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UT/TT Poll: Top Republicans Enjoy Comfortable Leads in Primary Races While Democrats Deliberate on Their Choice for Governor

The latest University of Texas/Texas Tribune Poll finds the state’s top Republican incumbents largely unchallenged in their party’s nominating contests.

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AUSTIN, Texas — With early voting set to begin Tuesday in the 2018 primary elections, the latest University of Texas/Texas Tribune Poll finds the state’s top Republican incumbents largely unchallenged in their party’s nominating contests. For the Democratic Party’s gubernatorial nomination, signs point to a more competitive race.

Among Republicans who have voted in at least one of the past three primary elections in Texas, 95 percent favored Gov. Greg Abbott, who is being challenged for the GOP nomination by two lesser known candidates, Barbara Krueger and SECEDE Kilgore.

In the more crowded Democratic contest to see who will probably face Abbott in the general election, former Dallas County Sheriff Lupe Valdez was chosen by 43 percent, while 24 percent favored Houston businessman Andrew White.

“When initially asked about this race, 66 percent of Democrats said they hadn’t thought about it enough to have an opinion,” said James Henson, co-director of the poll and director of the Texas Politics Project at UT Austin. “The final margin after the undecided respondents are gently pushed to make a choice suggests that unlike the races at the top of the ticket on the GOP side, Democrats likely haven’t settled in choosing among candidates who probably are unfamiliar to them.”

Republicans continue to support Sen. Ted Cruz and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, with 91 and 88 percent, respectively, indicating they would vote to nominate the incumbents. In less publicized but more contested races on the Republican primary ballot, incumbent Land Commissioner George P. Bush led challenger Jerry Paterson 57 percent to 31 percent, and incumbent Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller received 54 percent followed by challenger Trey Blocker (26 percent) and Jim Hogan (20 percent). In these races, there were also signs that most voters didn’t start with strong preferences for any of the candidates.

”There are lots of undecided voters in races involving some of the less dominant Republican incumbents, such as Bush and Miller,” said Daron Shaw, co-director of the poll. “In fact, these incumbents only get over 50 percent if we push those without a preference. That means we may see some surprises on March 6 and perhaps some interesting run-offs later this spring.”

A large majority of Democrats — 73 percent — hope to challenge Cruz with U.S. Rep. Beto O’Rourke, who is seeking the Democratic nomination with no significant primary opposition. But a strong favorite has yet to arise among Democrats in the race to be lieutenant governor, with voters polled supporting candidates Mike Collier and Michael Cooper at 55 and 45 percent, respectively.

”This is an important race that hasn’t gotten much attention,” Shaw said. “Indeed, given the prominence of the other contests and the unfortunate alliteration in the candidates’ names, it’s not clear to us that voters are effectively distinguishing between Collier and Cooper.”

Texas voters were evenly split on their approval of Trump, with 46 percent approving and 46 percent disapproving of his job performance. Job approval of the U.S. Congress showed a slight improvement, increasing from 12 percent in October 2017 to 19 percent in the most recent poll.

“More than 80 percent of Republicans gave the president a positive job approval,” Henson said. “As controversial as the president is among his detractors, he remains in good stead with the GOP rank and file, which is useful information for Texas GOP candidates.”

Texans were also polled on job approval of various political figures in the state. Some highlights include:

  • Gov. Gregg Abbott: 46 percent approve/31 percent disapprove.
  • Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick: 36 percent approve/33 percent disapprove.
  • Speaker of the Texas House of Representatives Joe Straus: 27 percent approve/24 percent disapprove.
  • Sen. Ted Cruz: 40 percent approve/41 percent disapprove.
  • Sen. John Cornyn: 29 percent approve/29 percent disapprove.

The University of Texas/Texas Tribune internet survey of 1,200 registered voters was conducted from Feb. 1 to Feb. 12 and has an overall margin of error of +/- 2.83 percentage points. Additionally, the survey of 612 Republican and 453 Democratic primary voters has an overall margin of error of +/- 3.96 percentage points for Republican trial ballots and +/-4.60 percentage points for Democratic trial ballots. Primary voters were identified based on their participation in a Texas primary election in 2012, 2014, or 2016.

This is the latest in a series of polls conducted by UT Austin’s Texas Politics Project and The Texas Tribune. Comprehensive poll results and information about methodology will be released initially by The Texas Tribune during the next four business days. Graphics, a summary, crosstabs and a data file will be publicly available for research and teaching at the Texas Politics Project website later in the week.