I have questions about this.
Matthew McConaughey commands more support to be Texas’ next governor than incumbent Greg Abbott, according to a poll released Sunday by The Dallas Morning News and the University of Texas at Tyler.
However, the film actor and political newcomer could hit potholes in either major party’s primary if he enters next year’s governor’s race, the poll found.
For months, McConaughey has teased political pundits and TV talk show hosts with musings that he might enter politics in his home state.
If he were to take the plunge and run for governor, the poll found, 45% of Texas registered voters would vote for McConaughey, 33% would vote for Abbott and 22% would vote for someone else.
McConaughey’s double-digit lead over the two-term Republican incumbent is significant. The poll, conducted April 6-13, surveyed 1,126 registered voters and has a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 2.92 percentage points.
But 56% of Republican voters said they’d vote for Abbott, compared with only 30% for McConaughey.
While Democrats broke 66% to 8% for McConaughey, and independents 44% to 28%, more than twice as many Democratic primary voters — 51% — said they wanted a progressive candidate for governor than wanted a centrist — 25%.
That could pose a problem. McConaughey, who has criticized both major parties, has suggested he’s more of a moderate.
And in the GOP gubernatorial primary, that’s also not obviously a ticket to success. Solid majorities of poll respondents who described themselves as conservative, evangelical or retirement-age Republican primary voters said they’d vote for Abbott.
Jason Stanford, who managed the campaign of second-place finisher and Democrat Chris Bell in the 2006 gubernatorial race, said McConaughey poses no threat to Abbott.
“There doesn’t appear to be a huge groundswell of discontent for Abbott,” Stanford said. Once McConaughey declares as a Democrat or Republican, reality will set in with Texas voters, he added.
“If you ID as a Democrat or a Republican, you’re going to get different answers about him in polls,” Stanford said. “He’s fun, but once you put him in a political context, things will change.”
Poll details can be found here. There’s some issues and approval polling that I’ll get to in a separate post and which is actually kind of interesting, but as for the Abbott/McConaughey question, the only thing you need to read is what Jason Sanford said, because he’s 100% correct.
The first problem with this poll question is in the question itself, which is worded as follows: “Matthew McConaughey has been talked about as a potential candidate for Governor of Texas. If he ran, would you be likely to support him more than Governor Abbott?” Do you see what’s missing in that question? It’s any mention of what (if any) party McConaughey would be claiming. If he’s running as a Democrat against Abbott, then there’s no way in hell he gets 30% of Republicans to support him. Even getting ten percent would be seismic and likely enough to win, but we can’t tell what kind of actual crossover appeal he might have because the question is asked without that piece of information, leaving the respondent to assume that this is some theoretical, non-partisan race. You know, the kind that we don’t have for state elections.
If McConaughey were to run as an independent, then this would need to be polled as a three-way race, because the Democrats would surely have a candidate as well. One could possibly imagine a scenario in which McConaughey mounted an independent campaign and the Texas Democratic Party decided as a tactical matter to support him, the way Dems have supported independent candidates for Senate or Governor in Maine and Kansas and Alaska in recent years. The problem with that scenario is that while McConaughey could announce his independent candidacy now and start staffing up for it, he can’t begin the petition process to get on the ballot until after the primary election, or after the primary runoff if there was one for Governor, and there’s nothing to stop someone from filing to run as a Democrat in the primary in the meantime. Any Democratic nominee, whether a candidate who might be viable against Abbott on their own or a more marginal type who still has appeal to some part of the Democratic base, will draw enough support to make an independent far less competitive in the general. To put it another way, it’s extremely unlikely Matthew McConaughey gets 66% of the Democratic vote in a three-way race.
Maybe I’m wrong about these assertions. You could ask again and name McConaughey as the Democratic nominee, and see how much Republican support he gets. You could also ask about a three-way race that features Abbott and McConaughey and an actual, named Democrat. And if you’re going to do that, why not also ask the horse-race question about just Abbott and that same Dem? Why not ask the Abbott-versus-Beto and/or Abbott-versus-Julian question, which would allow a comparison to McConaughey as a Dem, then ask again with McConaughey in there as an independent? We all understand that at this point in the calendar all these questions are mostly for funsies, but with some useful information in there if you know how to look for it. At least the Abbott/Beto or Abbott/Julian questions would give a data point about whether Dems have any cause to feel optimistic or not, and the three-way race question might tell us something about how much Republican support for Abbott is softer than it looks. Any of it would tell us more than the actual question did.
And of course, if McConaughey were to run against Abbott in a Republican primary, then asking this question in a sample that includes more non-Republicans than Republicans is going to give you a nonsense answer. Point being, if I haven’t beaten it to a sufficiently bloody pulp yet, identifying McConaughey’s partisan affiliation in this question matters. Not including it makes this whole exercise useless for anything that blog fodder and Twitter posts. Which they got, so mission accomplished.
One more thing, before I end this post and write the other one about approvals and issues polling: For some reason, the sample – which as before is partly phone and partly web panel, and all made up of registered voters – voted in the 2020 Presidential election as follows:
Trump – 36%
Biden – 32%
Other – 1%
Did not vote – 30%
Refused to say – 1%
If you’re thinking that’s an awfully large “did not vote” percentage, consider how the sample from their March poll answered the same question:
Trump – 43%
Biden – 38%
Other – 4%
Did not vote – 11%
Refused to say – 4%
Why so different? I have no idea. Why do we think we can draw reasonable conclusions from a poll sample that includes such a large number of people who didn’t vote in the highest turnout election in Texas history? Again, I have no idea. To be sure, the 2022 election will have smaller turnout, and an RV sample is all that makes sense at this time. But maybe weighting the sample a bit more towards actual voters might make any projections about the next election more accurate.