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Monday, November 23, 2020

Howdy, Biden? Why Democrats are hoping for a miracle in Republican bastion Texas

Incidentally, it was Texas - the bastion of the Republican party for four decades - where Prime Minister Narendra Modi held his 'Howdy Modi!' rally in September 2019 and raised 'abki baar, Trump sarkar' slogan.

Written by Atikh Rashid , Edited by Explained Desk | Pune | Updated: November 4, 2020 9:34:48 am
Attendees wait for the arrival of Senator Kamala Harris, Democratic vice presidential nominee, during a get out the vote campaign event in Edinburg, Texas. ( Photographer: Sergio Flores/Bloomberg)

If a magical genie had granted him one wish, American political commentator Thomas Friedman said on Friday in a television interview, he would use it to make the Democratic Presidential candidate Joe Biden win Texas in the upcoming US elections. He said that a Democratic win in Texas, something that has not happened in over 40 years, would return America to healthy political discourse and will end the ‘cult of Trump’ that has taken over the Republican party.

But can this happen? Several Democratic leaders are conjecturing such an outcome which has also been summoned to the horizon of possibility by several pre-election polls, predicting a very tight fight in the southern state. Some have indeed shown Biden enjoying a lead – although razor-thin and within the error of polling margin.

This has led the Texas Democrats to demand that the Biden campaign puts in more money and efforts in the Lone Star State than the party has been putting in for several decades now. Democrats such as Beto O’Rourke have also requested Biden to campaign in Texas. Although he didn’t comply with the request, he sent his Vice Presidential pick Kamala Harris to hold three rallies in the state earlier this week.

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Coincidently, it is Texas where Prime Minister Narendra Modi had held his ‘Howdy Modi’ rally in September 2019 in President Donald Trump’s presence where the two leaders displayed great bonhomie and also attracted accusation that the mega-show was a proxy campaign event for Trump to help him woo Indian American voters.

Why is this a ‘historic moment’ in the presidential election in Texas?

From 1845 (when Texas joined the American union as its 28th state) until 1976, the state voted the Democratic party in a majority of the presidential election. But there was a major shift in 1980 when Republican candidate Ronald Reagan thwarted President Jimmy Carter’s re-election bid. Since then, Texas has voted Republican and became the bastion for the conservative party. In 2016, Trump beat his rival Hillary Clinton in the state by polling 52 per cent votes over the latter’s 43 per cent.

Texas, home to 39 million people, is the second-biggest state both in terms of population and area. It holds 38 votes in the electoral college, second only to California which has 55 electoral votes. A Republican party win can not be envisaged without it pocketing Texas.

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An attendee wears a “Biden Harris 2020” protective mask during a get out the vote campaign event with Democratic vice presidential nominee Kamala Harris in Edinburg, Texas. (Photographer: Sergio Flores/Bloomberg)

What are the Democrats counting on to win the Republican bastion?

First among the several factors that have kindled the democratic party’s hope is the demographic change in the state in the last one decade. As per data released by the US Census Bureau, in 2018 the state had 11.36 million Hispanic citizens as opposed to 11.91 million white citizens. The Hispanic population has seen a sharp rise, largely due to immigration, since 2010 when the Hispanic population in Texas was 9.46 million (white population in 2010 was 11.42 million). Although Hispanic voters are not known to be monolithic in party preference, they tend to favour democratic party over the GOP. Among others, the state is also home to 3.4 million black citizens and 1.4 million Asian Americans.

In the last two years, nearly 1.9 million new voters – mostly comprising young voters and Hispanic voters – have registered to vote in Texas and this group is largely seen as leaning towards liberal politics. Also, Trump’s hardline immigration policies and the project to construct the border wall hasn’t gone well with the Latino voters.

Although Texas is known for low election turnout (in 2016, 46.45 per cent voting age population and 59.39 per cent registered voters cast their votes), this election is seeing an unprecedented enthusiasm among voters, despite the pandemic and the state machinery making it difficult to cast early votes (by reducing the drop off boxes per county) or send in postal ballots. On Friday when the early voting ended, 9 million votes had been cast in the state, a number higher than the total turnout in 2016 (which stood at 8.9 million). The rise in the polling percentage, which is expected to surpass 60 per cent for the first time since the 1990s, is said to be largely driven by young voters who are said to be fired by the social churning caused by Black Lives Matter movement earlier this year. These voters are no Trump fans.

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Senator Kamala Harris, the Democratic vice presidential nominee, speaks during a get out the vote campaign event in Edinburg, Texas, U.S., on Friday, Oct. 30, 2020 (Photographer: Sergio Flores/Bloomberg)

In fact, in 2018 mid-term senate elections, an increased voter turnout helped Democratic candidate Beto O’Rourke to narrow down the margin against incumbent Republican Senator Ted Cruz to just 2.6 percentage points, compared to 16 per cent lead enjoyed by Cruz against the Democratic candidate in 2012.

Trump’s handling of the pandemic has also not gone down well with a considerable section of the population in the state where cases continue to rise and over 17,000 people have lost their lives. It also adversely affected the economy, shooting up the unemployment rate to 8.3 per cent in September. These issues are expected to work against Trump.

What do the US Election 2020 predict?

The polls gauging support for the candidates in the state have fluctuated considerably in recent weeks. While in September most showed Trump polling ahead than Biden by about two points, in the fourth week of October the margin narrowed and two polls (done namely by Dallas Morning News and University of Texas at Tyler) showed Biden enjoying a slight lead. The recent polls show Trump surging but the margin remains in the error zone. 📣 Express Explained is now on Telegram

An attendee listens as Senator Kamala Harris, Democratic vice presidential nominee, speaks during a get out the vote campaign event in Edinburg, Texas (Photographer: Sergio Flores/Bloomberg)

A poll of polls compiled by CNN shows Trump leading the state with a thin margin of 2 percentage points by scoring 48 per cent over Biden who stands at 46 per cent.

Among polling agencies, Umass Lowell’s latest poll showed Trump at 48 per cent and Biden at 47 per cent, New York Times/Siena poll showed Trump ahead by four percentage points at 47 per cent while Biden lagged at 43 per cent, Quinnipiac University’s latest poll tied both the candidates at 47 per cent each, University of Texas/Texas Tribune poll showed Trump at 50 per cent with Biden lagging by five percentage points at 45 per cent.

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