Two months later, there may be a story line to watch.
Beto O’Rourke remains competitive against President Donald Trump in a Texas head-to-head matchup, according to a poll released Thursday by the Center for Opinion Research at the University of Texas at Tyler.
The poll, conducted over three days following last week’s debate in Houston, shows O’Rourke polling better against Trump in a head-to-head matchup than every other Democratic contender except former Vice President Joe Biden.
Both led Trump by 2 percentage points in hypothetical matchups. Four other candidates tested against Trump lagged behind the president, though Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont trailed by less than the 2.8-percentage-point margin of error.
O’Rourke’s campaign boasted that the results vindicate his stance on gun control. He has caught flak from members of both parties since forcefully demanding mandatory buybacks of assault weapons in the Houston debate.
His gun confiscation proposal drew support from 49% of Texans in the UT-Tyler poll, while other plans drew broader support. Nearly 85% supported universal background checks for gun purchases. A “red flag” law that would let law enforcement take guns from someone deemed dangerous drew support from 65%.
Far more Texans — 59% — support an assault weapons sales ban that would let owners keep guns they already own. Gun rights advocates view confiscation as unconstitutional.
Trump continues to poll underwater in Texas, showing a 40% job approval rating among all respondents. Approval is much higher among Republicans and much lower among Democrats.
See here for the previous poll, from late July. The UT-Tyler Center for Opinion Research press release is here and the poll data is here. Trump’s approval numbers were 40.3% approve, 54.5% disapprove in July, and 39.6% approve, 52.3% disapprove in September. The “will vote for” number he gets, in each matchup, is a close approximation of his approval number. A thing that I noticed that I want to point out, though it’s far too soon to draw any conclusions about it, is how Trump does with Dems and with Republicans.
Candidates Dem % GOP % Ind % Tot % ======================================= Biden 74.6% 8.0% 33.1% 39.6% Trump 2.7% 81.5% 20.9% 38.0% Neither/NS 22.6% 10.5% 46.0% 22.4% Warren 69.2% 7.8% 28.1% 36.5% Trump 3.0% 82.9% 25.9% 39.5% Neither/NS 27.8% 9.3% 46.0% 24.0% Harris 61.5% 6.5% 23.6% 31.8% Trump 3.2% 82.1% 25.5% 39.4% Neither/NS 35.4% 11.5% 50.9% 28.9% Sanders 72.0% 6.8% 32.5% 37.9% Trump 2.6% 82.8% 26.4% 39.6% Neither/NS 25.5% 10.4% 41.2% 22.5% Buttigieg 57.0% 6.6% 25.1% 30.4% Trump 3.2% 82.1% 25.6% 39.3% Neither/NS 39.8% 11.3% 49.3% 30.3% Beto 79.2% 8.2% 35.4% 42.0% Trump 3.5% 82.2% 26.5% 39.7% Neither/NS 18.3% 9.6% 38.1% 18.3%
“Neither/NS” is the sum of the “Neither/Other” and “Not Sure” responses. Trump gets nearly identical levels of support among Dems and Republicans against each potential opponent. The range of support for him is a bit wider among indies, but indies are also the smallest sample so those numbers may just be more volatile as a result. All Dems get roughly the same amount of support among Republicans. There’s more variance among indies, but by far the biggest variable is the level of support among Dems for each candidate. Beto as native son does best, followed by the two previous Presidential candidates – and thus the best known among them – Biden and Bernie, with Elizabeth Warren a notch behind. Farther down are Kamala Harris and Pete Buttigieg. They had Julian Castro in the July sample but not this one.
You can compare to the July data, where Trump did a bit better among Republicans and Dems but worse among indies, giving him roughly the same overall numbers. This will be worth watching for trends if UT-Tyler keeps pumping these out every other month, but beyond that it’s only two data points. My main argument here is that Trump seems to have a ceiling, and it’s lower than that of the Dems. Dem voters who haven’t made up their minds or who have a preference than isn’t the named candidate in the given question have the option of giving a non-committal answer. They’re not defecting to Trump, they’re just keeping their powder dry. Fewer Republicans are similarly ambivalent about Trump, and quite a few more are actively against him. That leaves him less room to grow, at least among the easier to get voters. If all of this is for real, then when the Dems have a nominee, or at least a much smaller number of choices, I’d expect to see the Dem candidates’ support get consolidated. That’s what is worth watching.
Now again, there’s the apparent correlation between the approval number and the “would vote for” number, so if the former goes up the latter may as well. And as noted before, this sample seems unusually Democratic, which may be skewing things. The good news is that there is just a lot more polling activity here this cycle, so there will be many chances to see if this poll is in the mainstream or an outlier. For now, the basics of it look better for the Dems than for Trump.
As for the gun control questions, they’re interesting and worth considering, but even with the baby steps Dan Patrick and Greg Abbott have taken in that direction, I don’t think it means much. Lots of things poll well in Texas but have zero traction because literally no elected Republicans in the Lege or statewide agree with that position. There are some tiny cracks in the ice now because of the 2018 elections, but it’s going to take a lot more Republicans losing elections for it to truly matter.