Trump In Trouble In Texas?

A new poll shows President Trump struggling against four of his potential 2020 challengers. Should Republicans be worried and Democrats elated? It's too early to tell.

A new poll shows that President Trump is struggling against four of his potential Democratic opponents in one of the most important states in the Republican Electoral College calculus and that he’s under-performing even his own showing in 2016:

President Trump is in a dead heat with four Democratic presidential candidates in GOP-leaning Texas, according to a new Emerson College poll.

The poll, released Monday, shows Trump in close races in hypothetical general election matchups in Texas with former Rep. Beto O’Rourke (D-Texas), former Vice President Joe Biden, Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.).

Biden has the best results against Trump, garnering the support of 50 percent of voters compared to Trump’s 49 percent, the poll shows. O’Rourke’s results are similar, with him and Trump each getting the support of 50 percent of voters in a hypothetical matchup.

Meanwhile, the poll shows Sanders losing by 2 percent and Warren trailing by 6 percent. Both of those differences are within the poll’s margin of error.

Texas has long been in the eye of Democrats longing to make the state competitive. Winning the Lone Star State would greatly ease the chances of a Democrat winning the electoral college, but no Democratic presidential candidate has won the state since Jimmy Carter in 1976.

O’Rourke’s competitive run against Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) in 2018 raised hopes for Democrats again, and some optimistically think 2020 could be the year. 

The results are also important in the context of the Democratic primary race, where electability is an issue on Democratic minds. Biden has argued he is the candidate with the best change to defeat Trump in the general election.
The other candidates included in the poll — Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) and South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg (D) — each trail Trump by 8 percent in the state, outside of the margin of error.

To put this in perspective, no Democrat has won Texas in a Presidential election since Jimmy Carter did it in 1976 after Richard Nixon had broken the Democratic stranglehold on the state in both the 1972 elections. Since then, the closest any candidate has come to being competitive on the Presidential level in the Lone Star State was in 1992 and 1996 when Bill Clinton came within three percent and five percent respectively of George H.W. Bush and Bob Dole thanks in no small part to the presence of Ross Perot on the ballot in both election years. In 2016, Trump won the state by some ten percentage points, representing a difference of just about 800,000 votes, which was among the closest of any margin other than the two Clinton races.

In addition to this, Republicans have come to dominate statewide politics in Texas ever since George W. Bush beat Ann Richards in the 1994 Governor’s race. In 2018, while Beto O’Rourke did manage to make Ted Cruz’s bid for re-election more competitive than many expected it to be, Republicans easily won re-election in statewide races for Governor, Lt. Governor, Attorney General, and all the other statewide elected offices. In addition, Republicans have controlled both chambers of the state legislature for the better part of the past twenty years. For this reason alone, it’s worth taking these numbers with a grain of salt.

The other factor to keep in mind, of course, is the fact that we are still eighteen months away from the 2020 elections. Almost any polling of the General Election at this point is, to say the least, premature and to say the most, utterly useless. While these polls are interesting, they tell us nothing about where the state of the race will be when it really matters in September and October of 2020.

That being said, it goes without saying that losing Texas would be fatal to the Trump campaign. or that matter any other Republican. Without that state’s electoral votes there really is no conceivable way that a Republican can carve out a path to 270 votes in the Electoral College. At the same time, though, for the reasons noted above I would advise Democrats to be cautious about polls like this for the reasons noted above. Unless these numbers are sustained as we get closer to the election, they should put to the side any desire to invest heavily in the state and concentrate instead on Trump states that they have a reasonable chance of flipping such as Arizona, Wisconsin, Michigan, Pennsylvania, as well as such possibilities as North Carolina, Arizona, and Georgia. Winning in those states would go a long way toward taking back the Electoral College majority and would force Republicans to invest resources in states that they otherwise ought to have in their pocket.

FILED UNDER: Campaign 2020, Public Opinion Polls, US Politics, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug Mataconis held a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010 and contributed a staggering 16,483 posts before his retirement in January 2020. He passed far too young in July 2021.


  1. Neil J Hudelson says:

    I doubt Texas goes Blue, but I rejoice at the idea that the GOP might have to spend money there to keep that from happening. This is why it’s smart for the Democrats to run competitive races in South Carolina, Kentucky, etc. You probably won’t win, but you can keep the GOP’s focus and resources divided.

  2. Kathy says:

    IMO, this makes Beto the leading contender for VP candidate.

  3. James Joyner says:

    @Neil J Hudelson:

    I doubt Texas goes Blue

    I think it’s nearly inevitable unless the GOP becomes something quite different vis-a-vis Hispanic voters. But I don’t think it’ll happen in 2020.

  4. Michael Reynolds says:

    @Neil J Hudelson:
    It’s one of those deals where if we get Texas we won’t need it, and if they lose Texas they’ve already lost the country. But yeah we can bleed them in battles of attrition. Interestingly, they have a harder time doing it to us. What big state can they bleed us in? CA? Hah. NY? Nah. They can only fight us in genuine battleground states: WI, MI, PA, OH, FL. While, in addition to TX we can put them a bit on the defensive in AZ, GA and NC.

    Interesting note: of the big battlegrounds only MI has a Senate contest. The incumbent Dem has not apparently made much of an impact, so we’ll have to see who the GOP puts up. But otherwise it’s a straight-up presidential fight and lacking other big races that may dampen GOP turnout a bit.

    I think Kamala Harris has pole position to be Veep unless she’s the number one. Black and a woman, that’s the ticket if you’re Biden or Bernie or even Buttigieg. That is among declared candidates. Even better might be a Latina with some political heft, but no names come to mind.

  5. Kylopod says:


    IMO, this makes Beto the leading contender for VP candidate.

    In 2004 John Kerry put a sitting North Carolina Senator on his ticket and went on to lose the state by more than 12 points; four years later a Democratic ticket with no Southerners won the state.

  6. Teve says:

    @Kylopod: I was living in Chapel Hill at the time, right down the street from Edwards’s house. Everybody in the know in NC knew he was sleazy. When he had a rally nearby, a coworker who moved in the same circles told me a great phrase I’d never heard before: “John Edwards is the kinda guy who’d lie about where he had lunch.”

  7. Kylopod says:

    @Michael Reynolds:

    What big state can they bleed us in? CA? Hah. NY?

    There are several states that Hillary won relatively narrowly which I could see Republicans attempting to contest–NV, CO, MN, NH, ME, VA. Most of those aren’t big states, however, and the biggest one of the bunch (VA) is the most out of reach.

    Of course, if Howard Schultz runs all bets are off.

  8. Michael Reynolds says:

    Seriously? I was in Chapel Hill then, too. I had a house in Southern Village, our neighbor was a clergyman with close ties to Edwards. I was impromptu ‘security’ for a rally he did in the Southern Village green. (This happens to me a lot. I look like a retired cop.) I remember Edwards was very late despite the fact we could see him looking at us from a window.

  9. Michael Reynolds says:

    He has a shot at NH, I doubt NV – union town not overly fond of ‘owners.’ CO is unpredictable. We own VA now, I think and I expect MN to return to Team Blue.

    When I run through it state by state it’s hard to deny that as of right now Biden is our best bet. Who else is more likely to take back WI? I’m on the bubble between the ‘get the base to turn out’ and the ‘take back the Obama flippers’ strategies. Can Biden excite the progs? Can Buttigieg connect with black voters?

    Over it all lies the question of women. 52% of the vote. Are white women in particular going to vote as woman looking to a future where their numbers are reflected in the offices held? Are they going to actually take hold of the power that is already in their hands? I have my doubts about the so-called ‘women’s vote.’ The Left has the idea that woman are essentially a minority constituency, like black voters who do vote their interests. But 52% is not anything like 13%, women are not an oppressed minority, they’re a majority not yet united around a common agenda.

  10. Kathy says:


    I often think experience and hard data tend to lose against conventional wisdom.

  11. Neil J Hudelson says:

    @James Joyner:

    Yeah, sorry, should’ve been more clear: demographic changes and burgeoning urban areas will inevitably turn Texas purple/blue, just as it did in Virginia, but probably not in 2020. Three of the top 10 fastest growing metro areas in 2018 were in Texas.

    Interestingly, according to Forbes the fastest growing city is currently Boise City, ID. Meridian, ID rounds out the top 10 in a few magazine’s (not Forbes) Fastest Growing Cities count. And both Boise and Twin Falls have gained hipster-millennial cred as good places to live and thrive. Will be interesting to see how Idahoan politics evolves over the next decade.

  12. Teve says:

    @Michael Reynolds: Technically I was living in Carrboro, about a mile south of Weaver Street Market, but I say Chapel Hill because almost nobody knows Carrboro. 😀

  13. Teve says:

    @Michael Reynolds: I was on Smith Level Rd, about half a mile from Southern Village.

  14. Scott says:

    Being an oppressed political minority in Texas, I can pretty much guarantee that Texas will stay in the red. Culture wars and the religious right drive everything. It doessn’t take much to drive everyone into a tizzy over some stupid thing someone says or does. And there is so much money on the right that supports all the think tanks, propaganda machines,etc as well as the voter suppression mechanisms.

  15. Console says:

    @Michael Reynolds:

    Hilda Solis, but I doubt she still has any interest in DC politics