A new poll from the Texas Politics Project at the University of Texas may bring some unwelcome news to Democrats with the start of early voting for midterms just days away.
The survey of 1,200 likely voters put the top statewide race at 54%-43% in favor of incumbent Republican Gov. Greg Abbott over Democratic challenger Beto O’Rourke. The 11-point lead marked a significant widening compared with a September poll that had Abbott up by about 5%, though that poll looked at registered voters.
Jim Henson, director of the Texas Politics Project, joined the Texas Standard to discuss the implications of the poll and why party consensus on issues like immigration and border security may factor in giving Republicans an edge. Listen to the interview above or read the transcript below.
This transcript has been edited lightly for clarity:
Texas Standard: Let’s talk about some of this latest polling data that your organization has generated. Where do voters stand in the gubernatorial race?
Jim Henson: Well, among likely voters that we polled out of our overall sample and with a margin of error of about 3.3%, we have Greg Abbott having opened up an 11-point lead – 54%-43% – over Beto O’Rourke, which is, you know, on the outside of the leads that we’ve seen among likely voters, not a huge surprise. But, as I say, probably on the outer edge of what we’ve seen today.
What do you mean on the outer edge?
Well, I mean, I think that as pollsters in Texas and across the country that are working here have moved from a registered voter screen to a likely voter pool, we’ve seen this race go from what looked like a 5- to 6-point race to seeing poll results among likely voters that are in the 7%, 8%, 9% range. So I think as we get closer to the election and we get more accurate reads, we might see this race open up a little bit more. But we might also just see it stay in that range of sort of 7% to 11%.
I think a lot of Democrats thought that Roe being overturned would lead to a shift in sentiment, especially in the Texas suburbs. Any take on how voters are feeling about the abortion ban in Texas and how much of an impact that’s having?
Yeah. I mean, I think that this has been one of the major kind of subplots of this election. And on one hand, the polling data is pretty conclusive that the extent of the ban on abortion in Texas is outside of where the mainstream of public opinion is, even including a large share of Republicans. But we also know that you have to persuade voters – or at least Democrats need to persuade voters – that they’re going to vote on that issue. And we’re not seeing a lot of evidence of that.
In this latest poll, when we asked people what the most important issue to their vote was in 2022, the No. 1 response – and I don’t think you’ll be surprised by this – 32% was immigration and border security. Nearly a third of Texans said that. Only 13% said abortion. So it’s one thing to see attitudes on abortion that are divergent with what’s going on in the state. But it’s another thing to persuade voters that that’s the most important issue that they should be basing their vote on in a very crowded issue environment.
» Banned, a special series from KUT: Exploring the impact that the overturn of Roe v. Wade has had on people in Central Texas
What else stands out to you in these latest numbers?
Well, I mean, you know, I think we just sort of chanced upon one of them. That is, just the durability of immigration and border security and the benefit that Republicans get from the consensus on that issue among Republicans – that it’s both important and that everybody is on the same page in wanting more restrictive policies. In that same item, 60% of Republicans say that immigration and border security is the most important problem to them.
Among Democrats, their top priorities are spread out among three or four different issues: Abortion, gun violence, health care, the environment. The top three Democratic issues don’t add up to the 60% that Republicans register in terms of the importance of immigration and border security. It just makes the task a lot harder for Democrats in terms of mobilizing their voters, and a lot easier for Republicans.
We’ve been reporting on how the Secretary of State’s office is still auditing the 2020 election results in four Texas counties after pressure from former President Donald Trump. According to this latest poll, how concerned are voters about the issue of voter fraud or the integrity of the elections?
Concerns about the voting system are both widespread and bipartisan. Republicans are a bit more concerned than Democrats, but at least half and as much as three quarters expect there to be serious problems in the upcoming election. The most commonly cited problem: misinformation spread on social media.