By Albert Morales
As we enter the final stretch of the presidential election in Texas, there is no better way to describe what is happening in Texas than UT’s big comeback win over Texas Tech on Saturday night. Much like the Longhorns’ victory, the final 36 days will be a nail-biter to the very end.
In Texas, Donald Trump leads Joe Biden by single digits; a few polls even show Biden ahead. Those polls almost certainly fail to account for the massive increase in newly age-eligible voters. Since the 2018 midterms, 387,930 Latinos turned 18 years of age. Before the new data was published by the Texas State Board of Elections, Latino Decisions’ own Matt Barreto estimated that 393,000 Latinos would turn 18 between 2018 and 2020. (Pretty darn close.) Keep in mind that none of these potentially new voters are reflected in any recent polling, nor do pollsters even have modeling estimates for them.
We should also remember that these young voters’ political baptism occurred in June 2015 when Trump descended from the escalator announcing to the world that their parents were rapists and murderers. Then, they were between the ages of 14 and 17 then. Today, they have a vote. We can only begin to imagine what their emergence may mean for the gubernatorial race in 2022 and other statewide contests in cycles to come. Let’s also not forget that Beto O’Rourke ran as an unapologetic progressive —even going as far as threatening to ban assault rifles— and the case for flipping Texas becomes even more compelling.
Because this is a presidential cycle, the more relevant figure for the Trump-Biden matchup is the number of Latinos who turned 18 since the 2016 presidential election. That figure is almost twice as large: 729,997 new Texas Latinos became age-eligible at some point in the past four years. With five weeks to go until the election, the most recent 538.com state polling average has Trump up by 1.9 percent in Texas, a lead within the margin of error. Trump carried the state four years ago by nine points, so even if Trump holds Texas narrowly, a 7-point net drop portends problems nationally for his re-election bid.
We also must note that in the 2018 contest between O’Rourke and Ted Cruz, the final RCP average had Cruz up 6.8 points, but he won by only 2.6 percent. If that kind of error is systemic, Trump might lose outright. A bipartisan poll conducted for Univision by North Star Opinion Research and Latino Decisions shows a strong lead for Joe Biden among Latinos in the Lone Star State.
These Texas polls may also mask deeper problems for the president in the Lone Star State. Why? The horse-race issue is that they fail to account the first debate or the stunning revelations in Trump’s dismaying tax returns, reported Sunday by the New York Times. Late developments can alter the election, and other events could cut against Biden, of course.
What’s more certain than the effects of September bombshell stories or October surprises is something far more fundamental in Texas: the dramatic demographic shifts in the Texas populace since the 2016 presidential election. Here at Latino Decisions, we believe the shifting demography of the Lone Star State will bear upon the presidential results in Texas in ways not seen since Ronald Reagan’s 1984 re-election.
I have written extensively about the changes happening now in Texas. The U.S. Senate contest in which John Cornyn seeks re-election merits a second look; so do a number of highly-contested U.S. House races where Democrats stand to pick up an additional five seats to pad their already healthy majority. Equally, if not more important, are the state legislative races that should be on every national political reporter’s radar. Democrats in the state legislature only need to pick up nine state house seats to regain control of that chamber for the first time since 2002. The implications this could have on redistricting cannot be measured.
Of course, hundreds of thousands of other Texans turned 18 since 2016. And not all of the nearly 730,000 newly age-eligible Latinos will register, and even if they did not all would necessarily vote for Biden. But let’s do the math: If even half register, and they split 70 percent/30 percent for Biden over Trump, they alone would add a net 150,000 votes to Biden’s column in a state where Trump’s 9-point victory in 2016 translated into a popular vote margin of roughly 800,000 votes. If Trump’s leading by just two or three points now —a third of his 2016 winning margin— that translates into a statewide popular lead, adjusted for population growth, of about 250,000 to 300,000 votes. First-time Latino voters alone could close that gap by half and help propel Biden to victory, just as they did two years ago for Democratic senate candidate Kyrsten Sinema in Arizona. In 2018 a huge demographic surge driven by hundreds of thousands of new Latino voters carried her into office. Will the same happen in Texas?
Let’s be honest: Young people are notoriously unreliable and unenthusiastic voters. Latino voters also register and vote at lower rates than their white cohorts. One thing is clear, if you are a GOP operative in Texas, even the clear blue Texas sky won’t calm your nerves until this election is over. To Democrats, I say the following in the words of the late great Gov. Ann Richards: “The here and now is all we have, and if we play it right it’s all well need.”
Editor’s Note: Barreto is a co-founder of Latino Decisions and was hired by the Biden campaign “to direct polling and focus group research for Latino voters,” as noted by his website. He has gone on record with Latino Rebels to say that he is not working on or involved with any other Latino Decisions work during his time with the Biden campaign.
Albert Morales is the Senior Political Director at Latino Decisions. He tweets from @al_morales.
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