While speculation regarding the final vote tally here in Texas has loomed understandably large, the October 2016 University of Texas/Texas Tribune Poll invites a closer look at the wild card in Texas: the underlying characteristics of Texans' attitudes toward Donald Trump, especially among his supporters.
The picture painted by Texans' views of Trump compared to Mitt Romney at this stage in the 2012 campaign clarifies why the presidential race has become much closer than anyone anticipated. The polling data also shed light on the nature of Trump's coalition and suggest that the attitudes sustaining Trump's candidacy in Texas will continue to play a role in GOP politics in Texas, regardless of the future of the candidate himself.
In fact, the core of Trump's politics exert much more appeal in Texas without Trump as their vehicle, as some Texas candidates have already discovered in recent years.
Support for Trump in the October 2016 UT/TT poll lags in key demographic areas compared to polling in the Romney/Obama race according to October 2012 polling. In the pre-election UT/TT poll four years ago:
· Romney led Obama by 14 points among women; now, Trump and Clinton are tied among women
· Romney led among men by 17 points; Trump leads by 7
· Romney led among Texans with a 4-year degree by 29 points; Trump leads by only 2 points
· Romney led among suburban voters by 21 points; Trump leads by 12
When a race is as close is this, it's unsurprising to find Trump underperforming Romney, who went on to win the state by more than 15 points, but the sheer deficit of Trump vis-a-vis Romney is striking — especially given all the handwringing among Republicans about Romney at the time.
Trump's Texas coalition is remarkably homogenous in their attitudes. Despite the fact that Clinton will probably perform better in Texas than any Democrat of recent vintage, when looking at the issues, Donald Trump's coalition in Texas is far more homogenous in their views than are Clinton's voters. In almost every issue question asked in the October poll, greater than 69 percent of Trump voters agreed on their position:
· 80 percent support the immediate deportation of undocumented immigrants
· 86 percent say that Texas shouldn't accept Syrian refugees
· 74 percent say that Muslims should receive additional scrutiny to prevent terrorism
· 70 percent say that the constitution has held up well
· 69 percent say that international trade deals have been bad for the U.S. economy
· 82 percent say that transgendered individuals should use the bathroom that matches their gender at birth
· 89 percent have an unfavorable view of the Black Lives Matter movement
Surely some of this reflects the campaign itself and is better described as the tail wagging the dog, but if Trump does worse than expected in Texas, it's unlikely to be because of the positions he's taken during the campaign or because of an inability to adequately mesh different groups within the GOP. Trump's messages on his signature issues resonate with Texas' GOP audience, but voters have their doubts about the messenger: He is viewed favorably by 60 percent of Republicans — well below the rates of agreement with him on his issues.
The Trump candidacy provides a chance to find the lower limit of Latino Republican support in national elections in Texas. The high point in recent memory remains George W. Bush's increasingly mythic performance with Latino voters in his home state — he won 49 percent according to the 2004 exit polls — while the most recent presidential election remains a source of speculation due to the absence of exit polling in Texas in 2012. Gov. Greg Abbott made news in 2014 by winning 44 percent of the Latino vote, though of course this was a non-presidential year with a smaller, more Republican electorate.
The indicators among Latino likely voters in the latest poll show Trump underperforming these recent results, and by some measures, very badly. His numbers look surprisingly strong in the trial ballot, in which 33 percent of Latinos chose Trump while 56 percent chose Clinton. But other possible indicators look worse for Trump's share of these voters. Of the Latinos saying they would vote for Trump, 53 percent characterized their vote as one against Clinton rather than for him. Fifty-five percent of likely Latino voters expect Trump would be a terrible president, with a comparatively meager 29 percent saying he would be either good or great. Finally, Trump's favorability rating among Latinos is at net -43 (22 percent favorable, 65 percent unfavorable).
All told, it suggests that the floor for a GOP Republican candidate is in the range of a quarter to a third of the current Hispanic electorate. Should the Hispanic electorate expand in counter-reaction to Trump — a very open question in Texas — this could sink even lower.
There's definitely a gender difference in the Texas electorate, but it's not what you might expect. Equal shares of male and female Democratic voters view their party favorably (77 and 74 percent, respectively), but there is a notable difference between Republican men and Republican women: GOP women view their party more favorably, 56 percent to 35 percent.
· This result underlines an interesting detail about the Texas Republican electorate, namely that GOP women appear to be "better" partisans than their male counterparts and that these attitudes even extend to Donald Trump:
· While only 47 percent of GOP men think Trump would make a "great" or "good" president, 58 percent of GOP women agree
· 85 percent of GOP women say that they'll be voting for their nominee compared to 81 percent of GOP men
· 71 percent of GOP women say that Trump has the temperament to serve effectively as commander in chief, 7 points more than among GOP men
In not one of the questions that we asked about the candidate or the party were GOP women less positive or enthusiastic than GOP men. If Trump has a woman problem of his own making, it's not with GOP women in Texas — at least when compared to their brothers, husbands, boyfriends, and fathers.
College matters, particularly in underlining intraparty differences among supporters of Donald Trump. Overall, preferences in the presidential race were split fairly evenly among those with and those without a college degree. Texans without a college degree favored Trump over Clinton on the four-way trial ballot, 46 percent to 42 percent. But the non-collegiate Trump voters embrace Trump with considerably more enthusiasm than college-educated Trump voters.
The survey asked Trump and Clinton voters whether their votes were mainly being cast for their candidate or against their opponent. Among college-educated Trump voters, 40 percent said they were voting for Trump, 60 percent against Clinton. Affirmative support for Trump among non-degree holding Trump voters was 11 points higher at 51 percent. Similarly, Trump's favorable rating among non-college educated Republicans is 15 points higher than among college educated Republicans (64 percent versus 49 percent).
While none of these factors tell us decisively whether Trump or Clinton will win Texas, the poll does provide clues as to why Trump has been lagging in recent polling in Texas: He's not garnering the customary degree of support enjoyed by the GOP standard bearer in 2012. Some of these patterns could move in the right direction for Trump by Election Day, though it may also portend poor turnout among Republicans who won't cast a vote for Trump — but who are just as unwilling to vote for Clinton. In this sense, Republican dominance of state politics might actually work against down-ballot candidates, as a lack of competitive races reduces the interest of voters unwilling to cast a vote in the presidential race.
The homogeneity of Trump's voting bloc in the poll portends something potentially surprising for post-Trump politics in the state. Trump's signature positions — punitive views on undocumented immigrants, restrictive views on new immigration from Latin America and the Middle East, an aggressive law-and-order stance when it comes to race and policing (to put it politely) — mostly predate him in Texas. The polling thus signals a strong Republican Party in Texas despite their measured enthusiasm for the candidate that emerged by the GOP primary process.
If anything, amidst public signs of jockeying for position among the Republican leadership in the run-up to the 2017 legislative session, the presidential campaign has underlined the tone that is likely to define any competitive races that might emerge in the 2018 GOP primary.
Disclosure: The University of Texas at Austin has been a corporate sponsor of The Texas Tribune. A complete list of Tribune donors and sponsors can be viewed here.