more favorably inclined toward Clinton than were Republicans toward Trump.

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Very favorable40%6%1%
Somewhat favorable34%7%2%
Neither favorable nor unfavorable13%6%2%
Somewhat unfavorable7%13%5%
Very unfavorable5%66%89%
Don't know/No opinion2%2%1%

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Very favorable2%12%26%
Somewhat favorable3%15%34%
Neither favorable nor unfavorable3%9%9%
Somewhat unfavorable6%11%12%
Very unfavorable83%50%18%
Don't know/No opinion3%3%1%

These attitudes were found in a poll conducted from October 14-23, and trial ballot polling in Texas has yielded a wider margin for Trump more recently. (The recent analysis of national polling data by Doug Rivers of YouGov and Stanford University, and Benjamin Lauderdale of the London School of Economics, is likely applicable to the swings in Texas, too.) The underlying attitudes expressed in the UT/TT poll items illustrate cross-currents below the surface that are likely to continue to exert some degree of downward pull on Trump’s final vote tally. Large shares of Republicans skeptical of their party and/or their candidate have the potential to produce drag on Republican turnout. (There is little chance of widespread GOP defections to Clinton – there is nothing ambiguous or mixed about the strength of the unfavorable views of her among Republicans.) Conversely, comparatively favorable views of their party and candidate among Democrats may well be contributing to increased turnout in the early vote. To be sure, the GOP advantage in party identification among the traditional electorate is likely to provide a buffer, even if the electorate turns out to be be composed of a lower percentage of Republicans and a higher percentage of Democrats than in recent presidential elections. However, should Donald Trump prevail in 2016 by a margin significantly narrower than Romney – say, anything less than 10 points – these partisan differences in attitudes will be part of the explanation. 

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Great president39%1%0%
Good president38%4%3%
Average president17%12%5%
Poor president2%9%9%
Terrible president4%74%82%