Off the Kuff Rotating Header Image

October 28th, 2020:

NYT/Siena: Trump 47, Biden 43

Possibly the last poll of interest for the cycle.

President Trump maintains a narrow lead in Texas, according to a New York Times/Siena College poll on Monday, as he faces a rebellion in the state’s once overwhelmingly Republican suburbs but survives with support from an unlikely ally, Hispanic voters.

Over all, Mr. Trump leads Joe Biden, 47 percent to 43 percent, among likely voters. The majority of interviews were conducted before the final presidential debate on Thursday. In the Senate race, the Republican incumbent, John Cornyn, holds a larger lead, 48-38, over the Democrat, M.J. Hegar.

[…]

The findings suggest that Republicans face catastrophic risks down-ballot, even if Mr. Trump wins. Mr. Biden leads him by five percentage points, 48 percent to 43 percent, across the 12 predominantly suburban congressional districts that the Cook Political Report has rated as competitive. These districts voted for the president by eight points in 2016.

In these districts, Republicans face a combination of rapid demographic change and previously unthinkable Democratic gains among white college-educated voters. Mr. Trump leads Mr. Biden by just two points among white college graduates in these districts, even though they say they backed Mr. Trump by 24 points over Hillary Clinton in 2016.

Even those who have long embraced the Democratic dream of a “blue Texas,” powered by mobilizing the state’s growing Latino population, probably never imagined such staggering Democratic gains in once-solidly Republican areas. Yet the poll suggests that Hispanic voters might just be the group that keeps the state red a while longer.

Mr. Biden has a lead of only 57 percent to 34 percent among that group, somewhat beneath most estimates of Mrs. Clinton’s support among Hispanic voters four years ago. The finding broadly tracks with national surveys, which have shown Mr. Trump improving among Hispanic voters compared with his 2016 standing. Similarly, Hispanic voters in the Times/Siena poll say they backed Mrs. Clinton by a margin of 60 percent to 29 percent.

Hispanic voters are difficult to measure in any state, and Texas is no exception. In 2018, Times/Siena surveys generally underestimated turnout by Hispanics and their support for Democrats in Texas. So far this cycle, polls have varied widely on Mr. Trump’s standing among the group in Texas, with a recent Quinnipiac survey showing Mr. Biden ahead by just eight points, 51-43, while a Dallas Morning News/UT Tyler Texas survey showed him ahead by a far wider margin, 67-20.

Up to this point, the Biden campaign’s limited ad spending has been concentrated in the El Paso and San Antonio media markets, where Hispanic voters represent a particularly large share of the electorate. It may suggest that the Biden campaign sees Hispanic voters as one of its best and most cost-efficient opportunities to improve its standing in the state.

Mr. Trump also shows modest but meaningful strength among Black voters, who back Mr. Biden by a margin of 78 percent to 12 percent. Black respondents in the survey said they voted for Mrs. Clinton over Mr. Trump by a somewhat larger margin, 82-8, in 2016.

This poll now joins that UH Hobby School poll to snap the streak of positive results for Biden. The UH poll was weird in a couple of ways, this one is closer to the norm of other polls we have seen. On the matter of Hispanic voting, let me refer you to this tweet:

I’ve covered this before, and it’s my pet obsession with this election. The NYT/Siena result is kind of right in the middle of the pack (unlike that UH poll), which in itself makes it a bit of an aberration – the standard deviation here is big. The level of support for Trump among Black voters in this sample is on the high end, but not an outlier; at least two other polls had higher numbers for him. I thought those were outliers, and one was the September Qunnipiac poll that came back to earth in October. I haven’t studied this subgroup as closely, but I’d take the under if anyone asked.

As for the Hispanic number in the Siena poll, they have an interesting explanation.

With still a week of early voting and Election Day to go, more than seven million voters have already cast ballots in the state, representing more than 80 percent of the total turnout from four years ago. The state has not been vigorously contested at the presidential level in decades, leaving analysts with even more uncertainty about the eventual electorate than elsewhere

No pollster and analyst can be reasonably confident about what the final Texas electorate will look like, given that a significant departure from prior turnout patterns is all but an inevitability. Nonetheless, the Times/Siena poll offers one possible picture: a turnout approaching 12 million, with neither Mr. Biden nor Mr. Trump claiming a clear advantage because of the higher turnout, but still with a lower turnout among Hispanic than non-Hispanic voters.

The poll finds that Mr. Biden holds a seven-point lead among the half of the likely electorate who had already voted as of Friday, according to state records compiled by L2, a nonpartisan data vendor. These voters are older and whiter than the electorate as a whole, and more have participated in a recent Republican primary than a Democratic one. But, like early voters elsewhere in the country, they appear more favorable to Mr. Biden than their demographic characteristics would suggest.

The president counters with a 17-point lead among the voters who had not turned out by Friday, including an even wider 29-point advantage among those who say they are almost certain to vote.

Mr. Biden fails to keep pace on Election Day, the poll finds, in part because the survey sees relatively little evidence that the turnout surge will extend to Latino voters, and that even if it did, such a surge would do less to benefit Mr. Biden than one might expect.

Over all, 66 percent of Hispanic registered voters say they’ve already voted or are almost certain to do so, compared with 83 percent of non-Hispanic whites and 77 percent of non-Hispanic Blacks.

Perhaps surprisingly, the Hispanic voters likeliest to stay home are the Hispanic voters likeliest to support Mr. Trump. Or, if you prefer: Mr. Biden fares better among the Latino voters who say they will vote. Mr. Biden leads, 61-30, among Hispanic voters who say they’ve already voted or are “almost certain” to do so, while Mr. Trump and Mr. Biden are effectively tied among those who are less likely. Mr. Biden has an even wider lead of 73-20 among Hispanic voters who say they have already voted. As a result, higher Latino turnout does little to bolster Mr. Biden, even though this low-turnout group of voters identified as Democratic over Republican by a 16-point margin.

Low-turnout Hispanic voters in Texas are some of the toughest voters to reach in the country for pollsters. It is even harder to ensure a representative sample of the group in a state like Texas where voters don’t register with a party; party registration can be used to ensure the right number of Democrats and Republicans. We can’t rule out the possibility that the poll failed to reach the most Democratic-leaning of these voters.

Mr. Biden may also succeed in mobilizing the Democratic-leaning elements of this group, as already seems to be happening in early voting. He can also hope that undecided, low-turnout Latino voters will break toward Democrats over the final stretch, as they seemed to do two years ago.

The heavy early vote is a factor in how to model turnout for polls, obviously. All the indications we have are that the early vote has been very Democratic, but we don’t know where it’s going from here. The finding that lower-propensity Hispanic voters are more pro-Trump is not something I would have predicted. Indeed, there has been research in the past showing that lower-propensity Hispanic voters tend to be more Democratic than the cohort as a whole. The GOP strategy in CD23 was based on filling the district with non-voting Hispanic voters, to satisfy the Voting Rights Act requirement for it to be a Hispanic opportunity district while still keeping it competitive for them. I just don’t know what to make of this.

You can find the crosstabs here. It turns out that this sample has Trump leading 41-40 among independents, which as we know would make it only the second poll in at least a month to have him with a lead with this group, albeit a small one. Their level of support for Trump is in line with the other polls, it’s the support for Biden that’s a bit abnormal.

As it happens, there is another poll out there, from Data for Progress. I’ll blog about it tomorrow. Maybe that will be the last poll of the cycle. Maybe not.

SCOTX upholds Abbott’s limit on mail ballot dropoff locations

I’m shocked, I tell you, shocked.

In what’s expected to be the final ruling on the matter, the Texas Supreme Court has upheld Gov. Greg Abbott’s order limiting Texas counties to only one drop-off location for voters to hand deliver their absentee ballots during the pandemic.

The ruling, issued Tuesday by the all-Republican court, is the final outcome in one of a handful of lawsuits in state and federal courts that challenged Abbott’s order from early this month. A federal appeals court also sided with the Republican governor in an earlier ruling, overturning a lower court’s decision.

The state lawsuit argued that the governor doesn’t have authority under state law to limit absentee ballot hand-delivery locations, and that his order violates voters’ equal protection rights under the state constitution. The suit was filed in Travis County by a Texas-based Anti-Defamation League, a voting rights advocacy group and a voter.

In their opinion, the justices wrote that Abbott’s order “provides Texas voters more ways to vote in the November 3 election than does the Election Code. It does not disenfranchise anyone.”

See here for the previous update. In a narrow and technical sense, the Supreme Court is correct. Abbott did in fact expand voting options with his original order, which not only added that extra week to early voting but also allowed for mail ballots to be dropped off during the early voting period. State law only allows for that on Election Day, one of many problems that will need a legislative fix in the near future. But we all know that the purpose of his amended order, more than two months after Harris County Clerk Chris Hollins had announced his plan to have dropoff locations at all 12 County Clerk offices, and several days after people began using those locations, was to issue a rebuke to Hollins for having the nerve to innovate like that, and to throw a bone to the howling nihilists in his own party that were attacking him for taking any step to make voting easier. The limit served no legitimate purpose, and was done in haste and with politics in mind. It is what it is at this point, and as with every other ad hoc obstacle thrown in our path, the voters have adjusted. We’ll be coming for you soon, Greg. The Chron has more.

Bloomberg drops some money in the RRC race

I have four things to say about this.

Chrysta Castañeda

Billionaire Michael Bloomberg has made a late donation of $2.6 million to the Democratic nominee for railroad commissioner, Chrysta Castañeda, providing a massive fundraising boost in a race for the oil and gas regulatory board that usually does not see such big money — or attract much political interest outside Texas.

Bloomberg’s contribution helped Castañeda raise $3.5 million on her latest campaign finance report, according to her campaign. The filing covers Sept. 25 through Oct. 26 and is due to the Texas Ethics Commission by the end of the day Monday.

“Chrysta Castañeda will be a champion for Texans — her commitment to improving people’s lives is clear,” Bloomberg, the former mayor of New York who ran unsuccessfully for the Democratic nomination for president this year, said in a statement. “I’m glad to support Chrysta in her campaign to be the next Railroad Commissioner, because she has the vision and experience needed to build a safer, healthier, and more environmentally prosperous future for the state of Texas.”

Bloomberg gave $2.625 million total to Castañeda, $2.5 million in direct money and the rest in in-kind contributions, according to her campaign. It said her report will also show she received $500,000 from environmentalist philanthropists Richard and Dee Lawrence, and that the Sierra Club donated $90,000 and has pledged another $125,000.

[…]

In a statement, Castañeda said the seven-figure support “has allowed us to place television ads in every major Texas market,” educating voters about the little-known commission, which regulates the state’s oil and gas industry. Her commercials have also taken aim at [Republican opponent Jim] Wright, pointing out, among other things, that the commission fined a business he once owned in 2017 for environmental violations.

On the previous round of campaign finance reports, covering early July through Sept. 24, Castañeda was competitive with Wright on donations, taking in $230,000 to his $244,000. She also had $81,000 in in-kind contributions. But he outspent her nearly 3 to 1 and ended the period with more cash on hand, $170,000 to her $104,000.

1. Hooray! We’ve been waiting for this. Castañeda has raised a few bucks and gotten some commercials on the air as noted, but not nearly enough to make much of an impression. This kind of money is enough to run ads statewide for two weeks, and that will mean something.

2. Which leads to the obvious: Sure would have been nice to have had this in place sooner. I need to look at the 8 day report to see exactly when Bloomberg cut the check, but Castañeda started having ads on the air a month ago, so it’s not quite as late in the cycle as I first thought when I read the headline of the story. At least she seems to have gotten the money before people started voting, which was my main concern.

3. It is very much the case that the outcome of this race will be closely correlated with the Presidential race. There’s only so much Castañeda can do to move the needle (more on that in a minute), but if Biden wins Texas or comes close enough, she can put herself in a position to win. It should be noted that downballot statewide Dems have generally lagged the top of the ticket by a few points, and that was the case in 2016 and 2018. There is some variation from race to race – generally speaking, in lower-profile races, having a Latino surname is a benefit. Note that the top downballot votegetters in 2016 were Eva Guzman (top overall in her case) and Dori Garza, both Supreme Court candidates. Castañeda has that going for her, which is likely to be worth a point or so in the final tally. If there’s one downballot Dem that I think could out-perform Biden, at least on a percentage basis, it’s Chrysta Castañeda.

4. The presence of third party candidates means that one does not need fifty percent of the vote to win. That, and who third party candidates tend to draw some votes from, was the basis for all that litigation that ultimately did not result in any candidates being thrown off the ballot. The RRC races, which are pretty obscure for most voters and which have featured some, um, less than optimal candidates in recent years, is a prime example of this. Here are the combined third-party vote percentages from the past three Presidential elections:

2016 – 8.56%
2012 – 4.23%
2008 – 3.52%

There were Libertarian and Green candidates in 2016 and 2012, and just a Libertarian in 2008. The 2016 race had two of the worst candidates ever for this office, bad enough that the Libertarian got several major newspaper endorsements. The point here is that it is likely 48% of the vote will be enough to win; 49% for sure will win. And while RRC is very close to the top of the ballot – fourth in line, after the three federal races – it’s likely more people will skip it than perhaps the Supreme Court races because they have no idea what the RRC does. That means fewer votes are needed as well. Anything Castañeda can do to minimize undervoting by Dems and to tempt soft Rs and indies to cross over will help. That’s what this money can do. The Chron has more.

No school on Election Day

For HISD, anyway.

Houston ISD will not hold virtual or in-person classes on Election Day, district officials said late Tuesday, a reversal of earlier plans to provide online-only instruction because more than 100 schools will be used as polling places.

District officials said staff members are expected to participate in virtual professional development on Nov. 3, though some may take a comp day if approved by a manager.

[…]

The Texas Education Agency confirmed last week that virtually all public school districts holding online-only classes on Election Day will not receive credit toward their legally-required minimum of 75,600 minutes of instruction they must provide. Districts that fall short of the 75,600-minute requirement would risk losing a fraction of their funding, TEA officials said.

In a statement Wednesday morning, HISD administrators said the district’s calendar “allows for an excess of minutes beyond the 75,600-minute requirement from the state to allow for inclement weather or emergency closure days.” District officials did not respond to questions about how many minutes are built into their calendar.

See here for the background. Election Day should of course be a national holiday – though at the rate we’re going now, there won’t be that many people left to vote on Election Day this year – but that is not something HISD can control. Taking the day off is the next best thing. As for the minutes of instruction, I’m going to assume they have that covered. In the meantime, go vote.