First look: Bernie Sanders ahead of Joe Biden in Texas, new poll shows

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AUSTIN, Texas (KXAN) — A new poll of Texans over the weekend shows Sen. Bernie Sanders with increasingly likely odds to capture the most Democratic votes in Texas during the March 3 primary election.

According to a Nexstar/Emerson College poll, 30.8 percent of respondents said they will/ did vote for Sanders and 25.9 percent said that they will/ did vote for former Vice President Joe Biden. This brand new poll offers insight into the Texas Democratic primary voters following Biden’s victory in the South Carolina primary this weekend and after early voting in Texas ended Friday evening.

Former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg at 16.2 percent and Sen. Elizabeth Warren at 13.8 percent finished third and fourth and appear to be the only other two candidates who might secure delegates. If candidates don’t hit a 15 percent threshold either statewide or at a congressional district level, they can’t qualify for any national convention delegates.

The results of the Nexstar/ Emerson College poll of Texas voters on Democratic presidential primary candidates. KXAN Graphic.

March 3 is Super Tuesday, the day on which 14 states including Texas will carry out their primary elections. Super Tuesday will also be the first time Bloomberg’s name appears on the ballot.

Mayor Pete Buttigieg, who announced Sunday he is suspending his campaign, received 4.5 percent of the support in this poll. Experts say Biden may benefit most from that. As for the rest of the candidates, Sen. Amy Klobuchar received 4.1 percent, Rep. Tulsi Gabbard got 3.1 percent and businessman Tom Steyer, who dropped out of the race Saturday, received 1.6 percent.

The results of the Nexstar/ Emerson College poll of Texas voters on Democratic presidential primary candidates. KXAN Graphic.

The respondents in this poll are 450 Texans across the state who were surveyed between Saturday and Sunday. Emerson College said the margin of error is +/-4.6 percent. The poll surveyed Texans about presidential and senatorial candidates as well as other public policy issues. Of those surveyed, 73.9 percent identified as Democrats, 3.3 percent identified as Republicans, and 22.8 percent identified as Independent/other.

These results are also being released as candidates try to court Texas voters. Last week, Warren held a rally in San Antonio and Bloomberg held a rally in Houston. Sanders held a rally in Austin a week ago. Gabbard is scheduled to hold a town hall in Austin Monday.

These results align with other recent polling in Texas. A Dallas Morning News- UT Tyler poll conducted between Feb. 17-26 showed that Sanders at 29 percent had moved into the lead in the Texas Democratic presidential race, followed by Bloomberg at 21 percent and Biden at 19 percent. An NBC/Marist poll gathered results from Feb. 23-27 also showed Sanders garnering the most support in Texas at 34 percent of likely Democratic primary voters, with Biden receiving 19 percent, Bloomberg receiving 15 percent, and Warren receiving 10 percent.

Sanders’ surge in Texas

Back in the 2016 Democratic primary, Sanders got 33 percent of the vote in Texas whereas Hilary Clinton got 65% of the vote.

“What was most interesting [to me] is watching Bernie Sanders competing in a state that he lost by 30 points just four years ago,” said Spencer Kimball, an assistant professor at Emerson College who helped carry out this poll. “I’m not sure if [Sanders is] going to win the state, but he’s leading in the poll. And if he doesn’t win it, it’s certainly going to be very close.”

“And that’s a big dramatic shift from where the party was on when Clinton ran against him,” Kimball continued.

Of the people surveyed for this Nexstar/ Emerson College poll, 52.3 percent said that during the Democratic primary in 2016 they voted for Hilary Clinton and 22.8 percent said they voted for Bernie Sanders.

A crosstabulation of respondents to the Nexstar/Emerson College poll showing the cross-section of who Texans voted for in the 2016 Democratic primary compared to who they intend to vote for in the 2020 Democratic Primary. (Image Courtesy Nexstar/ Emerson College data set).

Can a Democrat win in Texas?

The results of the Nexstar/ Emerson College poll showed 46.5 percent of respondents believe a Democrat can win Texas in the 2020 presidential election, while 30.5 percent do not believe a Democrat can win Texas, and 23 percent are unsure.

Sanders expressed confidence he will win the most votes in Texas in November, but it has been four decades since a Democrat won the presidential vote in Texas.

Kimball said these new polling numbers show there is still some hesitation among Texas Democrats in believing a Democrat can win the Lone Star State this year. But, he noted, these numbers show that many Texas Democrats have hope.

“I think a lot of people look back at that Beto O’Rourke-Ted Cruz [Senate] race and think if things were just a little bit different, that could have been a major upset,” Kimball said. “We’ll have to see in real-time if that happens in 2020.”

In this poll, a majority of those surveyed, 68.6 percent think that President Donald Trump will not be elected to a second term in office, while 31.4 percent said they do believe he’ll be re-elected.

Health care matters to Texas voters

Of all the issues the respondents to this poll said would shape their vote for president, health care rose to the top — 31.8 percent of those surveyed said health care is the single most important issue in deciding for whom to vote for president, while 16.8 percent said social issues, 15.7 percent said the economy, 7.7 percent said the environment, 7 percent said impeachment, 6.7 percent said immigration, 5.6 percent said education, 4.9 percent said foreign policy and terrorism, and 3.9 percent said gun control.

The results of the Nexstar/ Emerson College poll of Texas voters on the issue that is most important to them in determining a presidential candidate in the Democratic primary. KXAN Graphic.

Could voters change their minds?

Many respondents in this poll indicated that who they are supporting in the Democratic primary has been fluid: 5.2 percent of those surveyed said they decided who to vote for “just today,” 6.6 percent decided “in the last three days,” 16.2 percent decided “sometime in the last week,” 30.3 percent said they decided “in the last month,” and 41.6 percent said they decided more than one month ago.

More than a third of those surveyed — 35.7 percent — said they could change their mind about who to vote for once they actually get around to casting a ballot.

Kimball said he saw similar behavior with voters swinging between candidates in Iowa and Nevada.

“And that type of swing directly impacts the results of the election,” he noted.

Kimball said this poll’s results show that around 90 percent of voters have made up their minds on who to vote for, but one out of every ten people surveyed said they will decide on election day who to vote for.

“And that’s where we can start to see some differences from what the polling is showing,” he added.

About this poll

Emerson College carried out this poll among primary voters all over the state of Texas, taking the 36 congressional districts in the state and dividing them up into five regions. This poll was carried out both over the phone and online.

A chart showing the geographic regions in Texas surveyed as part of the Nexstar Texas/ Emerson College poll. (Image Courtesy Nexstar/ Emerson College data set).

Because these results have a margin of error of +/- 4.6 percent, Kimball notes, “keep in mind that there’s a margin of error and that come election night, those scores are going to fluctuate somewhere around that 4.6 percent for each candidate.”

Of those surveyed, 56.2 percent identified as women and 43.8 percent identified as men. Those surveyed all seem to be likely participants in the primary election, with 74.7 percent saying they are “very likely” to vote in the Democratic Primary and 25.3 percent saying they voted early or absentee.

Also, 43.2 percent surveyed identify as White or Caucasian, 30.6 percent identify as Hispanic or Latino, 19.2 percent identify as African American, 3 percent identify as Asian, and 3.9 percent identify as “other.” When it comes to the ages of the respondents, 20.2 percent were between the ages of 18 and 29, 31.8 percent were between 30 and 49, 28.6 percent were between 50 and 64, and 19.4 percent were 65 years old or older.

Of those surveyed, 13 percent said the highest level of education they achieved was high school or less and 45.4 percent of those surveyed said their annual household income is less than $50,000 per year.

In addition to their views on the Democratic presidential primary race, respondents were also asked about the Texas Senate race, marijuana policy, Coronavirus, border security, and hydraulic fracturing.

Poll collaborations with Emerson College and Nexstar have also been carried out this year in Nevada, South Carolina, and California.

If you have not voted yet in Texas, go to this website for more information about what is on the ballot and where local polling places are.

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