While a Democratic president has not won Texas since Jimmy Carter in 1976, recent public and private polls suggest that the race is competitive. This week, while FiveThirtyEight’s latest polling average has Trump ahead by 1.3 points, respected non-partisan online newsletter the Cook Political Report moved the state from “lean Republican” to “toss up”, fuelling speculation: could Texas really flip?
Here are a few reasons why Texas will be such a fascinating state to watch on election night:
The Electoral College: Texas is a massive state with a huge population, which means whoever wins it gets a whopping 38 electoral college votes – the second biggest haul after California, which has 55.
Put simply, if Biden gains Texas, he wins 14 per cent of the total 270 electoral votes needed to be president. As former El Paso congressman Beto O’Rourke recently wrote in The Washington Post: “Joe Biden can end the election on election night. All it takes is an investment in Texas.”
Changing demographics: Texas is becoming less white and more brown. In 2018, for every white person who arrived in Texas, nearly nine Latinos relocated to the state according to census figures.
Latinos are not monolithic, mind you: most have traditionally leaned left, but some are attracted to Trump’s tax cuts, his strongman persona, and his anti-socialist rhetoric. The Asian community, while a smaller proportion of the population, is also growing at a rapid pace, increasing by 49 per cent since 2010.
The ethnic composition of Texas is currently 41 per cent white, 40 per cent Latino, 13 per cent black and about 5 per cent Asian. A growing number of residents from the Democratic state of California have also moved to Texas in search of more affordable housing.
A FiveThirtyEight analysis of voting patterns in Texas also suggests more white college educated voters are shifting to the Democrats.
An energised electorate: One of the challenges in Texas has been getting people to vote, particularly from non-white communities. But the state has broken voting records this year: by the final day of early voting on Friday (US time) more than 9 million Texans had already cast their ballots, surpassing the state’s total turnout from the 2016.
Driving the turnout are youth voters, energised by issues such as climate change, race and affordable healthcare, according to Tufts University data. The same research also shows that the under-30s early vote has increased by more than 600 percent compared with the same time four years ago.
Biden’s big oil blunder: This could end up hurting the Democrats. In his final presidential debate, Biden suggested he would “transition” away from the oil industry if he was elected.
While he later sought to clarify his comments – insisting he would simply stop giving federal subsidies to the industry – the Trump campaign have seized on the comments to claim that Biden will destroy jobs and push up energy prices.
Biden’s broader desire to see more renewable energy is pertinent in Texas, where oil and gas have fuelled the state’s growth for generations. “Houston is the capital city, if you will, for Gulf of Mexico exploration and production,” GOP strategist Karl Rove told Fox News this week. “These policies will be devastating.”
Ground game and celebrities aplenty: The mobilisation effort to flip Texas has been notable, building on the army of volunteers Beto O’Rourke amassed in 2018 during his insurgent bid to oust Republican Ted Cruz from the US Senate.
O’Rourke narrowly lost, but his impressive campaign was enough to shake the GOP and buoy his party. Since then, Texas Democrats and affiliated groups have spent months phone banking, door-knocking (within COVID rules) and using the power of social media to register tens of thousands of new voters.
Seinfeld actress Julia Louis-Dreyfus, comedian Amy Schumer, Desperate Housewives star Eva Longoria and Hollywood actor John Cusack are among the many celebrities involved in the campaign to turn Texas blue.
COVID, COVID, COVID: When coronavirus deaths began ravaging the US earlier this year, Texas was one of the worst affected hotspots in America. The state, led by Governor Greg Abbott, a Trump ally, had set confusing lockdown rules, rushed to reopen the economy as early as May, and initially refused to mandate masks.
By the time The Age visited in August to talk to voters for the election, some counties had even started ordering refrigerated trucks to store dead bodies because the morgues were filling up.
While testing and tracing has improved since, there’s no doubt that the initial response to the virus will factor into the minds of many Texans at the ballot box this year.
With three days left in the presidential campaign, something is shifting in Texas. Whether the red state will finally turn blue is yet to be seen, but Democrats are daring to dream while Republicans are taking nothing for granted.
As Texan Senator Ted Cruz has been warning Trump for months: “This is a real race.”
Farrah Tomazin is a senior journalist covering the 2020 US presidential election.