The Legend of Texans' Love for Hillary Clinton

While thanks to Donald Trump this election cycle has been tough on the clichés and received knowledge that are the hallmarks of presidential campaign coverage, the notion that there is a deeply-rooted love of Hillary Clinton among Texas Democrats continues to find its way into news stories both within and beyond the Lone Star State. In 2016, as in 2008, Clinton's return to Texas was variously billed as Hillary returning to her roots, renewing ties that run long and deep, and a reliving of deep relationships fostered in the triumphal times of the '72 McGovern campaign. Certainly, the magnitude of Clinton's win in Texas on Super Tuesday might seem to validate many of these depictions – despite the fact that her only competition was a septuagenarian White, democratic socialist from Vermont, whose only weakness in outflanking Clinton on the left is his history on gun rights and who appears largely to have eschewed any serious strategic commitment to the state.

As in so many other things, in the effort to gain perspective on Hillary Clinton and Texas in the 2016 Election, Trump giveth and Trump taketh away. Clinton's romp on Bernie Sanders on Super Tuesday was a shot in the arm for the "Texans love Hillary" trope, and the potential nomination of Donald Trump seems to have rekindled hope among Texas Democrats that Texas might turn blue, albeit briefly, in response to the fallout should Trump become the GOP standard bearer.

We have already written that such a hope has little empirical basis in recent polling. Attitudes among those in Texas who view Trump unfavorably, and expect that he would be a terrible president, co-exist with negative views of Clinton.  These patterns in opinions suggest that large numbers of voters running away from Trump to Clinton in November highly improbable. Serious hopes for a competitive Texas hinge on some combination of increased Democratic turnout in reaction to Trump, Republican non-voting, and Republican defections to Clinton making up partisan gaps in the two-party vote of over 950,000 in 2008 and more than 1.2 million votes in 2012. (And percentage-wise, a comparable gap in the two-party vote in 2014 when Gov. Abbott defeated Wendy Davis.) These would all be huge vote swings.

Despite these fundamentals, suggestions persist that Texas could well be "in play" if Trump is the GOP nominee. 

Setting aside for the moment that decreased GOP turnout would have to be on the magnitude of biblical proportions to make a competitive presidential election in Texas a reality, Clinton is not an outlier among Texas Democrats in her popularity. The legend of Bill & Hill in '72 notwithstanding, she's not even the most liked Democrat of recent vintage. In the February 2016 University of Texas/Texas Tribune Poll, 67 percent of Texas Democrats expressed a favorable view of Clinton. Thirty-two percent held a "very favorable" view, while 35 percent held a "somewhat favorable" view.

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Very favorable32%7%1%
Somewhat favorable35%11%3%
Neither favorable nor unfavorable15%18%4%
Somewhat unfavorable9%11%4%
Very unfavorable7%49%87%
Don't know/no opinion2%4%1%

This is certainly positive, but how does it compare? Greg Abbott was viewed favorably by 75 percent of Republicans in the November 2015 UT/TT poll, but he's a Republican in charge of a GOP controlled state, so maybe that's unfair. Let's instead look at Democrats: Barack Obama was viewed favorably by 75 percent of Texas Democrats in the June 2015 UT/TT poll, so 8 points better than Clinton – but he is the President. In 2014, Gubernatorial candidate Wendy Davis was viewed favorably by 69 percent of Texas Democrats, only 2 points higher than Clinton; but almost half of Texas Democrats held a "very favorable" impression of her, compared to the 32 percent who said the same of Clinton.

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Very favorable49%7%1%
Somewhat favorable20%11%4%
Neither favorable nor unfavorable10%22%9%
Somewhat unfavorable2%8%11%
Very unfavorable2%30%63%
Don't know/No Opinion16%23%10%

This is not to say that Clinton is not well liked by Texas Democrats. But she's not more liked by Texas Democrats than was failed gubernatorial candidate Wendy Davis, or the current President – both candidates who have lost by double digits in the last three elections in Texas. Neither the former secretary of state nor the former state senator were facing as polarizing a figure as Donald Trump. But as a handful of Texans have already discovered, Trump has a receptive audience much greater than what his detractors in the press, the Democratic party, and – especially – the Republican Party have been able to imagine. If he is in fact the Republican nominee, he will also be the standard bearer for a state GOP that is attaining a legendary status of its own for supporting candidates seemingly well outside the bounds of traditional politics. Even if the the legend of Hillary and the Texas Democrats lived up to the lore, it's unlikely to be enough to make many of the 1.2 million-plus disappointed Cruz supporters stand by as Hillary Clinton claims the presidency – let alone vote for her.