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UT/Texas Politics Project Poll: Texas Voters Give Abbott 54%-43% Lead Over O’Rourke

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AUSTIN, Texas — With in-person early voting set to begin in Texas on Monday, the latest University of Texas/Texas Politics Project poll finds Republican Gov. Greg Abbott leading Democratic challenger Beto O’Rourke in the gubernatorial race by 11 percentage points, 54%-43%, among Texans likely to vote in the 2022 election. Immigration and border security top Republican voter concerns, while Democratic voters’ attention is divided among several issues, led by abortion.

Beyond the two major party candidates for governor, Green Party candidate Delilah Barrios and the Libertarian Party’s Mark Tippetts each earned 1% support while 2% preferred an unspecified “someone else.” The poll surveyed 1,200 self-declared registered voters Oct. 7-17 and has a margin of error of +/- 2.83 percentage points for the full sample, and +/- 3.30 percentage points for the sub-sample of likely voters.

Voters’ assessments of which issues are most important to their vote in this year’s election suggest that those promoted by Abbott and other Republican candidates are the most salient in the minds of Texas voters as in-person voting begins. Three issues topped the list: immigration/border security (32%), the state economy (14%) and abortion (13%). Among Republicans, immigration and border security dominated priorities (60%), followed by the state economy (18%). While Democratic voters’ interests were more dispersed, abortion was cited as the most important issue (26%), followed by gun violence (16%), the environment/climate change (13%) and health care (10%).

“Immigration and border security continue to unify Republicans like no other issue: 60% say this issue area is most important to their vote – an embrace that encompasses a share of Republicans larger than the total share of Democrats selecting the top three Democratic issues,” said James Henson, director of the Texas Politics Project at UT Austin and a co-director of the poll. “This makes it much easier to grab Republican voters’ attention and hang onto it through the course of the campaign.”

Polling in the lieutenant governor’s race finds Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick ahead of Democratic challenger Mike Collier, 51%-36%, and incumbent Attorney General Ken Paxton leading his Democratic challenger, Rochelle Garza, by a similar margin, 51%-37%. Additional statewide races show two-term incumbent Republican Glenn Hegar leading Democrat Janet Dudding, 47%-35%, in the race for comptroller; incumbent Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller leading Democrat Susan Hays, 51%-39%; and Republican state Sen. Dawn Buckingham ahead of Democrat Jay Kelberg, 47%-36%, in the race for land commissioner.

“There was some hope among Democrats that O’Rourke could mobilize partisans and make these down-ballot races more competitive,” says UT government professor and co-director of the poll Daron Shaw. “After all, incumbents like Patrick and Paxton have been in office long enough to accrue some political baggage, especially in a state that always gives the side-eye to its politicians. But as we head into early voting, the data indicate that all Democratic candidates have a serious uphill climb.”

From among the poll’s overall sample, likely voters were defined as those respondents who indicated that they have voted in every election in the past two to three years OR those respondents who rated their likelihood to vote in the November election on a 10-point scale as a 9 or a 10. This likely voter screen yielded a pool of 883 likely voters, with a margin of error of +/- 3.3 percentage points for the full likely voter sample.

While concentrating on the 2022 election, the UT/Texas Politics Project survey also explored Texans’ views on a variety of policy areas, including the following key findings:

  • Texas voters are divided on border security spending, with 30% saying the state spends too much on border security, while an equal share, 30%, say that the state spends too little. About a quarter, 24%, say the state spends about the right amount, while 17% expressed no opinion.
  • Half of Texans say abortion laws in Texas should be made “less strict,” while 25% say they should be left as they are now, and 18% say they should be stricter. This represented the largest share of voters saying that Texas’ abortion laws should be less strict in seven surveys since 2013 in which the item was asked, as well as the smallest share saying the laws should be stricter.
  • Fifty-four percent support the state’s policy of paying to bus international migrants awaiting asylum hearings to other parts of the country, while 35% were opposed.
  • A majority of Texans (55%) say gun control laws should be made stricter, the highest share over 11 polls conducted since 2015.
  • Forty-nine percent report that their family’s economic situation is worse than a year ago, while only 13% say they are better off. The share reporting being “better off” than a year ago is the lowest measurement since the inception of the poll in 2008.
  • Amid the increasing concerns about crime as a campaign issue nationally and in Texas, a third (33%) of Texans report feeling “very safe” in the areas where they live. More than half (53%) reported feeling “somewhat safe,” while only 3% reported feeling “very unsafe.”
  • Exactly half of Texans say the state is on the wrong track, down from a record-high 59% in June. A little more than a third, 37%, said the state was headed in the right direction.
  • While opinions of the state’s direction have reached historic lows, Texans’ assessments of the direction of the U.S. are significantly worse. Only 21% say the country is headed in the right direction, while 69% say it’s on the wrong track.

“The poll results illustrate a critical contrast between the last midterm in 2018 and the 2022 midterm,” said Joshua Blank, research director of the Texas Politics Project. “Beto O’Rourke’s assets as a candidate were amplified by a national dynamic in 2018 that boosted Democrats all over and made him a national figure. But these results illustrate the challenges that any Democrat faces in a very different national environment in 2022.”

Full results from the poll and methodological information, including the questionnaire reporting results, cross tabs and downloadable graphics of results, are available on the Texas Politics Project website.