They say everything’s bigger in Texas, but it looks like Donald Trump’s margins in the Lone Star State may be the exception to the rule. After a CBS News / YouGov poll released Sunday put the Republican candidate only three points ahead of Hillary Clinton in Texas, political tracking site Real Clear Politics moved the state from the “leans Trump” category to “Toss Up.” That’s right, TEXAS. This is the same Texas that Mitt Romney won by over 15 points and 1.2 million votes in 2012. If Trump loses the state, he would be the first Republican to do so in 40 years, since Jimmy Carter won there in 1976.
Before you throw on your cowboy boots and ten-gallon hat, a Clinton victory in Texas is still a long way off. FiveThirtyEight still gives Trump an 80-percent chance of taking the traditionally red state, and in both FiveThirtyEight and Real Clear Politics’ Texas polling averages, Clinton hasn’t led in a single analyzed poll (though FiveThirtyEight “adjusted” a Survey Monkey poll from August from a tie to a +2 Clinton lead — more on that methodology here).
But if we needed another sign that this election was turning politics on its head, a Texan toss-up is a billboard five stories tall and a football field across.
So what’s going on? As usual, it’s a confluence of several factors, but at the top of the list seems to be Texas’ growing Hispanic population. Although the Hispanic community makes up only 18 percent of the population nationwide, current estimates put its share of the Texas population closer to 40 percent. Pair that with Trump’s inflammatory rhetoric about immigrants, specifically Latino immigrants — which include his campaign kickoff, wherein Trump said they were drug dealers and rapists and referred to what he hatefully referred to as “anchor babies” — and it’s not hard to see why his numbers are hurting.
One Democratic pollster estimated that there are 200,000 new Hispanic voters in Texas every cycle. Speaking to The Washington Times, Steve McMahon of Purple Strategies, a bipartisan communications group, said that “Democrats think that Texas is 20 years away from being reliably Democratic, but Trump may have accelerated that.”
And let’s not forget that roughly 51.2 percent of the Texas electorate are women, and as you may recall, Trump has been having a tough time with women. His unpopularity with women has been more than noticeable for months, but his reputation has plummeted since the release of his 2005 Access Hollywood hot mic tape with Billy Bush, which opened the floodgates of women coming forward with sexual assault allegations against him.
While the consensus among observers seems to be that this strange electoral map is more about Trump under-performing than Clinton over-performing, it’s undeniable that we’re facing an unprecedented set of circumstances as we head into Election Day. And while it’s possible that we may even have a good sense of who will win the election before polls close in Texas, notching a Democratic win — or even a close loss — in Texas would show what a wild election 2016 has been.