Having dominated several news cycles with a social media post calling on his supporters to protest an impending arrest – which didn't happen, at least not yet – ex-president Donald Trump returns to Texas for an event in Waco this Saturday being billed as the kick-off of his 2024 campaign.
Waco is only Texas’ 24th largest city by population according to 2021 population estimates, with 5 larger cities in Dallas County alone. Waco gave Trump 61% of its vote in both 2016 and 2020. But the timing and location of the rally are full of portent, purposefully or not. In the context of Trump’s call to arms, much of the media coverage could not resist noting that Trump’s appearance in Waco falls within the range of the 30-year anniversary of the 51-day stand-off between the FBI and the Branch Davidians that ended with the deaths of 75 members in a widely-criticized attempt by federal agents to breach the compound and end the siege.
In advance of Trump’s planned visit, we have gathered some polling data to provide context for how Texans – most importantly Texas Republicans and independents – view the former president before his high profile visit. Overall, Trump appears to have retained the high regard of Texas Republicans, albeit amidst signs of some dampening enthusiasm. But large swathes of GOP voters remain not just positively inclined toward him; they also continue to believe the mythology surrounding his loss in 2020, and remain focused on the grievances that fed his takeover of the Republican Party in the 2016 election.
Trump’s presidency likely judged a resounding success among Texas Republicans based on his job approval ratings.
At no point during Trump’s presidency did his job approval rating among Texas Republicans drop below 78%, and never below 86% from June 2018 through October 2020. Among independents, the story is far more mixed, with the former president enjoying net approval among independents for the first year of his presidency, oscillation during much of the second and third years, and settling on net disapproval starting in October of 2019, with continuously declining approval ratings throughout the latter period.
And, of course, Trump won the state’s electoral votes by wide margins in 2016 and 2020.
Favorability ratings illustrate that Trump remains well liked among Texas Republicans, particularly those likely to be GOP primary voters.
Trump’s favorability ratings among Republicans have fluctuated within a consistent range since being inaugurated in 2017. In February of that year, in the first Texas Politics Project Poll of his presidency, 81% of Texas Republicans viewed him favorably, while only 12% had a negative view. In October 2020, shortly before he won Texas’ electoral votes by a 9-point margin, the share of GOP voters holding a favorable view of the then-president had risen to 85, the high point of his presidency. The events of January 6th of the following year did little to dent these evaluations. In polling conducted in February and June of 2021, in the aftermath of the capitol riots, his favorability numbers remained unchanged, with 85% and 86% holding a favorable opinion, respectively, and fewer than 1 in 10 holding an unfavorable view.
Despite holding strong during a historically tumultuous period, Trump’s favorability ratings have remained largely in the same range, though slightly less intensely positive. Between February 2022 and February 2023, over the course of 7 surveys, the share of Republicans holding favorable attitudes hasn’t eclipsed 82%, and measured below 80% on 5 of those 7 surveys. The share holding an unfavorable view over that time period has ranged between 9% and 17%, with that 17% unfavorable result coming in December of last year.
|Neither favorable nor unfavorable||5%||15%||10%|
|Don't know/No opinion||0%||4%||0%|
Among another key group, independents, Trump has remained underwater (more unfavorable views than favorable ones) in each of the 16 measures taken between November 2015 and February 2023. A majority of independent voters in Texas have expressed an unfavorable opinion of Trump in each of the six surveys conducted since April 2022.
Most Republicans continue to view Biden’s 2020 win as illegitimate.
As recently as February 2023, more than two-thirds of Texas Republicans (69%) indicated their belief that Joe Biden did not win the presidency legitimately. In none of the six surveys beginning in February 2022 have more than one in four Texas Republicans affirmed the legitimacy of Biden’s 2020 election victory.
A not overwhelming majority (or near majority) of independents have continued to affirm the legitimacy of Biden’s election, ranging between 47% and 62% over the same time period.
Trump’s role in the January 6, 2021 riot at the U.S. Capitol did not disqualify him from holding future office, at least in the immediate aftermath.
|Don't know/No opinion||6%||15%||6%|
In February 2021, in the immediate aftermath of the January 6th riots, Texas voters were asked whether Donald Trump has taken actions that justify preventing him from holding future office. Among Texas Republicans, 81% indicated that he had not taken actions that justified a bar on holding office, while only 13% said that he had, with 6% undecided. These views were remarkably consistent to those given in response to previous items asked during the former President’s first impeachment. In October of 2019, 79% of Republicans said that the then-president had not taken actions that justified his removal from office, with 84% saying the same by February of 2020.
The share of Republicans who dislike Trump is far smaller than many seem to believe, or at least far smaller in Texas, though there are some signs that a non-trivial share of Republicans may be open to another candidate.
Taken together, only 12% of Texas Republicans held an unfavorable view of Trump in the most recent polling conducted in February 2023. Historically, no more than 15% ever disapproved of the job he was doing as president, and no more than 10% from the middle of 2018 until the end of his presidency.
However, the share of Republicans who said that Trump should run for office again in 2024 fell five points between August 2022 and February 2023, from 61% to 56%, while the share who said he should not increased by about the same share up to one-third of GOP voters in Texas. (The share who didn’t express a view held steady at 11%.)
|Yes, should run||12%||22%||56%|
|No, should not run||82%||63%||33%|
|Don’t know/No opinion||6%||15%||11%|
The gap between Trump’s history of favorability and job approval ratings, on one hand, and, on the other, the apparent support for another presidential run may well constitute a warning sign in the Texas GOP primary, but probably only a minor one.
Trump stands tall, but not alone.
Republicans have other options should they choose, with Trump’s fellow Floridian Ron DeSantis generating attention as the most prominent alternative at this early stage of the 2024 election. In the most recent February poll, Trump’s 79% favorability rating among Texas Republicans put him ever-so-slightly ahead of Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, at 75%, and behind Governor Abbott, at 85%. While the latter is a frequently speculated upon presidential aspirant by people who often bring no support to their argument other than his occupation of the office of Governor of Texas, DeSantis will be a participant in the 2024 Republican presidential primary. Most remarkable here is the extent to which the first-term governor of another state has captured the favorable opinions of a similarly large share of Texas Republicans as the former Republican president
|Neither favorable nor unfavorable||11%||16%||11%|
|Don't know/No opinion||8%||16%||7%|
For more polling results related to Donald Trump, visit the Texas Politics Project polling search tool.