Campaigns have a lot of data about voters. It isn’t making Texas any easier to predict

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AUSTIN (KXAN) — By now, many Texans have received a similar text message from out-of-state family or friends: What’s going to happen in Texas?

More than 9 million Texans have voted early or by mail, a record total vote even before the end of the final day of early voting on Friday and Election Day on Nov. 3. While political strategists and campaigns have large amounts of data on how voters might act, predicting what will happen in Texas is as difficult as ever.

Nearly 2 million new voters have been registered in Texas since 2016, and since the state doesn’t register by party affiliation, charting their next steps is tricky, according to Brandon Rottinghaus, a political science professor at the University of Houston.

“(Texas) is shifting so much,” Rottinghaus said. “The suburbs are changing in ways we haven’t seen for 30 years. Urban Texas is booming, and there are so many voters that are coming from all over that may support a Democratic ticket, but they may not support the Texas Democratic ticket.”

Months of polls have shown President Donald Trump and Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden neck-and-neck in Texas. The state hasn’t elected a Democrat for president since Jimmy Carter in 1976.

Publicly available data from the Texas Secretary of State’s Office allows political strategists to model voter habits based on primary and general election voting history. Paired with consumer data, like store loyalty cards, these data help strategists rank voters based on their presumed party affiliation and help campaigns efficiently target winnable voters.

Derek Ryan, a Republican voter data strategist in Austin, has been tracking early voting turnout since the extended period began on Oct. 13. Based on information from the state, he said around 17% of voters who have cast a ballot so far haven’t voted before in any primary or general elections.

“I think it is dangerous to say that this higher turnout is going to help President Trump or it’s going to help Joe Biden; it’s difficult to say,” Ryan told KXAN.

It’s also unclear what impact the elimination of straight-ticket voting, which in previous elections allowed voters to pick an entire party with one selection, will have on the final results.

Polls that have shown Biden ahead or tied with Trump have also shown Republican Sen. John Cornyn leading the Democratic nominee for U.S. Senate, MJ Hegar, suggesting a significant portion of the electorate could vote a split ballot.

Target Smart serves progressive campaigns with demographic analysis and voter history. It’s founder, Tom Bonier, said demographic changes in Texas have made it even harder to predict what will happen on Election Day.

“When we look at the surges in turnout, these are among groups that tend to favor Democrats,” Bonier said. “But to look at that and say that we know what is going to happen on Election Day would certainly be irresponsible.”

Early voting continues through Friday, Oct. 30 in Texas. Election Day is Nov. 3.

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