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Election Update: Clinton’s Texas Opportunity (And Her Texas Problem)

Another day, another traditionally Republican state that Donald Trump could shockingly manage to lose. Yesterday, I wrote about Utah, where Trump’s weakness with Mormon voters could throw the state to Hillary Clinton or to independent candidate Evan McMullin. Today, we turn to Texas, where two new polls show a tight race: A University of Houston poll has Trump up just 3 percentage points there, while SurveyMonkey puts Trump’s lead at 2 points.

Trump will probably win Texas. Earlier polls had shown a close-ish race there, but with a Trump lead in the high single digits. And as a hedge against the polls, our forecast still assigns a little bit of weight to our regression-based analysis, which is based on demographics and voting history. Thus, our model still has Trump ahead by 5 or 6 percentage points in Texas, and puts Clinton’s chances of an upset at 17 percent.1

But to put that in perspective, Texas is closer than Pennsylvania right now (where Clinton leads by 7 to 8 points). And Clinton is more likely to win Texas than Trump is to win the election, at least according to the polls-only model, which puts Trump’s overall chances at 12 percent.

As in Utah, demographics play a role in Trump’s struggles in Texas. The state’s white population is well-educated, and includes some workers who have moved from other parts of the country to take advantage of the state’s burgeoning economy. (College-educated whites have turned away from Trump.) Texas also used to have its share of Republican-leaning Latinos — George W. Bush won almost half of the Latino vote there in 2004 — another group that Trump has turned off. Meanwhile, only 43 percent of Texas’ population consists of non-Hispanic whites, down from 52 percent in 2000. However, because 11 percent of Texas’ population consists of non-citizens — many of them recent immigrants from Mexico — its electorate is whiter than its population overall.

But Texas isn’t some sort of outlier. Instead, it typifies the national trend. Compared with Mitt Romney, Trump is underperforming more in red states than in purple states or blue states. And Trump’s vote has fallen off more in the South than in other parts of the country.

In 2012, President Obama lost the South (as defined by the Census Bureau) by 7 percentage points. This year — according to our polls-only projections as of mid-afternoon on Tuesday — Clinton is losing the South to Trump by only 1 point. So the South has swung toward Democrats by a net of 6 points, turning Virginia from a tipping-point state into one that Clinton is all but certain to win, flipping North Carolina (probably) from red back to blue, and making states such as Texas and Georgia competitive at times. Clinton has also made significant gains relative to Obama in the West, where she’s outperforming him by 4 to 5 percentage points. But her numbers are only a point or two better than Obama’s in the Midwest — and are worse in some Midwestern states such as Iowa. And she’s actually underperforming Obama, slightly, in the Northeast.

Census Bureau region Northeast Obama _+18.9 Clinton _+16.9 R_+2.0
South Romney __+7.1 Trump __+1.2 D_+5.9
Midwest Obama __+3.1 Clinton __+4.4 D_+1.3
West Obama _+10.7 Clinton _+15.1 D_+4.4
Type of state in 2012 Blue Obama _+22.0 Clinton _+21.5 R_+0.5
Swing Obama __+4.1 Clinton __+6.0 D_+1.9
Red Romney _+16.9 Trump __+8.5 D_+8.4
Southern states and red states show biggest swing toward Clinton

Swing states include Colorado, Florida, Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, Nevada, New Hampshire, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Virginia and Wisconsin. Red states include every state redder than North Carolina in 2012; blue states include every state bluer than Michigan. Results in each group of states are weighted based on 2016 turnout projections, which reflect population growth since 2012.

Meanwhile, most of Clinton’s gains relative to Obama have come in red states. Obama won the 12 states that were generally defined as swing states in 2012 — Colorado, Florida, Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, Nevada, New Hampshire, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Virginia and Wisconsin — by an aggregate of 4 percentage points (weighted based on their turnout). Clinton is leading in these states by 6 points. That’s a comfortable-enough margin, but her gains have been smaller in swing states than in the popular vote overall. (Clinton is winning the popular vote by about 7 points in our forecast, while Obama’s margin over Romney was slightly less than 4 points.) That’s because of Clinton’s disproportionate gains — or maybe we should say Trump’s disproportionate losses — in red states.2 Trump is winning red states by only 8 or 9 percentage points, while Romney won them by 17 points, yielding opportunities for Clinton to catch him in states ranging from Texas to Alaska.

There’s just one somewhat negative aspect of this for Clinton, one which we’ve pointed out before. The gains in red states could yield an inefficient distribution of the popular vote for her, in terms of its impact on the Electoral College. Texas and Utah alone are responsible for shifting the national popular vote by a net of about 1 percentage point toward Clinton, relative to Obama’s performance in 2012. So while the upside for Clinton is potentially turning some very red states blue if she maintains her current position in the polls, there could be a penalty if the race tightens again and Clinton loses a lot of states by a narrow margin.

FiveThirtyEight: Election Update – Oct. 19 2016


  1. That’s in the polls-only version of our model. Polls-plus, which puts a greater weight on Texas’s Republican voting history, puts Clinton’s chances at 9 percent.

  2. Which I define as states redder than North Carolina was in 2012.

Nate Silver founded and was the editor in chief of FiveThirtyEight.