Something very interesting is happening in the Lone Star State. According to recent polls conducted by the University of Houston and the Washington Post/Survey Monkey, Republican nominee Donald Trump still maintains a lead over his Democratic rival among potential and likely Texas voters. However, Hillary Clinton has made considerable gains against her brash opponent, and if nothing disrupts her campaign’s momentum (or Trump’s many garbage fires) during the final weeks before the general election, she just might turn the state blue for the first time since 1976, when Jimmy Carter beat Gerald Ford in the popular vote.
Even with minimal leads of 3 and 2 points respectively, does Trump’s campaign face that much of an uphill battle against Clinton for winning over Texas? Judging by the endless array of sexual assault allegations levied against the New York real estate mogul, perhaps the former secretary of state actually stands a chance. Maybe her ongoing email controversy pales in comparison to Trump’s sins, past and present, in the eyes of Texas’ undecided voters.
That or, more likely, the state’s largely conservative base of voters are so put off by Trumo that they just can’t bring themselves to support the Republican Party’s pick. Remember, Trump was merciless in his primary season attacks on Texas’ own Ted Cruz — who beat Trump during the primary with double the delegates — and, to a lesser degree, former Texas Governor Rick Perry, both of whom are popular in the state. If that were’t enough, Trump has not been kind to the Bush family, arguably the Royal Family of Texas. Taken all together, it’s possible that Trump has managed to offend too many Republicans in Texas over the last year or so to win the state, even when matched up against the likes of Hillary Clinton.
To better understand these poll numbers and whether or not they prove Clinton stands a chance against Trump in Texas, consider what’s happened in the state since Carter just barely nudged past Ford 40 years ago.
Deep In The Mostly Conservative Heart Of Texas
Before Carter’s victory, Texas often went blue in state and national elections. Aside from a few hiccups after the American Civil War and during the ’80s, Texas governors were generally members of the Democratic Party until George W. Bush took office in 1995. As for casting popular and electoral votes for presidents, the state picked Franklin Delano Roosevelt for all four terms, Harry Truman immediately after, and John F. Kennedy and Texas native Lyndon B. Johnson in the ’60s. Not that any of this means anything, as the state’s blueness didn’t translate into liberal voting records. These politicians were popularly known as “Blue Dog Democrats,” and while their party affiliation remained intact, so too did their southern conservative notions.
Following Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush‘s decisive victories in the 1980, 1984 and 1988 presidential elections, however, Texas’ voting tendencies began to change slightly. Whereas Reagan won Texas by over 600,000 and 1.5 million votes in ’80 and ’88, Bush’s 600,000-vote lead over Michael Dukakis in ’88 decreased dramatically when Democratic challenger Bill Clinton clinched the presidency in 1992. Clinton didn’t win Texas that year, but he only lost to Bush by less than 200,000 votes. And when Bob Dole challenged the incumbent four years later, Texas only increased the Republican nominee’s lead by a little over 50,000.
Unfortunately for Texas Democrats and progressives who found hope in Bush and Dole’s short leads over Clinton, George W. Bush knocked it out of the park with his monstrous 2000 and 2004 successes over Al Gore and John Kerry. With almost 1.5 and nearly 2 million votes over Gore and Kerry respectively, Bush had no trouble carrying the state. And despite Barack Obama‘s national victories in 2008 and 2012, Republican challengers John McCain and Mitt Romney managed to maintain Bush’s previous leads with a little over 1 million votes in their respective races.