For those who focus on the historical arc of partisan competition in Texas politics, it’s hard not to cast independents as somewhere between the ultimate anti-heroes and a group of extras and bit players suddenly thrust into the spotlight in the drama of 2020. For the better part of the last two decades of Texas elections, political independents were, if not irrelevant, at least a pretty distant thought in handicapping election outcomes. The increased level of competition in races, both statewide, but especially down ballot in 2018, the consistently tight margins in polling on the presidential race in Texas, and the inherent unpredictability of independents as a group have suddenly made them the focus of both campaigns and those who prognosticate about them. That unpredictability makes it very tough to anticipate their impact on this, or any, election. But as polling shows a large group of them soured on Donald Trump, the preferences of independents now loom large over the 2020 contests in Texas.
Sanders' success in Texas is an expression of a real change that, given the very demographics Democrats have been anticipating for years, will continue to shape the party’s electoral fortunes.
As the 2020 election campaign gets underway in Texas, independents have become more important -- and more interesting. They are more important because Texas elections appear to be more politically competitive than they’ve been since before the turn of the century. They are more interesting both because their votes have the possibility of determining some election outcomes, and because their responses to the most powerful political figure shaping the 2020 election, Donald Trump, are much more divided and less fixed than are those of traditional partisans, most noticeably on the subject of Trump’s impeachment. This combination of factors makes independent voters more consequential in Texas elections than at anytime in recent memory, yet harder to handicap when it comes to their voting behavior.
Do the majority of Texans who call themselves independents actually behave that way at the polls? The inaugural UT/TT poll provides a decisive answer to that question: No.