Early governor’s race poll shows tighter than expected margin between Abbott and O’Rourke

Economic issues topped the list of respondents’ concerns for the country.

By Jill Ament & Michael MarksApril 4, 2022 11:01 am,

Gov. Greg Abbott leads Democratic challenger Beto O’Rourke by two percentage points in the race for governor, according to a recent poll by The Texas Lyceum.

Pollsters asked registered voters about who they’d choose for governor, as well as their opinions on a range of issues. The poll’s pool was more diverse than the expected electorate, which may have affected its results. The poll has a margin of error of 3.22%.

Joshua Blank, research director for the Texas Politics Project at The University of Texas at Austin, spoke to Texas Standard about the poll results. Listen to the interview above or read the transcript below.

This transcript has been edited lightly for clarity:

Texas Standard: Let’s talk about this Beto O’Rourke. Greg Abbott match up. The incumbent governor is leading by only two percent. That seems to be a rather small margin, especially given what has been discussed from earlier surveys.

Joshua Blank: I think it’s definitely a small margin, but it certainly falls within the range of possibilities. I think we’ve been talking about Texas becoming an increasingly competitive state. And what that means is that whereas four, five, eight years ago, we would normally expect any Republican candidate to be leading any Democratic challenger by somewhere between 10 to 15 points, those days are gone. And I think now we expect that from the starting point, the Republicans should rely on about a five to nine point advantage. But with Beto O’Rourke, you’re not going against a generic Democratic candidate, you’re going against a high quality challenger. And this far out, and I should mention it is very far out from the election, we’re going to see a range of polling results. But I think we should expect them to see a lot of results somewhere in the two-to-nine-point Abbott lead, depending on where we are in the cycle.

What do you make of this seven percent still undecided? And what about independents?

I think, as far as this goes, most voters aren’t really tuned in yet. Most people are focused on other things, like the cost of gas and getting their kids through the last few months of school. And not necessarily thinking about who they’re going to be voting for in November.

We’re talking about the sort of underlying issues that seem to be motivating would be constituents. What did you hear about the most pressing issues facing Texas?

Well, unsurprisingly, the economy is top of mind. whether we’re talking about energy prices, inflation or even just generic concerns about the economy, most Texans think that an economic issue is the most important issue facing the country. About a quarter think it’s the most important issue facing the state. But I think the thing that really stuck out to us was the way that this manifested itself. We found that 40% of Texans said that opportunities for homeownership where they live are terrible. The majority of Texans, 50%, said that their spending too much of their income on housing, while a large share also saying that the costs for necessities, basic necessities like food, housing, utilities in the areas where they live – and it doesn’t matter where you are in Texas – were either poor or terrible. There’s really nowhere to hide. if you live in a rural part of the state, you’re seeing problems. If you’re living in an urban or suburban part of the state, you’re seeing problems and most of them lie around this primary issues of economics and of really, kind of day to day issues.

And yet what we’ve been reading about when it comes to politics in Texas, most certainly in recent months, have been issues like critical race theory, transgender rights, a lot of culture, war issues that Republicans have certainly tried to turn into prominent themes during this election year. What do you make of the fact that voters are telling you the economy is apparently issue number one?

I think that brings us back to where we started – which is we look at that close polling result between Abbott and O’Rourke. And you can’t help but acknowledge as a pollster that every poll is a snapshot in time. When we were conducting this poll for the Texas Lyceum. It was right on the heels of a hard and bitter-fought Republican primary in which the governor and pretty much every incumbent Republican up and down the ballot, was pushing these issues that were very important to Republican primary voters, but obviously failed to hit the mark. The broad general electorate is much more focused on kitchen table issues right now.

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