Excitement and optimism was everywhere in the leadup to Election Day for Democrats in Texas. But as the returns came in Tuesday night, it was clear that things were not going how people imagined. All those polls that looked so promising were, to put it bluntly, dead wrong.
The Texas Democratic Party was energized about the possibility of giving 38 electoral votes to Joe Biden. Clearly, the Biden campaign heard the pleas to visit the state, as it sent Kamala Harris to Fort Worth, McAllen, and Houston just four days before Election Day. Two days before the Election, the polling was allegedly tied for Trump and Biden. In the end, Trump won by 5.8 points.
MJ Hegar conceded the Senate race relatively early on Election night. She never led in any polls, but several polls showed her down by three to four points. John Cornyn won his re-election by ten points.
Some of the worst polls, however, were the ones predicting the outcomes for the congressional races. Democrats lost at least seven of the eight DCCC red to blue races in Texas, even though many of the polls showed very competitive races.
The race between Candace Valenzuela and former Irving Mayor Beth Van Duyne is the one remaining DCCC red to blue race in Texas that has yet to be called, though Valenzuela trails. Just before the election, the Cook Political Report shifted the race to “lean Democratic.” In August, a poll commissioned by the Democratic House Majority PAC showed Valenzuela leading Van Duyne by seven points.
The Economist gave Gina Ortiz Jones a 96 percent chance of winning her race against Trump-acolyte Tony Gonzales. On election night, Jones conceded after losing by just over 4 points.
In race after race, it was clear the polling was significantly off for local Democratic races. As Democrats come to terms with the lost opportunities around the state, it’s worth noting, however, that there were a few polls that were relatively accurate or at least came close to predicting what actually happened on Election Day.
In August, the Texas Hispanic Policy Foundation (THPF) released a poll in collaboration with Rice University’s Baker Institute for Public Policy showing Trump with 37.9 percent of the Latino vote in Texas. That poll was ridiculed at the time and former state Rep. Jason Villalba, Chairman of the Board of Directors and the President of the THPF, was roundly mocked by many Texas Democrats. (Full Disclosure: before writing for Texas Signal I served as the Executive Director of THPF.)
Shortly after the THPF announced their poll, a Texas Latino Voter poll, a joint effort between Univision News and the Center for Mexican American Studies at the University of Houston was released. Among registered Latino voters, it showed Biden at 66 percent versus 24 percent for Trump. That poll was conducted by Latino Decisions and North Star Opinion Research.
The THPF final 2020 projected vote showed Trump leading Biden 52 to 47 percent in Texas. It also projected Trump winning 41 percent of Latinos. Currently, with 98 percent of precincts reporting their results, Trump leads Biden 52.2 to 46.4 percent. Though exit polls should be taken with a massive grain of salt, it does seem likely that the THPF projection of Trump’s support among Texas Latinos was accurate.
In a conversation with Texas Signal, Villalba offered two major reasons for why polling was so shoddy and underestimated Latino support for Donald Trump. “Number one: Beto was so successful in 2018 that his campaign served as the wake-up call for Republicans around the state at all levels,” he said.
Villalba believes that the 2018 Senate race caught many Texas Republicans flat-footed, and they vowed that wasn’t going to happen again. The grassroots approach that Texas Republicans implemented (especially with Hispanics), never really stopped after the COVID-19 pandemic began, while Democrats largely took all in-person organizing off the table in March.
Secondly, Villalba points to the effectiveness of a Republican law and order message, which he believed resonated with conservatives and independents. For Democrats running in places like the Rio Grande Valley, defunding the police was like “an albatross.”
For all the gloominess Texas Democrats still feel about the election, Villalba actually sees quite a bit of positivity. “There are advances being made by Democrats every cycle.” He noted that Biden did significantly bite into Trump’s lead from 2016 when Hillary Clinton lost by 9 points.
“[The Democrats] got caught being overly ambitious this cycle,” said Villalba. He also hopes this election serves as a warning for Democrats about the Texas Latino vote. “I think the days of taking Hispanics for granted from either party are over.”
Photo: Jay Phagan/ Wikimedia Commons