Why Beto O’Rourke Won’t Beat Ted Cruz in Texas 

Print Share on LinkedIn Comments More
(From left) Democratic nominee for U.S. Senate Beto O'Rourke and Republican nominee for U.S. Senate Ted Cruz.

Bonnie Arbittier / Rivard Report

(From left) Democratic nominee for U.S. Senate Beto O'Rourke and Republican nominee for U.S. Senate Ted Cruz.

With Election Day now only a few weeks away, the race between incumbent Republican Texas Sen. Ted Cruz and U.S. Rep. Beto O’Rourke has attracted national and international attention.

For Cruz, a star in national conservative politics, losing to O’Rourke would be a particularly bitter pill. Cruz rose to prominence during the heyday of the Tea Party, and was almost the last man standing against Donald Trump in the 2016 Republican presidential primary. He’s being challenged by a magnetic candidate embraced by both Texas and national Democrats – and, it’s fair to say, an adoring press.

So can O’Rourke defeat Cruz?

We’ve conducted public opinion polls throughout Cruz’s electoral career as principals in the most frequent statewide political poll in Texas, the University of Texas/Texas Tribune Poll, and we’ve worked closely with statewide election data. Even if O’Rourke manages to increase Democratic turnout beyond reasonable expectations, it is very unlikely he can overcome the structural obstacles he faces in Cruz’s existing advantages.

O’Rourke’s challenge, by the numbers

One poll in the late summer found that 15 percent of likely Republican voters said they’ll cast a vote for O’Rourke. Other polls have found the size of the pool of potential Republican defectors closer to 6 percent. We believe the 15 percent figure is likely an outlier, especially considering there’s little evidence that GOP voters in Texas have soured on Trump. The estimate of 6 percent is more consistent with the current level of partisan polarization in Texas and the rest of the country.

We can use these poll results to estimate potential 2018 vote shares based on turnout data from recent midterm elections.

The average number of Republican votes in gubernatorial and midterm Senate races in 2010 and 2014 has been about 2.8 million, according to records kept by the Texas Secretary of State. The average Democratic vote total in those races has been approximately 1.9 million. In other words, historical results suggest approximately 900,000 more Republican voters than Democratic voters in the average midterm election.

A hypothetical defection of 6 percent of Republican votes to O’Rourke subtracts about 168,000 votes from the average GOP vote total.

Even if we were to assume that all of these Republican voters fled to O’Rourke – as opposed to just staying home – that would leave Cruz ahead by approximately 564,000 votes. Could Democrats increase turnout enough to close that gap?

It would be an uphill battle, with hopes of victory resting on mobilizing groups with historically low turnout levels in midterm elections, such as young voters and Democratic-leaning Latinos. Exit polls for recent elections illustrate just how difficult this has been in recent history. Latinos, for example, made up only 17 percent of the electorate in 2014. In that year, nearly half of Latino voters backed the Republican candidate, and the Democrat lost by 20 percentage points.

But let’s imagine that O’Rourke manages to mobilize an additional 20 percent to the baseline Democratic vote – an optimistic estimate for O’Rourke. That would add another 380,000 votes to the Democrat’s total – still short of Cruz’s projected vote total by 184,000 votes.

Those numbers predict a closer race than usual – but one that Cruz still ends up winning.

Can Ted Cruz stay the course?

The task before Cruz is both simpler and easier to achieve.

Cruz needs to sustain historical levels of GOP turnout in order to absorb a potential uptick in Democratic turnout. This requires recognizing and combating both the possibilities of GOP defections to O’Rourke and of GOP voters declining to show up.

The recent salvo of Cruz ads and social media, as well as Cruz’s approach in the candidates’ first debate, have negatively portrayed O’Rourke’s progressive policy positions on issues like border security and racial justice as dangerously outside the mainstream. In their first debate, when a moderator asked the candidates to say something positive about each other, Cruz used the opportunity to praise O’Rourke for being passionate, energetic, and sincere in his beliefs – while asserting that those beliefs were “socialism,” complete with a Bernie Sanders name check. Cruz’s critics attacked him for red-baiting, but the message was no doubt received loud and clear by Republicans watching the debate or reading the media coverage the following day.

While this may make Cruz seem like “a jerk,” to some, this approach is designed to mobilize the voters he needs to get re-elected. Expect to see a lot more of the same through Nov. 6.

Democrats and credulous reporters talk of blue waves – that is, a significant uptick in Democratic turnout. They see destiny in demographics, believing that the increase in the Latino share of the Texas population ensures a Democratic resurgence. However, we predict Cruz and other GOP incumbents will likely survive one more election cycle in Texas. If there is a whiff of desperation to Cruz’s strategy, it may be an indicator that the comfortable margins of victory assumed by Republicans for the last decade are eroding, albeit much more slowly, and less decisively, than Democrats hope.The Conversation


Joshua Blank, manager of polling, research, and online resources at the University of Texas at Austin, contributed to this report. 

18 thoughts on “Why Beto O’Rourke Won’t Beat Ted Cruz in Texas 

  1. If Robert “Aka Beto” is true to his word, and he has all of these votes, he should distribute half of them to Cruz.

    Then Beto, Bernie and Ted would all be happy !!

    • Uh, Asvestas Gregory, what are you talking about? Your comment makes no sense. “distribute half” of his votes to Raphael aka Ted Cruz?????? Wha????

      • Do you not get the obvious voting re-distribution tactics that must be applied to create fair outcomes? After all we must all be on the same playing field AND score the same number of goals.


  2. Of course Cruz will win if Democrats, Independents, “fence-sitters” and apathetic citizens in general stay home on election day – as per the usual midterm benchmark. Satisfied with the status quo? Great, then stay home on November 6 and watch Fox News. The rest of us have work to do – EARLY VOTE STARTING OCTOBER 22nd FOR BETO O’ ROURKE!

  3. Oh yee of little faith! As a native Texan who is a non-partisan moderate I have held my nose and faithfully voted my entire life. I will breathe in deeply had freely when I cast my almost entire ballot for Democrats this election. NOT because I think better of them, I am STILL appalled by the nasty behaviour of both parties, but because we need to CHANGE the political environment. Like
    Wille’s sang: “Vote em OUT”! If I don’t like how they behave, I can do it again. PLEASE VOTE!!!

  4. Does anyone remember that Cruz CLOSED the federal government in 2013? According to a Washington Post/ABC News poll conducted several months following the shutdown, 81% of Americans disapproved of the shutdown, 86% felt it had damaged the United States’ image in the world, and 53% held Republicans in Congress accountable for the shutdown.
    And does anyone remember that in 2016 Candidate Donald Trump repeatedly referred to Cruz as “Lyin’ Ted” and tweeted that Cruz had done “nothing” for Texas?
    As for low voter turn out for young people and Hispanic Texans, do you CARE what happens to your children 10 years from now? Texas Republicans are hell-bent on dismantling public education and dream of fully subsidizing private education.
    Are any of your parents on Social Security or Medicare? Republicans DREAM of dismantling those “entitlement” programs.
    And you say you are too busy to vote? Too busy doing WHAT exactly?
    Round up a bunch of your friends on an early voting night (starting Oct. 22), head off to ANY open poll site (doesn’t have to be in your precinct — early vote ANYWHERE in SA), then go buy each other drinks afterwards for doing the right thing.
    Nonvoters disgust me. I’ve heard all the excuses and none of them are plausible. Just get yourself to an early-voting site, before your rights are gerrymandered away.

  5. The current ORourke TV ad sounds to me that he is trying to distance himself from the democractic label. Interesting!

  6. I think this is a very reasonable analysis. However, if you look at the historical voter turnout rate in the mid-terms versus the Presidential cycles – even in the Presidential cycles the turn out is still low in Texas. It is even lower in the mid-terms.
    2014 Mid-term Cornyn / Alameel vote totals
    24.99% Voter turnout
    REP 2,861,531 61.56%
    DEM 1,597,387 34.36%

    2016 Presidential Trump / Clinton
    46.45% Voter turnout
    REP 4,685,047 52.23%
    DEM 3,877,868 43.24%

    If Dems turn out like something approaching a Presidential election and Republicans continue to vote like a mid-term then then the election would not even be close. The victory would be overwhelming in favor of Beto. Over a million new voters have registered in Texas since 2016. It is reasonable to look at past history as an indicator of the future but it is not determined yet. Voters have the power to turn out and elect Beto over Cruz.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *