Amid insider talk of a potential 2014 Republican primary race between Gov. Rick Perry and Attorney General Greg Abbott, a large share of Republican primary voters view the governor favorably, while Abbott remains popular but still a comparatively less familiar figure among state Republicans, according to a new University of Texas at Austin/Texas Tribune poll.
Perry was viewed favorably by 72 percent of the self-identified Republicans polled and unfavorably by 13 percent, with 14 percent expressing no opinion. Abbott was viewed favorably by 48 percent and unfavorably by 7 percent of GOP respondents, with 45 percent offering no judgment of the three-term incumbent governor.
"Among those who have an opinion about Attorney General Abbott, the impressions are overwhelmingly favorable," said James Henson, who directs the Texas Politics Project at UT Austin and is a co-director of the poll. "But we also see a large bloc of potential Republican primary voters for whom the attorney general is an undefined quantity. This contrasts with Governor Perry, who after 12 years as governor is by far the most widely recognized elected official in state government right now, and remains popular with a significant core of Republican supporters."
The statewide poll, conducted Feb. 15-24, surveyed 1,200 registered Texas voters and had a margin of error of 2.83 percentage points. The Republican results reflect the responses of 549 self-identified Republicans and had a margin of error of 4.18 percentage points.
In an item that asked all respondents how they might vote if Perry were to run for governor again in 2014, without mentioning any specific opponent, 26 percent indicated they would vote for him, 36 percent said they would vote against him, and 33 percent said they would "wait and see" who would run against him. Among Republican respondents, 48 percent said they would vote for Perry, 6 percent said they would vote against him, and 44 percent said they would wait and see.
"The large number of voters that seem to 'keeping their powder dry' in this question suggests that people have not started thinking seriously or, in many cases, at all about 2014 yet," Henson said.
In an item that directly matched the governor and the attorney general against each other in a hypothetical 2014 Republican primary race, 49 percent of registered Republicans said they preferred Perry, with 17 percent naming Abbott. Thirty-one percent said they haven't thought about it enough to have an opinion.
In the overall sample, 31 percent of the respondents said they don't usually vote in Republican primaries, and 28 percent had no opinion. Forty-six percent of respondents in the survey identified themselves as Republican, with 41 percent identifying as a Democrat.
Daron Shaw, professor of government at University of Texas at Austin and the other co-director of the poll, said the favorability ratings of each hypothetical candidate are instructive indicators of each man's position in a potential match-up.
"The gap between Governor Perry and Attorney General Abbott in the hypothetical match up shouldn't obscure the fact that there is good news in this poll for both candidates," Shaw said. "After 12 years in office, Governor Perry remains in good standing with Republican voters. Attorney General Abbott is less well established in voters' minds but has a very favorable rating to build on in the future if he so chooses."
Perry and Abbott have not formally declared their intentions about running in 2014.
Thirty-nine percent of respondents expressed a very favorable or somewhat favorable view of Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, with 28 percent expressing a somewhat unfavorable or very unfavorable view of the junior senator. Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst, Cruz's primary opponent, was rated very favorable or somewhat favorable by 20 percent of respondents, with 29 percent expressing a somewhat unfavorable or very unfavorable view.
The poll continued to show strong disapproval for President Barack Obama. Forty percent of respondents approved strongly or approved somewhat of Obama's performance as president, with 54 percent disapproving strongly or disapproving somewhat, numbers that are virtually unchanged from last fall.
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.