AUSTIN, Texas — On the eve of the latest debate among the 10 qualifying Democratic presidential candidates, a University of Texas/Texas Tribune Poll finds former Vice President Joe Biden the top choice among Texans who plan to vote in the 2020 Democratic presidential primary.
Biden leads the crowded Democratic field with support from 26% of potential Democratic primary voters in Texas, followed by Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren with 18%, former Rep. Beto O’Rourke of Texas with 14%, and Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders with 12%.
Beneath the top tier of candidates in the poll, California Sen. Kamala Harris trailed with 5%, South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg with 4%, and former San Antonio Mayor Julián Castro and businessman Andrew Yang with 3% each. The poll, conducted from Aug. 31 to Sept. 9, sampled 552 registered voters who intend to vote in the Democratic presidential primary election in Texas and has a margin of error of +/- 4.17 percentage points.
“With the exception of Beto O’Rourke earning some faint favorite son benefits, potential primary voters in Texas look a lot like the Democrats we’ve seen in recent national polls at this stage,” said James Henson, co-director of the poll and executive director of the Texas Politics Project at UT Austin. “Joe Biden continues to benefit from a combination of familiarity and his association with the Obama presidency, and Senator Warren is drawing increasing support from the more liberal voters, who are likely to pay attention earlier in the race.”
Nearly a third of the poll’s respondents, 31 percent, said they were very likely (10%) or somewhat likely (21%) to change their minds about their preferred candidate. Alternatively, 35% and 26% said they were not very likely or not at all likely to change their minds, respectively.
“Even though it feels like the Democratic contest is beginning to winnow down to a more manageable selection of candidates, it’s still really early,” said Joshua Blank, research director at the Texas Politics Project. “Only a quarter of Texas’ potential Democratic primary voters say they’re set in their decision, so there’s still time for candidates to make a move, but obviously not an unlimited amount of time.”
When asked to choose from a list of issues most important in their deciding whom to support in the presidential primary, 43% chose “defeating Donald Trump.” Health care and gun control were each chosen by 12% and climate change by 9%.
“This survey shows that the focus of the Democratic primary candidates matches the concerns of Texas’ Democratic primary electorate,” Blank said. “First and foremost, they want to defeat Donald Trump, but the focus on health care, gun control and climate are likely to activate the interest of the Democratic electorate here in Texas.”
The poll found potential Texas Democratic primary voters comparatively less engaged with the nomination race to challenge incumbent U.S. Sen. John Cornyn in November. More than two-thirds of potential Democratic primary voters either had not thought enough about it to have an opinion (53%) or did not know (13%). Among the small share who had a preference among the declared candidates, former U.S. House candidate M.J. Hegar was the top choice, with 11%, followed by Dallas-area state Sen. Royce West with 5%, and Sema Hernandez and Cristina Tzintzún Ramirez with 3% each.
“The combination of Democrats’ expected focus on the presidential race and the lack of candidates with statewide name recognition has left the Texas Democratic Party with a vacuum when it comes to interest in the Senate primary,” Henson said.
This poll focused on the Democratic primary 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 were released initially by The Texas Tribune. Graphics, a summary document, crosstabs and a data file are available for research and teaching at the Texas Politics Project website.