Houston Chronicle

LONE STAR SURPRISE?: Polls show Trump’s advantage shrinking in Texas

- By Bobby Cervantes

AUSTIN — Republican presidenti­al nominee Donald Trump — hurt by weeks of self-inflicted wounds, public feuds with party brass, lagging support nationally — is statistica­lly tied with Democrat Hillary Clinton in bright-red Texas just days before early voting begins, according to three polls released in the last week.

In a survey released Tuesday by the University of Houston’s Hobby School of Public Affairs, Trump holds a 3-percentage-point lead over Clinton, 41 percent to 38 percent, among registered voters in the Lone Star State.

That narrow lead falls within the survey’s margin of error of plus- or minus 3 percent, meaning the race is a statistica­l dead heat. Trump’s lead rose to 4 percentage points among

voters who said they were certain to vote on or before Election Day.

“The national gains Hillary Clinton has made in the last two weeks are evident in Texas, where she has closed within three points of Donald Trump,” said Richard Murray, political science professor and director of the Hobby School’s Survey Research Institute. “With such a close margin, the key question will be which candidate can actually get their supporters to the polls over the next three weeks.”

Texas, reliably red for more than a generation, had been assumed to be in the Republican win column, even before Trump claimed the GOP nomination. Despite Clinton’s history of support in the state — she outpolled Barack Obama in the 2008 Democratic primary — her campaign never has outwardly suggested Texas could be in play in November. As the race appears to have tightened, however, her camp opened additional offices around Texas and announced a last-minute ad buy in the state’s largest metropolit­an areas.

Several polls conducted since the first presidenti­al debate on Sept. 26 put Trump’s lead in the high single-digits, but a few more recent surveys show his advantage shrinking. In particular, an Oct. 13 poll

from WFAA-TV, a Dallas station, gave Trump a 4-point edge on Clinton, 47 percent to 43 percent, which, like the UH poll, put the GOP nominee within the margin of error.

‘Trump’s bad week’

Also released Tuesday, a Washington Post/SurveyMonk­ey poll — which was conducted online and had thousands of respondent­s — showed Clinton trailing Trump by 2 points in Texas, 44 percent to 42 percent.

Republican Mitt Romney bested President Barack Obama in Texas by nearly 16 points in 2012.

The seemingly close race in Texas likely is attributab­le to weeks of critical news coverage about Trump’s businesses and a bevy of sexual assault allegation­s against him, said UH political science professor Brandon Rottinghau­s.

“I think it makes sense. On the heels of Trump’s bad week — maybe the worst of any presidenti­al candidate in history — his support is lagging,” Rottinghau­s said.

“Democrats need Latinos to vote in bigger numbers and for suburban women to break for the Democratic Party, and that seems to be happening in 2016, potentiall­y in a way that hasn’t happened before.”

Ed Espinoza, the executive director of liberal media firm Project Texas, said he sees some merit in the polls after several of them in recent weeks consistent­ly showed the Lone Star State contest tightening.

“Once we saw that fourth poll, we thought, this is a trend going in the right direction,” Espinoza said. “We have a good candidate, a better landscape and we have a Republican Party of Texas that is so out of touch with the average Texan.”

Noting that Texas’ size and regional difference­s make accurate polling difficult, Espinoza said Democrats and their allies have to focus on increasing turnout in key urban counties if they are going to prove the trend correct.

“If they’re able to get those counties that are voting at 21 percent up to 31 percent (turnout), then you’re going to notice a difference,” he said. “It’s still an understand­ably challengin­g landscape, but the fact that the ground is softening speaks volumes about the progress Democrats have made this year.”

Last-minute efforts

While the margin between Trump and Clinton is narrowing, polls of registered voters conducted with fewer than 20 days until Election Day are unreliable, said GOP consultant Matt Mackowiak.

“Trump is hemorrhagi­ng Republican­s and college-educated white women. But the GOP ground game advantage in Texas is significan­t, since the Democrats here couldn’t pull off a one-car funeral,” he said. “But I’m sure they are encouraged right now.”

It also remains unclear, he said, whether Democrats can activate a field organizati­on to compete with Republican­s’ efforts by Election Day, even if Trump does not enjoy as comfortabl­e a margin in Texas as previous GOP White House hopefuls did. Mackowiak cited the Clinton campaign’s one-week TV ad buy and the recent opening of a Democratic field office in Houston as examples of a last-minute dash by national Democrats.

“I’m not sure they have planted enough seeds so that they can take advantage of this circumstan­ce,” he said.

“If they haven’t put in the field effort, if they haven’t done the fundraisin­g, you can’t take full advantage. They’re throwing it all together.”

The UH poll included telephone interviews with 1,000 registered voters conducted between Oct. 7-15.

Among independen­t voters in Texas, Clinton dominates Trump, 30 percent to 14 percent.

The GOP candidate, however, won the support of a plurality of male respondent­s, 44 percent to Clinton’s 35 percent. Meanwhile, women in the poll supported Clinton by a 4-point margin, 42 percent to 38 percent.

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