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Texas is a swing state in 2020, new polls reveal

Jul 12, 2020, 12:43 PM
Texas swing state...
File: President Donald Trump walks on he South Lawn after arriving on Marine One at the White House, Thursday, June 25, 2020, in Washington. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)
(AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

(CNN) — New CBS News/YouGov polls show President Donald Trump is in trouble in three states he won in 2016. He’s tied with former Vice President Joe Biden in Arizona (46% to 46%), a state he won by four points in 2016. Trump’s down 48% to 42% in Florida, a state he took by a point in 2016.

But it’s the third state, Texas, where the eye popping result comes from. It’s Trump 46% to Biden’s 45%, a result well within any margin of error.

It’s pretty clear looking at the data that Texas is a swing state in the 2020 election. The 2020 campaign could be the first time Democrats captured the Lone Star State in a presidential election since 1976.

The CBS News/YouGov poll is not an outlier over the last month. There have been eight polls released publicly since the beginning of June. The result is that Biden and Trump are basically tied, with Biden up by a mere 0.3 points in Texas.

Importantly, and unlike in other states, the polls in Texas have not overestimated Democrats over the last few cycles. If anything Democrats actually slightly outperformed their final polls in the 2016 presidential race and 2018 Senate races.

View Trump and Biden head-to-head polling

Things may change the closer we get to the election, but Texas really is competitive at this point.

Texas has gotten progressively more competitive during Trump’s time as a candidate and officeholder. A big statewide victory has eluded Democrats, though many races have come within single digits for the first time in a generation. In fact, the state seemed, if anything, to move to the left in 2018, as Democrats were able to achieve wins in some key congressional races.

A Biden win would be a manifestation of that trend on the statewide level.

Four years ago, Hillary Clinton lost Texas by nine points. She was the first Democratic presidential candidate to lose the state by only single digits since the 1990s.

If you look nationally, you see Biden is up about 10 points compared to Clinton’s two point popular vote win. If you shift the Texas result by eight points, he should be down just a point to Trump.

There are reasons to think that Biden could be doing even better than this eight point shift would imply.

In 2018, Democrat Beto O’Rourke came within three points of knocking off Republican Sen. Ted Cruz. It was the best Democratic performance in a Texas Senate race since 1988.

It wasn’t just O’Rourke who came close. The Democratic candidates for attorney general and lieutenant governor finished within five points of their Republican opponents.

As I noted last year, the reason the Democrats are doing so well in Texas is a shift among college educated white voters. You see this best in the suburbs of Austin, Dallas and Houston, where O’Rourke did disproportionately better than the Democratic Senate did six years prior.

Indeed, Texas’ white voter population is very well educated. One calculation by the New York Times’ Nate Cohn reveals that a little more than 42% of the 2020 likely white voters in Texas have a college degree. That’s 13th highest in the nation and the most of any state Trump carried in 2016.

Visit CNN’s Election Center for full coverage of the 2020 race

I would expect the trend in the college educated areas of Texas to carry over to 2020. Much of Biden’s gains over Clinton nationally have occurred among whites with a college degree. In national June polls, Biden was up 22 points among this group compared to Clinton’s 12 point lead with them in the final 2016 polls of registered voters.

Now, there are reasons why we should be skeptical of a major Biden money or time investment in Texas. And if you are not going to go big in Texas, you might as well go home given how large and expensive the state is to campaign and advertise in.

One problem for Biden is he does seem to be struggling among Hispanic voters nationally, and there are a lot of Hispanic voters in Texas. Although Biden is winning them by around 30 points nationally, he’s not putting up the same margins as Clinton did in 2016.

Further, I wouldn’t expect Texas to be the tipping state in the electoral college (i.e. state containing the median electoral vote plus one). Biden is certainly in a stronger position in the core six battleground states (Arizona, Florida, Michigan, North Carolina, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin) where the averages have him up anywhere from three to 10 points.

Still, the state has 38 electoral votes and a load of down ballot races that could prove to be alluring for Biden.

There’s a Senate race that is at least somewhat competitive. Republican Sen. John Cornyn was up six (against Royce West) to eight (against MJ Hegar) points against his two potential opponents in the CBS New/YouGov poll.

Up to six Republican held House seats could realistically fall to the Democrats in 2020. Many of them are in the aforementioned suburbs.

Finally, Democrats have a real chance to flip the Texas state House. They need a pickup of less than 10 seats, and race raters give them a decent shot of doing so. If Democrats did flip the chamber, then they’d have a hand in redistricting for the first time since the beginning of the 2000s.

That’s big for state and national politics given that Texas has more House members than any state except California.

The bottom line is Texas is fertile ground for Democrats in 2020. Biden has to decide whether he truly wants to compete. Either way, he has a real shot of winning, and a chance to rewrite the political map for this year and for the generation to come.

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Texas is a swing state in 2020, new polls reveal