Texas Gov. Greg Abbott and other Republicans seeking reelection have strong advantages, according to a new University of Texas/Texas Tribune poll of over 1,000 potential voters in the state. They lead GOP challengers and potential Democratic opponents, despite widespread disapproval of the government’s handling of the electric grid, property taxes and K-12 education.
Jim Henson, director of the Texas Politics Project at the University of Texas at Austin, explained the poll’s results.
Texas Standard: Let’s start with those COVID mandates the governor has attempted to ban. Most of the people you polled are in favor, but does that still run along party lines?
Jim Henson: It does, very much so. I think some people are surprised to find that when we ask about whether people are in favor or opposed to a range of what have been controversial measures in Texas, most Texans support them. More than half support allowing businesses to require employees to provide either proof of vaccination or submit to testing. About half approve of allowing government entities to require employees to require the same. That is really driven by the fact that there’s tons of what we call partisan structuring here. Democrats and independents are largely in favor of these measures, but Republicans, as a group, remain very opposed to them.
You also asked Texans how they felt about the pandemic economy in Texas. What was the response there?
Not surprisingly, Texans remain dour about the condition of the economy and how it compares to where they were a year ago. So when we asked people what they thought about the overall Texas economy, the overall assessment remained negative.
When we asked how people are doing compared to a year ago, more than a third said that they’re doing worse and a big chunk of them say that they’re doing about the same. That’s not surprising, given that the economy and people’s economic situation was pretty bad a year ago. Even as we come out of the pandemic to some degree and things improve, people’s perception of the economy and the general state of affairs is lagging behind.
Thinking ahead to the midterms and who should lead Texas, how does Gov. Greg Abbott stand in his March primary, as well as a potential challenger? We still don’t know who might be the big Democratic challenger for governor, but there are lots of rumors about former El Paso Congressman Beto O’Rourke.
In the primary, Governor Abbott – even though he has two reasonably serious challengers in Allen West, former [Texas] GOP chair, and Don Huffines, former state senator – is still doing pretty well. He’s at 56% in a hypothetical matchup with those two candidates and three or four lesser-known candidates. Allen West is at 13%, Don Huffines is at 7%.
As we wait for Beto O’Rourke to tell us publicly what he’s going to do, Governor Abbott was about 9 points ahead in our poll – 46-37 in a hypothetical matchup with the former congressman, with about 17% saying they want somebody else or they haven’t thought about it enough.
On one hand, Governor Abbott won his last race by 14 points. I think after the last couple of years that we’ve had in Texas, with the pandemic and the outages, the Abbott campaign feels pretty good about that.
You asked about overall job performance. You also looked at areas where Republicans may not be performing as well. What were some of the other big takeaways?
One of the biggest takeaways is that we asked Texans to evaluate the performance of the state leadership in 13 key areas. There were only three that earned even plurality support – they are Second Amendment rights, public safety, and election and voting laws. Given those issues, that was fueled by huge amounts of Republican support. I think the thing to really watch is where the negative opinions were. Only 18% approved of how the leadership had handled the reliability of the electric grid. Only 20% approved of how they performed on property taxes. Only 26% approved of how they’d done on K- 12 public education. If you take that set of issues, you get a sense of where the contending agenda might be by the time the fall election rolls around.