Assessing the competitiveness of the Trump-Biden rematch in Texas

The April 2024 University of Texas/Texas Politics Project poll reveals the headwinds Joe Biden’s reelection campaign currently faces in Texas. While recent election results show contests for Texas’ electoral votes becoming clearly but gradually more competitive between the two parties, Biden remains the underdog in a state that continues to lean decisively in a Republican direction. 

Topline results in the latest poll showing Trump leading Biden by 9 points in a 5-way trial ballot and 8 points in a hypothetical head-to-head matchup align with other recent polling showing Trump with polling advantages ranging from six to twelve points in the early stages of the race. Allowing for the fact that polling this early in the campaign – when many if not most voters are not yet focused on how they will vote in November – is not likely to be predictive of the final outcome, Donald Trump’s lead in our most recent poll, as in most statewide polling to date, shows Biden performing slightly worse in Texas than he did in the 2020 election, when he lost the state to Trump by a little more than five and half percentage points.

That same polling suggests some weakness in Biden’s support when compared to this stage of the 2020 campaign among some key groups of Texas voters, akin to similar, widely-noted signs of erosion in support for Biden in some national polling data. At the same time, there are no signs of an immediate collapse in support for Biden even as he fights the gravity of presidential incumbency amidst an economy plagued by persistent rising prices, a dour mood among voters, and yet another unpredictable overall election environment.

Groups showing clear signs of weakened support for Biden: Latinos and (true) independents

Texas Latinos

The apparent shifts in Latino support for both Trump and for Republican candidates in national polling has been a focus for observers of public opinion and, more prominently, the political press. Discussions of the extent and durability of changes in Latino partisanship and voting in Texas have seen a similar increase amidst polling and analysis of the Latino vote suggesting gains for Trump among Texas Latinos.

A swing in support for Trump in the 2024 presidential trial ballots in the recently released April 2024 UT/TxPP poll supports the argument that Latino support for Trump in his rematch with Biden has grown, even if the extent of the swing evident in April polling may in part be attributable to a combination of short-term environmental factors (e.g. perceptions of the economy, attention to the border) and statistical variance (i.e. the Hispanic sample is the April 2024 poll was more Republican leaning on average than recent polling, which may very well be due to short-term variance — though this can’t account for all of the shift in support towards Trump).

The poll found Trump enjoying a comfortable lead over Biden among Latinos in the five-way trial ballot (Trump 45%; Biden 32%), while the former president led by 12 points, 48% to 36%, in a head-to-head match-up. This result was the first time in UT/TxPP polling of the Trump-Biden match up that Trump has led among Latinos, which should and does lead to some reservations about the estimate before it can be confirmed or tempered with more data. At the same point in the 2020 campaign – with Trump as the incumbent and Biden as the challenger (albeit a very well-known one) – Biden led Trump 50% to 40% in a head-to-head match-up among Latinos.

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Donald Trump60%16%40%
Joe Biden34%74%50%
Haven't thought about it enough to have an opinion5%11%10%

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Joe Biden34%75%36%
Donald Trump57%14%48%
Someone else6%5%8%
Haven’t thought about it enough to have an opinion3%7%8%

Reasonable caution about the most recent data notwithstanding, Biden’s numbers have been weaker in UT/TxPP polling this election cycle among registered voters, Latinos, and both Latino Republicans and Democrats compared to the run up to the 2020 election. During the last presidential campaign, Biden bested Trump among Latino registered voters in three UT/TxPP trial ballots in the 2020 cycle by between 7 and 11 percentage points in the lead up to the election, and by 22 points in October 2020 polling (among likely, Latino voters) — exit polling showed Biden winning this group by 17 points.

This cycle looks different. While the 12-point Trump lead currently stands as an outlier, in 2023 and 2024 polling, Biden has led Trump by no more than 4 points, and by as little as 1 point in each of the most recent surveys, conducted in December 2023 and February 2024. While the small numbers in the Latino sample should lead us to exhibit a fair amount of caution, looking at Latinos by partisanship in the most recent poll finds an uptick in support for Trump among Latino Republicans (48% for Trump in the head-to-head match-up — 5 points higher than February, and 9 points higher than December), with only 71% of Latino Democrats saying they would be supporting Biden, a drop of 14 points from February polling.

Whether this turns out to be a harbinger of things to come or a temporary blip, it’s unlikely that Biden’s problems with Hispanics in Texas are merely an artifact of the polling. That said, it’s worth reiterating a point frequently underplayed in discussions of Latino political identification in Texas: Republican statewide candidates have frequently earned more than 40% of the Latino vote here over the last three decades – and not only when George W. Bush was at the top of the ticket, though those were good years for Republicans making in-roads into the Latino electorate. Even allowing for the requisite caution in relying on exit polls, Trump earned 41% of the Latino vote in Texas in 2020. Greg Abbott has earned 40% or more in each of his gubernatorial contests, albeit among more Republican, non-presidential year electorates. While the movement in Trump’s direction may not turn out to be as big as found in this April poll, if partially true, it will be extremely consequential for Democrats in Texas, who might find themselves in a very challenging election cycle from Biden on down.

Texas independents

Political independents, who we define as those voters who indicate no attachment to either party, even when pushed to express which party they lean toward, have become an increasing focus in Texas as top-of-the-ticket elections have become more competitive. While independents are a part of this story, their overall share of the electorate remains small enough that their impact on the outcome is likely marginal when the elections aren’t terribly close.

In 2018, part of what propelled Beto O’Rourke to such a tight contest with Senator Cruz was his performance with independents, who, while usually skewing in a more conservative/Republican direction in their attitudes, indicated in October 2018 polling that they would be supporting O’Rourke over Cruz by a margin of 51% to 39%.

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Ted Cruz3%39%93%
Beto O'Rourke94%51%5%
Neal Dikeman1%5%1%
Someone else2%5%1%

A lot has happened since 2018, but Biden still bested Trump according to October 2020 polling data, receiving the support of 45% of independents to Trump’s 37% in an election that Trump won by less than 6 points. In the most recent poll, independents indicated a preference for the former president over the current one in the 5 candidate ballot by a margin of 30% to 10%, and by a margin of 39% to 15% in the two-way match-up. These represent more than mere reversals given the magnitude of the shift.

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Joe Biden85%15%3%
Donald Trump6%39%90%
Someone else6%27%3%
Haven’t thought about it enough to have an opinion3%19%3%

The relatively small shares supporting each candidate reflect a degree of indecision but, even more importantly, negative views of both candidates among independents. In the head-to-head match up, nearly half prefer either “someone else” (27%) or don’t have an opinion (19%). Trump is underwater among independents in favorability ratings in the latest poll – 31% view him favorably, 58% unfavorably. But their views of Biden are even more negative: only 12% view him favorably, while 73% view him unfavorably (57% VERY unfavorably).

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Very favorable6%21%61%
Somewhat favorable8%10%23%
Neither favorable nor unfavorable7%11%5%
Somewhat unfavorable6%19%6%
Very unfavorable72%37%4%
Don't know/No opinion0%2%1%

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Very favorable50%2%3%
Somewhat favorable31%10%8%
Neither favorable nor unfavorable7%13%4%
Somewhat unfavorable7%16%8%
Very unfavorable5%57%76%
Don't know/No opinion0%2%1%

Areas of little or no change in Biden support

A steady drumbeat has emerged among the political press, sounding the alarm that Biden’s support among other groups expected to be part of his base vote is flagging significantly. Both worried Democrats and optimistic Republicans have argued that Biden is suffering defections among African Americans and young voters, feeding a general attrition in the foundations of Democratic support. Neither Biden’s current level of support among these groups in Texas nor a comparison of that support to 2020 suggest that Democratic hand wringing nor Republican ambitions have much basis in UT/TxPP data, though there may be some yellow flags in the data on young voters so far in 2024 when compared to 2020.

Black voters

Democratic fears and Republican hopes that African Americans may abandon the Democrats based on readings of early polling data has become a regular feature of most every election cycle. It’s happening again in 2024. While the April 2024 poll found a seemingly scant 75% of Black Texans saying that they’ll be supporting Joe Biden in November, April 2020 UT/TxP poll results found Biden’s support at a nearly identical 74%. This support grew during the course of the campaign in 2020, eventually settling in at 87% by October, and, according to exit polls, likely exceeded that once actual voters emerged from the “likely voters” variably defined by the pollsters.

Black voters frequently poll less Democratic in the lead up to an election than they do during an election, and less Democratic than they vote when the actual election is held according to exit polling — likely having to do with differentials in turnout. It is possible that black voters, and potentially black men in particular, may be reacting to a sluggish economy with unenthused responses about Biden — or even with positive reflections on Trump’s economy. (The combined impact of black and female identity on political views would plausibly make such reactions less likely among black women.)

However, there’s little in most polling data to make those kinds of statements with significant confidence given the small contribution black voters make to the overall electorate (about 12% of the Texas electorate in 2020 according to exit polls) and therefore, to representative survey samples. Based on past elections, Black support for Biden is likely to increase during the campaign as Election Day gets closer.

Young voters

Voters under 30 continue to support the incumbent president, but with less fervor than they did in 2020. In the most recent poll, 46% said they would be supporting Biden in the head-to-head match-up, a 5 point decline from February, but in line with their support in October (45%) and December (48%) of 2023. Biden was running more strongly among this group in April 2020, when he led Trump 52% to 33%, but his support topped out at 53% in both the June and October 2020 UT/TxPP polls, and exit polling found him finishing with 57% of the under 30 set.

A related trend to keep an eye on is Trump’s increasing support from this same group. In 2020, Trump never polled above 33% among voters under 30, while in 2024 he has so far garnered 37% and 38%, respectively, in the February and April surveys. Like all of the gaps for sub-groups between 2020 and 2024, evaluating support for each candidate requires caution (and, perhaps more important, humility). The under-30 vote made up about 14% of the total vote in 2020 and so make up a comparable share of the samples in polling. This means that the estimates in the results are based on very small subsamples with correspondingly large margins of error.


While there has been a fair amount of raised eyebrows at Biden’s tepid support among Democratic voters in some national and swing state polling, there’s little indication that his position has eroded significantly since the last election cycle. In the most recent poll, 85% of Democrats said they would be supporting Biden in the two-way match-up, the same share as in February of this year, and only 4 points shy of the 89% he earned in April of 2020.

While 2024 is not 2020, there are sound reasons to expect Biden’s support among his partisan base to increase as the election gets closer. Biden’s overall support is currently lower than the 96% who said they would be voting for him in October of 2020; that same year, 85% of Texas Democrats also indicated that they would be supporting Biden in February polling, inching up over the course of the campaign season, with 96% of Democrats supporting Biden according to exit polls.

The signs of a marginal decline in Texas Democrats’ enthusiasm for Biden’s reelection in the trial ballots and candidate ratings are evident in other attitudes captured in the poll. Perhaps most telling, those Democrats who professed to have concerns about Biden’s candidacy were overwhelmingly concerned about the age and health of their 81-year-old candidate (a concern much less common among supporters of the presumably spry 78-year-old Trump). And while Republican criticism of Biden’s handling of the economy is likely successful in tapping into the partisan predispositions of GOP voters that are common to all voters’ evaluations of the macroeconomy, the return of persistent and in some cases dramatic price increases has also dampened Democratic evaluations of Biden. While a majority of Democrats, 59%, approved of Biden’t handling of “inflation and prices” in the most recent poll, almost a quarter disapproved (23%), and nearly a fifth viewed Biden’s efforts neutrally (16%) or didn’t have an opinion (2%).

Yes, it’s still early – and this is still Texas

Clear signs of weakened support for Joe Biden among Latinos, dour reviews from independents, and mixed signals from the youngest age cohort provide some explanation for signs that, at this stage of the campaign, the current president's polling is underperforming his final 2020 vote share in the rematch with Donald Trump. 

Two common cliches about election polling, their tiredness notwithstanding, need invoking here for context.

First, it is early in the general election campaign – even though interpretations of public opinion polling often rely on this reminder even when it’s getting later, we’re not there yet. There remains a summer of campaigning and conventions, and, even more importantly, the final campaign push in the fall.

Second, this election is taking place in an oddly evolved set of very unusual circumstances. On one hand, the presidential context pits two candidates whose identity as candidates, and even their behavior in the White House, are deeply established with voters. And yet, they are engaged in a rematch in a very volatile environment.

It’s not necessary to elaborate the details of these two conditions, which are universally recognized at this point. But the effects of the interaction between these two aspects of the election make it nearly impossible to anticipate how this election will unfold over the next two months. The possible events and changes in the political environment that could plausibly upend the accepted dynamics of the race are mind-boggling, however improbable some of them are, from the debilitation or death of one of the elderly candidates to Trump’s possible criminal conviction (or exoneration) to the explosion of one of the major foreign crises brewing in Europe or the Middle East. Or, in a much more mundane but nearly as consequential sphere, inflation could flare up again. Or…or…or…there are lots of possibilities, the worst of which will not be on most of our minds until it happens. Ask Donald Trump about the COVID pandemic.

Or, the campaign between two candidates greeted with reservations by many of their supporters and contempt by most of their detractors will simply slog on through the summer and fall, subject to the usual slings and arrows of campaigns until one narrowly defeats the other in November in the national election.

Back in Texas, though, the fundamentals are well set. Despite the weaponization of national politics in the internal bloodletting in the usually parochial GOP House primaries — with Trump’s endorsements of challengers to GOP incumbents and the relentless pursuit of a quasi-divine state of Border Security – by November, the general election will see a hegemonic Republican Party mobilizing against a seemingly perpetually enervated opposition in Texas. However vicious the infighting of the last year (and it has grown even more so in the final weeks of the primary run-off campaigns), the public conflict among Texas Republicans will go underground during the fall election season as the national campaign crowds out other election news, and the parties compete in the small number of competitive legislative races. Millions will be spent by both sides in the U.S. senate race, but the fundamentals on the ground in Texas heavily favor the Republican campaigns writ large. This will include Trump — even if he is once again outperformed by GOP house candidates — whatever the outcome of the national rematch between Trump and the candidate who defeated him in 2020.

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