How the Lone Star State has changed between Two Presidential Elections

Results of the 2016 and 2020 Presidential Election by Party in Texas (Texas Secretary of State) (Graphic By Katherine Dunbar)

Texas has stood on the precipice of a potential political boiling point for nearly a decade. With every year that passes, the public is warned or promised of Texas shifting from a traditionally red state to a surprise blue state. In 2016, the nation watched with bated breath as it looked that Texas could possibly swing for Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton. Of course, by the end of the night hopes and fears were dashed as Texas’s thirty-eight electoral votes went to candidate Donald J. Trump. The four-year interim between 2016 and 2020 motivated progressives and conservatives alike to organize and gain or maintain ground in Texas for their respective parties. Due to Trump’s low popularity during his last year in office and the appeal of a moderate Joe Biden, the 2020 competition between then-Vice President Joe Biden and President Donald Trump raised conjecture that Texas could turn blue.

Self-Identification of Party — University of Texas/Texas Tribune Poll — Texas Statewide Survey (Graphic By Katherine Dunbar)

Texas is unique and hard to predict for several reasons. For one, Texas is massive geographically and incredibly different. In a state as diverse as the Lone Star State it’s hard to measure the ideologies and tendencies of every corner of the region. Texas is also somewhat difficult to anticipate as its primaries are open. A voter can participate in the primary of the party of their choosing on election day. In many other states, a rite of passage for young Americans is the joint procedure of receiving their first driver’s license and also registering with a political party. This doesn’t happen in Texas. You get to the polling place on election day and indicate which party’s primary you would like to participate in. This doesn’t mean that you have to vote for the party’s candidate whose primary you voted in. You could vote in the Democratic primary and then vote for the Republican candidate in the general election. This makes understanding how Texans vote and following that data somewhat tricky.

Prior to the general election in 2016, there were media predictions that Secretary Hillary Clinton could potentially win Texas. Many media pundits did not take Donald Trump seriously with his reality tv background and lack of professional political experience. In 2020, there were more widespread aspirations for then-candidate Joe Biden to take Texas, particularly with a high early voting turnout rate. Additionally, many journalists suspected that black and Latino voters, who were disproportionately affected by the COVID-19 pandemic would show up to the polls for Biden as a referendum against President Trump’s handling of the public health crisis.

So what happened? Like every instance of a false prediction, hindsight is 2020. Just as the vast majority of polls and analysts in 2016 placed the victory of the presidency for Secretary Clinton prior to election day immediately came up with detailed explanations for everything that tipped the balance in Donald Trump’s favor, the same occurred with Trump taking Texas over President Biden. Although Joe Biden did win enough electoral votes to secure the presidency, Texas was not among those in his pocket.

Strength of Personal Party Convictions — UT/Texas Tribune Poll (Graphic By Katherine Dunbar)

Polling from The Texas Politics Project regularly measures political identification among a representative sample of registered Texas voters. Comparisons between polls taken in October of 2016 and 2020 respectively show an interesting trend in voters. On the ideological spectrum, more voters identified as moderate in 2020 than in 2016 respectively. However, when asked about the strength of their party convictions more people tended to identify themselves as a strong democrat or strong republican rather than a strong conservative or strong liberal. Both categories of Not Very Strong Republican or Democrat both declined from 2016 to 2020, perhaps indicating a societal push to be a loyal member of a party with the country so ideologically polarized. Ideology tells shows an increase of In the Middle which could also indicate a desire to remain neutral during a very contentious time in United States history.

Strength of Ideological Convictions — UT/Texas Tribune Poll (Graphic By Katherine Dunbar)

The results of the most recent presidential elections and polling regarding political identification and ideology have shown that Texas may be difficult to predict in coming years. Both parties will need to recognize they cannot take this wildly diverse and complicated state for granted. Intense on the ground efforts will be necessary if the democratic party hopes to flip Texas in the coming years. The Republican party will need to retain its base’s loyalty and appeal to new voters to keep a hold of one of its most important stronghold states for future presidential, statewide, and local elections. It is no longer a fool’s dream for Texas to become purple or even blue in the future.

Works Cited

“Data Archive.” The Texas Politics Project. Accessed April 13, 2021. https://texaspolitics.utexas.edu/polling-data-archive.

Fernandez, Manny. “Could Hillary Clinton Win Texas? Some Democrats Say Maybe.” The New York Times. The New York Times, October 24, 2016. https://www.nytimes.com/2016/10/25/us/hillary-clinton-texas.html.

Klein, Ezra. “Here’s the Real Reason Hillary Lost the Election.” CNBC. CNBC, June 2, 2017. https://www.cnbc.com/2017/06/02/why-im-defending-hillary-clinton-commentary.html.

Limón, Elvia. “Texas Is an Open Primary State. Here’s What That Means for How Republicans, Democrats and Others Can Vote on Super Tuesday.” The Texas Tribune. The Texas Tribune, February 28, 2020. https://www.texastribune.org/2020/02/28/texas-open-primaries-republican-democrat-vote/.

Presidential Election Results. Accessed April 13, 2021. https://www.sos.state.tx.us/elections/historical/presidential.shtml.

Samuels, Alex. “President Donald Trump Defeats Joe Biden in Texas.” The Texas Tribune. The Texas Tribune, November 4, 2020. https://www.texastribune.org/2020/11/03/trump-biden-texas-presidential/.

Serwer, Adam. “How Texas Turned Purple.” The Atlantic. Atlantic Media Company, November 3, 2020. https://www.theatlantic.com/ideas/archive/2020/11/texas-turning-blue/616978/.

Straus, Joe. “Opinion | Why Democrats’ Dreams of a Blue Texas Keep Getting Dashed.” The Washington Post. WP Company, November 18, 2020. https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/2020/11/12/why-texas-didnt-turn-blue-in-2020/.