Josh Barro looks at recent national poll numbers and contemplates the possibilities.
If things get just a little bit worse for Trump nationally, he could start losing a lot of states we normally think of as very safe for Republicans — not just Georgia, but states like Texas, South Carolina, and even Mississippi.
Even as he polls badly nationally, Trump is performing remarkably well among whites without a college degree, especially men. He’s getting hammered among college-educated whites, especially women, and he’s doing even worse with nonwhite voters than Republican nominees usually do.
Overall, these shifts hurt Trump more in some states than in others.
In a state like Pennsylvania, you can see these effects counterbalancing each other across regions. Trump’s weakness with college-educated whites leads to him getting crushed in the suburbs of Philadelphia. (The recent Franklin & Marshall poll has him down by 40 points in those areas; Romney lost the region by just 9 points.) But that’s partly offset by gains among working-class whites elsewhere in the state.
But in states like Georgia and Texas, white voters already vote overwhelmingly Republican, and Republicans depend on huge margins among whites to overcome the votes of large, heavily Democratic nonwhite populations. So if Trump loses support among college-educated white women in the suburbs of Atlanta and Dallas, not many high-school-educated white men are available for him to pick up, and upscale whites and nonwhite voters could form a majority coalition for Clinton.
Plus, Republican candidates have usually picked up a significant share of the Hispanic vote in Texas, meaning there is room for Trump to do worse than Romney among nonwhites in the state.
Romney won Texas by 16 points in 2012 while losing the whole country by 4, but Clinton does not need to win nationally by 20 points to have an excellent shot of winning Texas. A national margin in the low teens could do it.
Texas hasn’t been publicly polled since June. I’m very interested to see the next poll.
So am I. Looking at the sidebar for the 2012 poll numbers, we really didn’t start to get much until late September. I’m hoping we don’t have to wait that long this year, but we’ll see.
Speculating about Hillary Clinton winning Texas is fanciful enough, but I figured, why not take that to the next level? That would be to try to extrapolate what might happen downballot if she is truly competitive with Donald Trump at the top. Let’s acknowledge up front that Clinton is very likely to run well ahead of downballot Democrats, thanks to Republicans who cross over to vote for her or who abandon Trump to undervote or go Libertarian. She’ll have some coattails if Democratic base turnout is boosted, and Trump will have some anti-coattails if Republicans are discouraged, but the cumulative effect will be much greater for her than it will be for anyone else. In other words, take this already exuberant premise and apply another few shakes of salt to it before proceeding.
With all that out of the way, I looked at the 2012 statewide results for Congress, the SBOE, the Senate, and the House. I indexed the percentages in each district race to a hypothetical world in which both the R and D Presidential candidates received exactly 50% of the vote, which is a fancy way of saying I increased each Democrat’s percentage by about 20% and decreased each Republicans by about 12.5%. That leads to some oddball numbers, since in reality the R plus D totals often did not add up to 100%, but it does illuminate where the interesting action would be in that scenario. Here’s what we get:
Dist Adj R% Adj D%
CD06 50.74% 47.40%
CD07 53.18% 44.02%
CD10 52.93% 43.80%
CD14 51.86% 47.61%
CD21 52.96% 42.77%
CD24 53.37% 43.50%
CD25 51.11% 45.24%
CD27 49.63% 47.39%
CD32 50.97% 47.68%
SBOE5 44.87% 51.51%
SBOE6 50.00% 47.16%
SBOE10 49.50% 52.44%
HD23 47.78% 53.41%
HD43 45.09% 58.54%
HD47 50.72% 47.49%
HD54 50.30% 51.34%
HD65 51.71% 46.62%
HD85 51.03% 50.33%
HD93 51.56% 45.34%
HD97 51.98% 45.49%
HD102 50.01% 51.80%
HD105 43.79% 58.31%
HD107 44.46% 59.40%
HD108 51.60% 47.46%
HD112 48.10% 52.56%
HD113 45.92% 55.94%
HD114 46.36% 55.40%
HD115 48.37% 50.06%
HD117 40.84% 62.59%
HD118 37.87% 66.70%
HD134 47.79% 54.81%
HD135 52.79% 47.90%
HD136 46.40% 49.20%
HD144 41.89% 61.38%
You may notice that in some cases, the two-party totals exceed 100%. That’s an artifact of the Presidential race only adding up to about 98.5% in reality, but to 100% in this exercise. I applied the adjustment factor to the totals of the candidates who were running for that specified office, so if there were only two candidates in the district race, the adjusted percentages will exceed 100; if there were other candidates, and they took a higher share of the vote than the non-R and D Presidential candidates did, the resulting totals will fall short. The exact numbers aren’t that important. What I’m trying to illustrate here is what some district races may look like if it really is the case that Hillary Clinton is neck and neck with Donald Trump in Texas, and not just because Republicans have abandoned him. This is a thought experiment of how the landscape might change if Democrats were truly competitive at a statewide level.
You may also note that in a lot of cases Democrats are farther below 50% after adjustment than Republicans are above it. That’s the situation in most of the highlighted Congressional races. For these races, the Republican incumbent didn’t do much better than Mitt Romney’s 57.17%, but the Democrats fell several point short of President Obama’s 41.38%. Third party candidates account for the gap, and my guess is that while they draw more from the Rs than from the Ds, weakness among the D candidates holds down their total as well. In a race where ambient conditions make for a competitive contest, candidate quality can be a difference-maker. In a fully hypothetical scenario, we could assume some level of equity between the candidates, which might allow some Dems to win races where they are slightly outnumbered, but in reality (or at least, this reality with the silly hypothetical I’ve constructed layered onto it) most of the challengers would not have the resources to take advantage of the upgrade to their environment. In other words, most of these Republican incumbents could withstand this level of threat to them, and at least a little bit more. If Dems could have known a year or so ago what was coming, they could have recruited and fundraised better to put themselves in a more competitive position. That’s hindsight for you.
There are no Senate races listed here because by luck of the post-redistricting draw, all of the potentially interesting Senate races – I’m thinking specifically SDs 09, 10, 16, and 17 – are on the non-Presidential cycle this decade. Of the ones that are on the ballot this year, Hillary would probably have to top 55%, maybe more, for them to become close. Even I can’t spin a yarn than frazzled.
You may note that the math for a few districts doesn’t match up with the candidates’ actual performance from 2012. In CD14, the Democrat was former Rep. Nick Lampson, who greatly outperformed other Dems in the district. Nobody running this year was going to get match was he did, so I substituted the Presidential numbers for that race. I did the same for a couple of State House races as well, like HD113, where there wasn’t a challenger in 2012 but there is one this year. By the same token, I skipped a couple of State House races that might have been interesting had there been a Democrat on the ballot, like HD45, but as there isn’t there wasn’t any point.
Finally, there are several districts that were won by Dems in 2012 but are now held by Republicans – HDs 23, 117, 118, and 144, in particular. Again, I used the 2012 Obama/Romney numbers as proxies. In the case of HD23, this more accurately reflects the district’s Republican lean, which was masked by the re-election numbers of then-incumbent Rep. Craig Eiland. All of the other districts were already Dem-leaning without any boost from Trump, so the adjusted numbers are especially blue.
Anyway. I’ll say again, this is for entertainment purposes only. If in mid-to-late October Hillary Clinton is polling in the high 40s or better against Trump, we can revisit. In the meantime, consider this an added bit of incentive to boost turnout in your own districts.