Are Texas Latino voters still loyal to Democrats, or can Trump gain?

Even if Texas isn’t turning blue, Democrats want the state to at least be competitive. Losing a key constituency would make that task tougher.

A recent University of Houston poll of Texas voters shows Donald Trump comfortably ahead of Joe Biden in this year’s expected presidential election rematch.

No surprise there. Texas is the most reliable Republican large state in the nation and has been for decades.

Few expect 2024 to change that narrative. But what should send chills down the spines of Texas Democrats is that Trump has a lead of 6 percentage points among Latinos in the state, the poll shows.

Not only is the Latino vote crucial to Democrats’ hopes for a competitive race against incumbent Republican U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz this cycle, but it is essential for the party to keep control of dozens of statehouse and congressional district seats that Democrats could almost always take for granted.

In fact, so reliable was the Latino vote for Texas Democrats that national pundits were left dumfounded when exit polls in 2016 showed Hillary Clinton winning “only” 61% of that bloc when she and Trump went head to head in the presidential contest.

Recall that the 2016 cycle was dominated by Trump calling immigrants crossing into the U.S. from Mexico “murderers” and “rapists.” Trump’s promise to “build a wall” was expected to be a coffin nail for him among Hispanics. But even though Clinton might have underperformed among Latinos, enough of those voters remained loyal for Democrats in Texas to almost cut in half their margin of defeat compared with four years earlier.

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Clinton lost Texas by only 9 points, compared with the nearly 16-point shellacking President Barack Obama took from Republican Mitt Romney.

Trump’s share of the Latino vote in Texas against Biden in 2020 was about the same as it was against Clinton. But Trump fared better in heavily Latino South Texas in 2020 than he did in 2016, which suggests that Latinos in urban areas are more reliably Democratic than those in more rural regions.

That’s why it’s not surprising to see Republicans investing heavily in South Texas. They already control one congressional seat in the Rio Grande Valley and hope to pick off a second. They’re targeting several South Texas seats in the state Legislature as well.

Still, Biden again narrowed the gap for Texas Democrats in 2020, losing the state with just a 5.6-point deficit. Among the drivers for Biden’s gain was the continued migration of voters, especially among women, from Republican to Democrat.

And that brings up another worry for Texas Democrats heading to November. The University of Houston shows Trump running nearly even with Biden among women. And he’s retaining the dominance that Republicans have long enjoyed among male voters.

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Heading into the 2024 cycle, only the most optimistic Democrats believe that Trump could be vulnerable in Texas. Perhaps the best they’d hope for is that this year would be something of a rerun of 2020: Biden keeps it competitive enough that down-ballot Democrats in what few swing districts and counties remain hold serve.

And maybe, just maybe, enough Trump voters statewide will split their tickets to give whatever candidate the Democrats send up against a Cruz at least a puncher’s chance this fall.

But that can’t happen if one of the Democrats’ core constituencies in Texas falls to Trump by 6 percentage points.

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