AUSTIN — Republican Gov. Greg Abbott is running 11 percentage points ahead of Democrat Beto O’Rourke in this year’s race for Texas governor, according to a Dallas Morning News-University of Texas at Tyler poll released Sunday.
Buoyed by 2-to-1 support among whites and a growing number of voters who identify as Republican, Abbott leads O’Rourke in a hypothetical matchup, 47%-36%. He even holds a narrow lead over O’Rourke among Hispanics, 40%-39%.
Registered voters are not in a great mood about Texas’ current direction: 50% say things are on the wrong track, compared with 49% who say the state is headed in the right direction.
Still, Abbott dodges much of the blame. His job rating has held at a respectable net approval, 50%-45%. While he’s still underwater with independent voters, with only 37% of them approving of how he’s performing, he draws unfavorable views from just 38% of all voters.
President Joe Biden is viewed unfavorably by 57% of Texans. That may be one factor weighing down O’Rourke, who in November was only six percentage points behind the incumbent. Abbott also has been linking the former El Paso congressman and presidential candidate to Biden, saying in ads that O’Rourke is too liberal and untrustworthy to lead Texas.
The poll, conducted Jan. 18-25, surveyed 1,082 adults who are registered voters and has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.5 percentage points.
Abbott increased his lead over O’Rourke, which in November stood at just 45%-39%, with modest, “single-digit shifts” among various constituencies, said UT-Tyler political scientist Mark Owens, the poll’s director.
“It’s not the absence of McConaughey,” he said, referring to Hollywood actor Matthew McConaughey, who flirted for more than a year with the idea of running for governor but ultimately decided against doing so. In a head-to-head showdown between Abbott and O’Rourke, voters of each major party still favor their party’s frontrunner by roughly 8-to-1 margins, Owens said.
O’Rourke has accused Abbott of endangering Texans when he overrode local officials’ public health orders during the COVID-19 pandemic and failing to bolster the electricity grid by ensuring that natural gas companies as well as power generators weatherize facilities. However, while the well-funded Abbott has been running TV and radio ads touting his achievements, O’Rourke is still raising the funds needed for a sustained statewide ad blitz.
Owens cited another factor helping Abbott.
“Without the Legislature in session, Governor Abbott is back to his position as the focal point of Texas politics and calls from Republicans to have a fourth special session have largely subsided,” he said.
One further finding by the poll buttresses Republican optimism going into the 2022 midterm elections: By 54%-44%, voters favor a generic GOP candidate for the Texas House over a Democrat. Two years ago, by 51%-49%, all voters favored a generic Democratic candidate for state representative, including 59% of independents. Now, independents break for the Republican Texas House candidate, 54%-39%.
In a second hot statewide race, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton’s support among fellow Republicans is well below what he needs to avoid a runoff primary. Just 33% of likely primary voters say they’d endorse Paxton for a third term, meaning he’d have to snare at least half of the 33% who are undecided to win renomination outright after the initial primary election on March 1. George P. Bush is running second, with 19%, and U.S. Rep. Louie Gohmert third, with 8%.
Abortion, grid, border
On issues, as the likelihood increases that the U.S. Supreme Court may overturn Roe vs. Wade this year, Texas voters say by 53% to 45% that the court should not topple its landmark decision in 1973 that granted women the right to an abortion during the first trimester of a pregnancy.
Among women voters, the sentiment was more pronounced: 58% said justices should not overturn Roe vs. Wade.
A plurality of all voters wanting abortion rights voided favor banning the procedure after six weeks of a pregnancy, as Texas currently is doing, versus after 15 weeks, as a Mississippi law being appealed to the Supreme Court prescribes. Of voters who want the court to reverse itself on abortion, 39% prefer a six-week ban; 23% favor outlawing abortions after 15 weeks; and 36% say they’re not sure.
Josh Johnson, 36, of Irving said he favors overturning Roe and supports Texas’ six-week ban. Lawmakers probably, though, should amend the Texas law to allow abortions in cases of incest and rape, he said.
“Those are pretty rare,” said Johnson, a father of two and a graduate student at the University of Dallas. “Having more restrictions on abortion is something I would support. I was adopted as a child. It’s an issue … that I take seriously.”
Still, “I do get a little bit frustrated with Republicans,” Johnson said. “I would love to see more [government] programs that help support individuals who want to keep a child and make it more affordable and accessible for that person to make that decision.”
On other hot topics, while 46% of all registered voters say they’re confident the state’s electricity grid is prepared to avoid blackouts this winter, 47% say they aren’t. And by a plurality of 42%-37%, they believe state officials are most responsible for a successful grid, compared with energy companies.
Enforcing regulations to stop the spread of coronavirus and strengthening the grid should be higher public policy priorities for Texas than securing the Texas-Mexico border, according to narrow majorities of all voters.
Reducing COVID-19 infections ranks higher than border security, 52%-42%. And bolstering the energy grid ranks higher than border security, 50%-41%, the poll found. While large majorities of Republicans disagreed, more than three-quarters of Democrats, but also majorities of independents, gave border security a lesser ranking as a priority than the pandemic and avoiding a repetition of last February’s deadly storm and utility outages.
On COVID-19, 42% would be more likely to support reelection of school board members who temporarily halted in-person learning during spikes of infections. 33% would either be less likely to back such trustees or absolutely wouldn’t support them.
On wearing of masks at public schools, 25% of voters favor no mandates, 28% would allow school districts to decide and 41% say masks should be required in all K-12 classrooms.
For the general population on the coronavirus, 57% of voters support local governments’ requirements that masks be worn in most public places and 35% oppose. Support for vaccine requirements or weekly tests for employees who won’t get the jab, though, wasn’t quite as strong: 51% support such demands by employers, while 39% oppose.
By 45%-22%, Texans are more likely to support an elected official who backed a mask mandate during the pandemic than they are less likely.
On the recent migrant surge, 54% of voters say they support use of state funds to deploy National Guard and Department of Public Safety officers to patrol the Texas-Mexico border, as Abbott ordered last March. 33% oppose.
Among the critics of Abbott’s Operation Lone Star is poll respondent Denise Rodriguez of Houston.
“It’s a waste of money, a waste of the troops’ time,” she said of the governor’s deployment of thousands of National Guard soldiers at the border.
“I’ve seen that some of them have even committed suicide, that they’re not getting paid or having trouble getting paid,” said Rodriguez, 56, a disabled auto parts store saleswoman who said she’ll vote for O’Rourke.
A plurality of voters (48%) agree that a wall along the border is necessary for a safe border, while 37% disagree. However, 52% of voters believe the state’s commitment to extend a border wall at a cost of $20 million per mile is either a waste or involves money that would be better spent on technology. Another 36% say the pledge by Abbott and state lawmakers to extend the border wall is reasonable.
By 51%-28%, Texans support granting permanent legal status to immigrants who entered the country without authorization when they were children.
Ahead of the March 1 GOP primary, the poll showed Abbott in position to win renomination to a third term without a runoff.
Republicans support Abbott at a 59% clip, compared with 6% for former state GOP Chairman Allen West, 4% each for former Dallas state Sen. Don Huffines and Parker County conservative activist Rick Perry (not the former governor) and 2% for Blaze TV host Chad Prather. Three others drew support from 1% or 2% of Republicans, and 21% of such voters were unsure whom they support.
Asked what attribute makes them like their GOP pick for governor over the other candidates, Abbott’s supporters most frequently cite his experience. The backers of West, a former Army lieutenant colonel, most often mention his service. Huffines, who’s the only Abbott opponent who’s done much advertising, is equally admired as conservative, a contrast to the incumbent and someone who’s pledged to phase out local property taxes.
Some Republican respondents confused Perry, whose actual name is Ricky Lynn Perry, with James Richard “Rick” Perry, who served 14 years as governor and as U.S. energy secretary under former President Donald Trump. They touted the other Rick Perry’s experience and likeability.
“I haven’t known him to do negative in his other terms,” retired Gilmer doctor’s office assistant Janice McCormick told the UT-Tyler Center for Opinion Research. When told Friday that Perry the former governor isn’t running, McCormick said:
“I’m definitely confused, yes, because I would definitely just keep our governor that we have. Gov. Abbott has been good to the Texas people.”
McCormick, 63, praised Abbott as “the one who wants to do more with keeping the [border] wall and the immigration under control.”
On the Democratic side, O’Rourke is supported by 58%; Beaumont pastor and community activist Michael Cooper, by 6%; and former Austin public radio journalist Joy Diaz, by 4%. Five other candidates garnered 2% or less, and 27% of Democratic voters were not sure.
Among voters of all stripes, 36% view O’Rourke favorably and 45% see him in unfavorable light.
Despite his mounting legal troubles, Paxton gets a 62% job approval rating from Republican voters. Overall, 42% of voters approve of how Paxton handles his job as the state’s top lawyer, while 39% disapprove. 35% are unsure if he has the integrity to serve as attorney general, 32% agree that he does and 33% say he doesn’t.
In the GOP primary, Paxton is supported by 33%; Bush, the current land commissioner, by 19%; Gohmert, a 17-year U.S. House member from Tyler, by 8%; and former Texas Supreme Court Justice Eva Guzman, by 7%.
Among Democrats, former ACLU attorney Rochelle Garza of Brownsville and former Galveston Mayor Joe Jaworski are tied for the lead, with 11%. Trailing are former Harris County Criminal Court at Law Judge Mike Fields (7%) and North Texas civil rights lawyer Lee Merritt (6%). A whopping 55% were not sure whom they support.
Like Paxton, two-term GOP Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick enjoys narrow approval, 42%-39%, of the job he’s doing in the state’s No. 2 job. In his primary, though, Patrick is backed by 42% of Republican voters. That compares with 3% for Denton County businessman Todd Bullis and 2% each for conservative activist Tracye Bradford and Texas secession proponent Daniel Miller.
Two others drew 1% support, while 48% of GOP voters were unsure.
In the Democratic primary for lieutenant governor, state Rep. Michelle Beckley of Carrollton is backed by 17% of primary voters; state Democratic Party Vice Chairwoman Carla Brailey of Houston, by 13%; and Houston businessman Mike Collier, who came within 3 percentage points of beating Patrick last time, by 10%. 53% say they aren’t sure whom to support.
In his bid for a third term, Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller has a lead among Republicans, though 63% of GOP voters say they’re not sure whom they’ll support in the primary. Miller draws support from 25%; state Rep. James White of Hillister, from 6%; and Brenham farmer-rancher Carey Counsil, 5%.
As in previous polls, passions run higher, pro and con, for Texas’ junior U.S. senator, Ted Cruz, than for the longer-tenured John Cornyn. Both are Republicans.
Among all voters, Cornyn is viewed favorably by 39% and unfavorably by 28%. Cruz’s net favorability is 44%-45%.
Vice President Kamala Harris is underwater in Texas, viewed favorably by 37% of all voters; and unfavorably, by 53%.
The poll is the first of at least five planned for this year’s midterm elections by The News and UT-Tyler.
Of the 1,082 respondents, 41% are Republicans; 32%, Democrats; and 27%, independents. By race and ethnicity, the voters sampled break down like this: 56% non-Hispanic whites, 26% Hispanics, 13% Blacks and 2% Asian Americans.
A plurality of the sample, 25%, said their main source of news is cable news. By more than 2-1, such respondents say they listen to Fox News over CNN. The cable news junkies cited their allegiance as follows: Fox News, 55%; CNN, 26%; Newsmax, 8%; MSNBC, 7%; OAN, 3%; other, 1%.
And 12% of voters surveyed said that social media is their main source of news. Of them, 42% said Facebook is their go-to; 17%, Instagram; 10%, Twitter; 10%, YouTube; and 6%, Reddit.
The Dallas Morning News/UT-Tyler Poll is a statewide random sample of 1,082 registered voters conducted between January 18-25. The mixed-mode sample includes 276 registered voters surveyed over the phone by the University of Texas at Tyler with support from ReconMR and 806 registered voters randomly selected from Dynata’s panel of online respondents. The margin of error for a sample of registered voters in Texas is +/- 3.0 percentage points, and the more conservative margin of sampling error that includes design effects from this poll is +/- 3.5 percentage points for a 95% confidence interval. The online and phone surveys were conducted in English and Spanish. Using information from the 2020 Current Population Survey and Office of the Texas Secretary of State. The sample’s gender, age, race/ethnicity, education, metropolitan density and vote choice were matched to the population of registered voters in Texas.