Some Texas Notes for Election Day 2020

A dramatic increase in competition between the two parties amidst an early voting surge that has seen Texas leading the country in turnout so far has thrust the state closer to center stage in the fateful final days of the 2020 election. We thought it might be useful to flag some aspects of data from polling and historical voting records that prove useful context for reporting on the 2020 election in Texas. We’ve also used our search tool to gather all of the relevant results from polling we’ve conducted for the 2020 election over the last cycle in our poll archive.

As Election Day voting takes place, we’ve also rounded up a few relevant data points on several aspects of the election that help shed some light on a very uncertain electoral environment in Texas. If you want to jump to subjects of specific interest, you can use the internal links below.

Texas Independents The Latino Vote
Ticket splitting? Impact of COVID-19 on voting
The Polling When we'll know who won
Trust in the outcome Eyes on Houston
The suburbs  

Independents in the 2020 Election. While we know a lot about the share of voters with Republican or Democratic primary history thanks to consultant Derek Ryan’s regular and very useful early voting data reports, there are about 1.69 million voters who have already cast a ballot without a primary or general election voting history in Texas and about 2.9 million general election-only voters who haven’t yet cast their ballots. Together, these two groups make up more than 47% of the votes. We may know how the vast majority of partisans will vote, but here’s an examination of how independents look different in 2020 compared to previous elections based on University of Texas/Texas Tribune polling. Increasingly negative attitudes toward Donald Trump are likely major drivers, as the following graphics illustrate.

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PollApproveDisapproveNeither/Don't know
February 201739%37%24%
June 201747%41%11%
October 201755%35%10%
February 201849%37%13%
June 201843%45%12%
October 201839%43%17%
February 201946%37%17%
June 201946%39%15%
October 201941%51%8%
February 202036%47%17%
April 202034%47%18%
June 202036%50%14%
October 202031%53%15%

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Very favorable3%19%59%
Somewhat favorable3%8%26%
Neither favorable nor unfavorable4%10%4%
Somewhat unfavorable4%12%6%
Very unfavorable85%43%6%
Don't know/No opinion0%7%0%

The Latino vote. There’s been a lot of discussion of Joe Biden’s support, or his lack of expected support, among Hispanics. Commonly lost (or, to be fair, disputed) in this discussion is that Texas Republicans regularly enjoy the support of 30-45% of the Hispanic voting electorate in Texas. (This group is a subset of Hispanics overall.) How well the GOP does in this range, and the extent to which the Hispanics who enter the electorate for the first time in 2020 look like the Hispanics who have traditionally voted in Texas elections, will go a long way in determining how competitive Texas is in 2020 once the votes are actually counted. The graphics below look at the trend in responses to our statewide item asking about welcoming the respective major parties are to "people like you." The universe in these items is made up self-declared registered voters.

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October 201640%3%26%
October 201748%15%38%
October 201859%17%34%
October 201958%22%36%
October 202059%21%32%
October 202262%16%36%
October 202360%27%35%

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October 201627%78%48%
October 201732%65%51%
October 201832%73%52%
October 201934%68%50%
October 202035%75%46%
October 202236%63%47%
October 202332%70%51%

The suburban battlegrounds. The suburbs are once again a focus of attention. This is understandable, given the demographic dynamism of the Texas suburbs and the ways that dynamism has fed two or three elections worth of increasing competition between the parties in Congressional and legsislative contests, as well as big partisan shifts in the vote totals in suburban counties like Fort Bend, Collin, and Hayes, just to mention a few of the most prominent. On the other hand, beware over-interpretation of shifts in suburban geographies that hinge on imputing mass Republican defections because of Donald Trump (especially among women). There is little direct evidence of more than marginal GOP defections, even if those marginal defections *are* contributing to the erosion of the advantage he enjoyed in 2016. More likely, the suburbs are increasingly competitive in Texas because they're growing rapidly, and doing so with the addition of young, diverse Texans.

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PollApproveDisapproveNeither/Don't know
February 201750%40%10%
June 201745%48%7%
October 201746%48%6%
February 201849%44%7%
June 201850%44%7%
October 201850%46%4%
February 201950%45%5%
June 201951%43%5%
October 201948%47%5%
February 202044%51%6%
April 202049%46%7%
June 202048%49%4%
October 202051%46%3%

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Very favorable22%32%43%
Somewhat favorable12%15%17%
Neither favorable nor unfavorable7%3%5%
Somewhat unfavorable7%5%5%
Very unfavorable51%44%26%
Don't know/No opinion1%0%3%

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Very favorable27%22%12%
Somewhat favorable23%21%16%
Neither favorable nor unfavorable9%7%5%
Somewhat unfavorable8%9%8%
Very unfavorable33%41%56%
Don't know/No opinion1%0%3%

The potential for ticket splitting. 2020 will be the first election in Texas since the Texas Legislature did away with straight ticket voting in 2017.* A related question being asked is whether John Cornyn could/can win Texas if Joe Biden also wins here — with the sometimes implicit, sometimes explicit idea that some Republicans, and/or independents, might vote for Biden at the top of the ticket, but then continue supporting Republicans down ballot. There’s no evidence suggesting this is going to happen very frequently in our polling. First, Donald Trump's job approval among Texas Republicans has remained astronomically high throughout much of his presidency, with the slightest of erosions likely caused by the pandemic erased in the final month of the campaign. Second, among Texas voters who said that they would be voting for Joe Biden, 82% said that they would support M.J. Hegar (6% John Cornyn), while 90% said that they would vote for their Democratic Congressional candidate (2% said Republican). Among Trump supporters, 88% said that they would be supporting John Cornyn in his Senate race (3% say M.J. Hegar), while 92% say that they will support the Republican candidate with their congressional vote (2% say Democrat). 

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PollApproveDisapproveNeither/Don't know
February 201781%10%8%
June 201780%13%7%
October 201778%15%7%
February 201883%11%5%
June 201887%7%6%
October 201888%7%4%
February 201988%8%5%
June 201988%8%5%
October 201988%8%5%
February 202087%9%4%
April 202090%7%3%
June 202086%8%6%
October 202090%8%2%

The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.  We’ve already written extensively about the declining concern over COVID in Texas, and, in particular, among men, and among Republicans. Expect more Republicans than Democrats to show up on election day, based on history, stated intentions, and GOP voters’ comparative level of concern over the pandemic. Functionally, this means that if you’re a Texas Democrat, don’t pop the champagne if early voting numbers suggest narrow Democratic advantages.

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Vote in person on Election Day15%28%33%
Vote in person early59%60%61%
Vote by mail25%7%5%
Don't know1%5%0%

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Extremely concerned41%16%9%
Very concerned28%17%15%
Somewhat concerned23%22%22%
Not very concerned5%21%26%
Not at all concerned2%17%26%
Don't know/No opinion1%6%2%

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Making heads or tails of the presidential polling in Texas. The polling has been tightening in Texas over the last month, but is really all over the place. This reflects two factors: (1) Texas is competitive now, and under these new conditions, it’s hard to estimate if the electorate prefers Trump 51-49, or if it in fact prefers Biden 51-49 (this is a hard estimate to get right). Making things significantly more difficult is that (2) Texas will likely have north of 12 million voters in 2020, which would be approximately 3 million more than in 2016 or 2018. What exactly that electorate looks like is anyone’s guess at this point, and we’re seeing a lot of guesses:

Texas Presidential Election Polling
Poll Field Dates Sample Size Sample Composition MOE Trump Biden Spread
Emerson College 10/29-10/31 763 Likely Voters +/-3.5% 49 49 Tie
Morning Consult 10/22-10/31 3267 Likely Voters +/-2% 48.1 48.1 Tie
Public Policy Polling  10/28-10/29 775 "Texas Voters" ND 48 50 Biden +2
UMass Lowell Center for Public Opinion  10/20-10/26 873 Likely Voters +/-4.2% 48 47 Trump +1
Univision/University of Houston 10/17-10/25 758 Registered Voters +/-3.56% 49 46 Trump +3
New York Times/Siena College 10/20-10/25 802 Likely Voters +/-3.8% 47 43 Trump +5
Data for Progress 10/22-10/25 1015 Likely Voters +/-3.1% 48 49 Biden +1
University of Houston Hobby School 10/13-10/20 1000 Likely Voters +/-3.1% 50 44.7 Trump +5.3
Dallas Morning News/UT Tyler 10/13-10/20 925 Likely Voters +/-3.22% 45 48 Biden +3
Morning Consult 10/11-10/20 3,357 Likely Voters +/-1.7% 47 48 Biden +1
Quinnipiac 10/16-10/19 1145 Likely Voters +/-2.8% 47 47 Tie
Morning Consult 10/2-10/11 3455 Likely Voters +/- 1.7% 49 47 Trump +2
Public Policy Polling/Texas Democratic Party 10/7-10/8 721 "Texas Voters" ND 48 49 Biden +1
Crosswinds Texas Pulse  10/5-10/6 1000 Likely Voters +/- 3% 51 44 Trump +7
UT/Texas Tribune 9/25-10/4 908 Likely Voters +/-3.25 50 45 Trump +5


All eyes on Houston. Both inside and outside of Texas, the spotlight is on Houston and Harris County. Harris county produces the most votes in the state of any county (a little over 14% of the total votes cast in 2018 and 2016), and the broader region, including the surrounding counties, regularly makes up almost a quarter of the Texas vote. This region has shifted dramatically in the last three election cycles, from a Republican advantage of 220,000 votes in 2012, to a 27,000 GOP vote advantage in 2016, to a 66,000 vote Democratic advantage in 2018. This is a massive shift in the most populous county  in the state, and why almost half (3) of the Democratic congressional targets in Texas at least touch the Houston region. The presidential result in Texas will rest in part on whether this tilt toward the Democrats continues to increase or levels off in the midst of a surge in turnout.

Texans’ expectations about when we will know who won. The majority of Texans don’t expect a winner in the presidential election to be announced on election night, and this is a very good and hopeful thing (see the next point). In fact, only 28% of Texans think we will know who won on Election Day, with another 23% who think that we’ll know within a few days. In a sea of discouragement, the fact that most Texans have learned not to expect a winner on election night counts as a small victory. Another good sign: There are not large differences in expectations between partisans.

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On election night28%
1-2 days after Election Day23%
1 week after Election Day17%
A few weeks after Election Day11%
A month or more after Election Day6%
Don't know/No opinion15%

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CategoryLean RepublicanNot very strong RepublicanStrong Republican
Don't know/No opinion20%9%10%

Texan's unsteady trust in the results of the election. While Texans may not expect the winner of the presidential election to be announced on election night, too few expect that the American people, or even they themselves, will trust the results of the election. Only 47% of Texans expressed some confidence that Americans will trust the results of the election, and, most disconcertingly of all, only 41% said that they will trust the results of the election regardless of who wins — 46% were unsure, and 14% have already determined that the election is rigged beyond repair (by one side or the other, presumably). 

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Very confident16%
Somewhat confident31%
Not very confident29%
Not at all confident15%
Don't know/No opinion10%

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Very confident16%8%18%
Somewhat confident34%30%28%
Not very confident27%21%32%
Not at all confident12%27%15%
Don't know/No opinion11%14%8%

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Don't know/Unsure46%

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Don't know/Unsure44%52%46%

Finally, if you’re interested in the historical context of Texas Democrats’ current efforts to challenge Republican dominance in the state, Henon wrote a column for The Washington Post’s “Made by History” section — thanks to Brian Rosenwald for the invitation to contribute and some patient editing.


* An earlier version of this incorrectly referred to the bill ending straight ticket voting passing int 2019, which was incorrect. Thanks to the Dallas Morning News' Bob Garrett for flagging the mistake in an exceedlingly civilized manner.