Take all primary polls with a grain of salt because polling in primaries is especially tricky. That said, here’s the most recent UT/Texas Tribune polling on the primaries, which also includes a general election gubernatorial matchup.
Republican incumbents in statewide office have significant leads in their upcoming primary races enroute to reelection, and Democrats are still struggling to boost public recognition of their candidates beyond the top of the ticket, according to a poll released Monday by the University of Texas at Austin and the Texas Politics Project.
The poll of 1,200 registered voters illustrates the significant advantage that Republican incumbents hold within their party after leaning further to the right during the state legislative sessions last year. Additionally, the poll found that surveyed voters were divided on GOP-touted issues like removing books from public school libraries, parental influence in education and restrictive laws on abortion.
Gov. Greg Abbott, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and Attorney General Ken Paxton are head and shoulders above their competition in the Republican primaries, according to the responses from the 41% of surveyed voters who said they would vote in the Republican primary. Paxton, who is the most likely of the three to be pulled into a runoff, faces the most significant competition in his race.
On the Democratic side, former presidential candidate Beto O’Rourke was the choice for governor of 93% of the polled voters who said they would vote in the Democratic primary. But below O’Rourke on the ticket, a majority of voters said they had not thought enough about the down-ballot Democratic primaries to make an immediate choice between candidates, a sign that the party still has significant work to do to introduce its candidates to voters and disrupt the longtime Republican hold on the state.
In a hypothetical matchup right now between O’Rourke and Abbott — the leading primary candidates in their respective parties — the poll found that Abbott would win the race for the governor’s mansion 47%-37%. The 10-point predicted victory nearly matches the result of a 9-point win for Abbott when the same question was asked in a UT/Texas Tribune poll from November.
Joshua Blank, research director for the Texas Politics Project at UT, said that it’s unlikely that either Abbott or O’Rourke will be able to mobilize partisans on the other side to vote for them in the current political environment. But given recent election results in Texas that have seen Democrats lose by margins smaller than 10 points, Blank said there is still potential for a shift in public opinion — either toward Abbott and O’Rourke — over the next couple of months leading into the general election.
“Looking at previous election cycles and knowing about O’Rourke’s ability to fundraise and generate earned media, I don’t think there’s any reason to believe that he’s not likely to chip away at that 10-point deficit,” Blank said. “The question just becomes: How much can he chip away at it?”
O’Rourke has an overwhelming lead in the Democratic primary with the support of 93% of polled voters. No other candidate received more than 2%.
Abbott is up against two challengers from his right — former state Sen. Don Huffines and former Texas Republican Party Chair Allen West. In the poll, Abbott received the support of 60% of the respondents who said they’ll participate in the Republican primary, while West and Huffines received 15% and 14%, respectively.
Forty-seven percent of likely voters said they would pick Paxton, 21% picked Texas Land Commissioner George P. Bush, 16% picked former Texas Supreme Court Justice Eva Guzman and 15% picked U.S. Rep. Louie Gohmert, R-Tyler. The hotly contested battle has spotlighted both ethics and commitment to conservatism, with many of the challengers criticizing Paxton’s legal expertise in their bid to become the state government’s top lawyer.
Blank said that while Paxton has a slimmer poll lead than Abbott or Patrick, the conservative base that he has cultivated during his time in office has made him popular among the Republican primary electorate, which tends to lean further to the right than the broader conservative electorate.
“The fact that, despite all the troubles [Paxton is] facing legally and the presence of three high-quality challengers, he still finds himself close to the 50% threshold is a testament to his strength amongst the Republican primary electorate,” Blank said. “Bush and Guzman are explicitly in the race because of concerns about Paxton’s electability in the general election should he face further legal troubles. They see Paxton as wounded.”
Dan Patrick got 82% of the vote in the poll for the Republican Lt. Governor primary, against opponents I’m pretty sure you can’t name without looking them up – I know I can’t. On the Democratic side, Mike Collier and Rochelle Garza led for Lt. Governor and AG, respectively, but both totals include a significant number of people whose initial response was that they didn’t think they knew enough to say. Like I said, take it with a grain of salt.
The poll data is here, and it has some questions about school library books, abortion, and voting access that add to the pile of data that says recent laws are farther to the right than the electorate at large, but as long as Republicans keep winning statewide there’s no reason to think that will change. As for the GOP primaries, I think Paxton may slip by without a runoff, but even if he doesn’t I’d expect him to win in overtime. And if there’s a higher power out there, he’ll be hearing from the FBI shortly thereafter. That’s my birthday wish, anyway.