Texas has been a weird state in the 2020 primary race. Until he suspended his campaign in early November, Beto O’Rourke held a virtual lock on between 12 and 20 percent of the state’s Democratic voters, even as his polling nationally hovered around a point or two. When he left the race, the early polling suggested that his supporters had gravitated to Joe Biden—who, in the last statewide poll of Texas in mid-December, held a twenty-point lead in the state.
That was then, though. According to the latest poll from Texas Lyceum, the state of the race in Texas much more closely mirrors the state of the race nationally—with Joe Biden holding an extremely narrow lead over Bernie Sanders, and Elizabeth Warren trailing the two white male septuagenarians (and with a third, Mike Bloomberg, on her heels). The organization finds Biden at 28 percent, Sanders at 26 percent, Warren at 13 percent, and Bloomberg at 9 percent. (Pete Buttigieg, Amy Klobuchar, Tom Steyer, and Tulsi Gabbard all poll between 2 and 6 percent.)
The close dynamic in Texas reflects a few things—one is that most candidates have not begun to focus on the state (Bloomberg, who’s been advertising steadily, and plans to have 150 field organizers working out of 17 offices around Texas, is an exception), which makes the fact that the Texas poll is fairly similar to the national polling average a common sense proposition. Texas, after all, is fairly representative of the nation at large (which, by the way, is why we should hold the nation’s first primary), so there’s no real reason why, absent a locally popular candidate like O’Rourke or someone who’s focused special attention on the state, we’d be an outlier.
But it also reveals something about the makeup of Texas Democrats that has not always seemed like a guarantee: despite Texas’s conservative reputation, Democrats here don’t appear to be any more prone to a moderate like Biden or averse to a self-described democratic socialist like Sanders. The two-point difference between Biden and Sanders falls fully within the margin of error in the Lyceum poll, and suggests that any Texas firewall the Biden campaign may be banking on for Super Tuesday is an uncertain proposition.
The dynamic in the 2020 primary—as an ideological battle between progressives like Sanders, Warren, and former San Antonio mayor Julián Castro (who ended his campaign early this month, endorsing Warren) against centrist candidates like Biden, Bloomberg, Buttigieg, and Klobuchar—is well-established.
The conventional wisdom has also held that an ideologically left-wing candidate like Sanders would not fare as well as a more moderate Democrat. The Lyceum poll suggests that’s not the case. In a matchup against Trump, Sanders polls the highest in Texas, with 47 percent of the vote compared to Trump’s 50 percent. Biden trails Trump, 51-46, followed by Warren (50-43), and Buttigieg (51-43).
Perhaps the biggest takeaway from the Lyceum poll, coming one week before the Iowa caucus, is that any nationally competitive Democrat on Super Tuesday is probably going to be competitive in Texas, too. That hasn’t always been the case. In the heated 2016 primary race, Sanders won four Super Tuesday states—but in Texas, got thumped by Hillary Clinton by more than thirty points.
With just over a month until Texas votes, there’s still a lot of time for the specifics of the 2020 campaign to change, of course. Maybe Warren or Bloomberg rises, or maybe Sanders or Biden comes out of the early states with runaway momentum. But whatever happens, the latest polling of the state suggests that Texas Democrats are more likely to reflect the trends happening nationally than they are to buck them.