Dewhurst Would Face Runoff in Senate Race, Poll Finds

If the 2012 Texas Republican primary election for the U.S. Senate were held today, Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst would fall short of the 50 percent needed to avoid a runoff election, according to a University of Texas at Austin/Texas Tribune poll.

When asked whom they would support if the 2012 Texas Republican primary election for U.S. Senator were held today, 40 percent of GOP primary voters named Dewhurst, followed by Cruz at 28 percent, and former Dallas mayor Tom Leppert at 15 percent. The leading candidate would need at least 50 percent of the vote to avoid a runoff election on July 31.

The May 13-17 statewide poll surveyed 800 registered Texas voters and had a margin of error of 3.46 percentage points. The subsample of Republican primary voters included 343 respondents who intended to vote in the Republican primary. The margin of error in the GOP Senate match-up was 5.28 percentage points.

Dewhurst's lead was even narrower among likely voters, leading Cruz 40 to 31 percent, with Leppert polling at 17 percent. Likely voters are defined by the survey as those who indicate an interest in politics and report voting in most elections (274 respondents in the survey sample said they intended to vote in the GOP primary and were also identified as likely voters).

"Lt. Gov. Dewhurst continues to enjoy the benefits of being a longtime statewide incumbent in a state with a strong economy," said James Henson, director of the Texas Politics Project and a lecturer in the Department of Government at The University of Texas at Austin, who oversees the survey. "But he continues to face some skepticism from the conservative end of the his party, where he has substantial but nothing like unanimous support. Those voters appear to be giving Ted Cruz a close look."

Thirty percent of respondents said they had a very favorable or somewhat favorable opinion of Dewhurst, compared to 23 percent for Cruz and 18 percent for Leppert. Those with no opinion registered large percentages, with 25 percent stating no opinion of Dewhurst, and 42 and 48 percent stating no opinion of Cruz and Leppert respectively.

Daron Shaw, professor of Government at The University of Texas at Austin and co-director of the poll, said Cruz has been able to position himself to the right of the lieutenant governor for a May 29 Republican primary where that's a big advantage and he's done that in a year in which insurgent candidates have been scoring big wins against establishment Republicans.

"If they're in a runoff, Dewhurst is in trouble," Shaw said.

When likely voters were asked whom they would vote for if the 2012 Texas Democratic primary election for U.S. Senator were held today, former state Rep. Paul Sadler led the Democrats with 29 percent, followed closely by Sean Hubbard at 25 percent. Two other candidates Addie Dainell Allen and Grady Yarbrough, were named by 19 and 15 percent of likely voters, respectively.

If the 2012 general election for U.S. president were held today, 46 percent of the respondents said they would vote for former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney, compared with 38 percent who would vote for President Barack Obama. Among likely voters, the margin is even wider, with Romney leading 55 to 35 percent.

In the presidential race, 40 percent of respondents had a very or somewhat favorable view of Romney, compared to 38 percent for Obama. Romney was rated very or somewhat unfavorably by 38 percent of respondents, compared to 52 percent for Obama.

Fifty-four percent disapproved of Obama's performance as president (46 percent strongly disapproving). Congress fared even worse, with a 71 percent disapproval rating (48 percent strongly disapproving).

This is the latest in a series of online polls conducted by the Texas Politics Project and The Texas Tribune.

Comprehensive poll results, information about methodology and the survey dataset will be available at the Texas Politics Project website later this week. Additional poll results will be released and available at the website throughout the week.