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Super Tuesday Preview: Sanders And Biden Are Duking It Out In Texas

Super Tuesday is tomorrow (!), so FiveThirtyEight is unpacking what our forecast has to say about the 14 states and one territory voting that day. We’ve already gone through the state of play in many other states, but now it’s time to look at the second-biggest Super Tuesday contest in terms of pledged delegates: Texas.

It’s shaping up to be a close race, too. Overall, our Texas forecast shows almost a tie between former Vice President Joe Biden and Sen. Bernie Sanders, giving Biden nearly a 3 in 5 (56 percent) chance of winning and Sanders around a 2 in 5 (43 percent) shot. But remember, there’s a lot we don’t know in Texas — or in the other Super Tuesday states — as we don’t have new polls conducted entirely after South Carolina’s primary.

So our model is trying to anticipate just how much of a bounce Biden may have gotten from his win in South Carolina and what former South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg’s departure from the race means, but without new polls, we don’t have as clear of a picture as we’d like of any last-minute movement among voters. That said, at this point, the only other candidate with any real shot of winning Texas — and it’s still a long shot — appears to be to former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who has a 1 in 50 (2 percent) chance.

Seventy-nine of Texas’s 228 pledged delegates will be allocated based on the statewide result, and our model currently forecasts that Biden and Sanders will get the lion’s share, with each winning an average of about 30 percent of the statewide vote. Bloomberg is in third with a projected vote share of 19 percent, while Sen. Elizabeth Warren is in fourth at 13 percent.

The overall delegate picture isn’t too different in Texas’s 31 state Senate districts1 which will award 149 pledged delegates. Only Sanders and Biden are projected to win any districts outright. But in many of Texas’s 31 districts, things are still competitive. Bloomberg’s average vote share puts him above the 15 percent mark in every district, and Warren is also forecasted to be above the delegate threshold in a handful of districts and very close to hitting it in other parts of the state, as you can see in the table below.

Biden and Sanders are battling for first in Texas

Average forecasted vote share for the top four Democratic presidential candidates in Texas state Senate districts, according to the FiveThirtyEight model as of 5 p.m. on March 2

District Biden Sanders Bloomberg Warren
SD-01 34% 26% 21% 11%
SD-02 32 28 20 12
SD-03 33 26 21 12
SD-04 31 28 20 13
SD-05 28 31 19 14
SD-06 33 27 20 12
SD-07 29 30 19 14
SD-08 25 32 17 16
SD-09 29 30 19 14
SD-10 32 28 20 13
SD-11 29 30 19 14
SD-12 26 32 18 15
SD-13 38 24 20 10
SD-14 24 33 17 16
SD-15 33 27 19 12
SD-16 27 31 18 15
SD-17 27 31 18 15
SD-18 30 29 19 13
SD-19 31 28 19 13
SD-20 31 29 19 13
SD-21 31 29 19 13
SD-22 31 28 20 12
SD-23 38 23 20 10
SD-24 30 29 20 13
SD-25 25 32 18 16
SD-26 30 29 19 14
SD-27 31 29 19 13
SD-28 29 29 20 13
SD-29 30 30 19 14
SD-30 28 30 20 14
SD-31 29 29 20 13
State 30 29 19 13

Texas Democrats use the state’s 31 Senate districts to allocate district-level pledged delegates to the national convention.

A lot of the variation we see in candidates’ individual performance boils down to the diversity of Texas’s districts. In 2016, the primary electorate was 43 percent white, 32 percent Latino and 19 percent black, according to the exit poll, making it one of the most racially and ethnically diverse electorates in the country. And of the 2020 candidates, Biden has the widest range in outcomes, performing best in districts that have larger shares of black voters. He is projected to get 38 percent of the vote, for instance, in the 13th Senate District (in Houston) and 23rd Senate District (in Dallas), both of which are roughly 40 percent African American. But in districts with large shares of college-educated voters and white voters, like the 14th Senate District (mostly Austin), he’s projected to get only 24 percent of the vote. Bloomberg’s performance in individual districts largely mirrors Biden’s, though he is projected to earn a much lower voter share overall, between 17 and 21 percent.

Sanders’s best districts, on the other hand, tend to be whiter ones with higher incomes and more college-educated voters. Among these are the 8th and 12th Senate districts in the Dallas-Fort Worth area, as well as the 14th District, which has the most delegates of any Texas seat (10). But Sanders’s strength isn’t concentrated in any one district; his projected support is relatively consistent across Texas, ranging from 23 percent to 33 percent. Additionally, he polls well among Hispanic voters, which is clearly a plus for him in Texas, though at the district level there isn’t a strong relationship between his expected vote share and the Latino share of the population.

As for Warren, her disproportionate support from college-educated voters nationwide also shows up on the Texas map. In each of the six seats where she’s forecasted at or above 15 percent, 40 percent or more of the adult population has at least a four-year college degree, well above the statewide share, which is around 30 percent. Her best marks come in the 8th and 14th Senate districts, which are also some of Sanders’s strongest areas. With Buttigieg’s departure, Warren is in a better position to reach 15 percent in many parts of the state and maybe even better positioned statewide. And Amy Klobuchar dropping out of the race on Monday could boost both Sanders and Warren, as the Minnesota senator’s strongest seats were projected to be in some of the same affluent, highly educated places where Sanders and Warren are expected to perform best.

On Tuesday night, watch how well Biden and Bloomberg are doing relative to one another. Similar to states like North Carolina and Virginia, the projected vote shares for Biden and Bloomberg in Texas tend to be stronger — and weaker — in the same sorts of districts. So if Biden gets a notable bounce out of South Carolina, he might be able to keep the former mayor below the 15 percent mark in some districts. But if Bloomberg holds up, that could stop Biden from being competitive in Texas, which would give Sanders an edge.

Similarly, if Warren underperforms expectations — or if any early votes cast for Klobuchar help fragment the vote in Warren’s stronger districts — that could mean she would mostly fall short of the delegate threshold, which would be a boon to Sanders, whose best districts are on the same turf. Should Warren outperform expectations, however, that could hold down Sanders’s expected delegate haul.

The good news for Sanders is that his consistent support makes him a sure bet to clear the delegate threshold everywhere. And if Warren underperforms her forecast, that might help Sanders win Texas, which would give him a very big feather in his primary cap — he’s strongly favored to win California, but Texas is much more up in the air. But Texas has the second-most delegates at stake tomorrow, so if he’s able to pull victory off here, he might be able to stall the anti-Sanders momentum that Biden is hoping to build coming out of South Carolina.

Footnotes

  1. Most states apportion district-level delegates by congressional district, but the Texas Democratic Party is organized by state Senate districts and has historically used them instead.

Geoffrey Skelley is an elections analyst at FiveThirtyEight.

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