Quick takeaways from the first wave of October 2021 UT/Texas Tribune Poll results

The first wave of October, 2021 UT/Texas Tribune Poll results released by The Texas Tribune today focus on the 2022 election, covered in a story by Patrick Svitek, and Texans’ general attitudes toward elections, voting, and a little on redistricting, covered in a story by Cassandra Pollock. Look for more results early next week in the Tribune

On the whole, the results paint an interesting portrait of the public opinion terrain in the state a year out from the 2022 election. We’ll follow up with more analysis of the results in the coming weeks when we can connect different strands of material that won’t be rolled out until early next week. For today, here are a few first-takes on today’s results.

1. Texans' views of the national political environment are grim, and as we saw in Virginia, provide an effective foil for Republican state officeholders and candidates in 2022 amidst increasing disapproval of Joe Biden’s job performance. President Joe Biden’s job approval numbers continue to slip, falling from 40% approve/51% disapprove in August to 34% approve/55% disapprove in October (producing a net approval change from -11 to -22). Most notable here were the increases in Texas voters’ disapproval ratings of Biden’s job performance in some of the highest salience policy areas, which we’ll release more detail on next week. But there’s no good news here for Biden or Texas Democrats: 9 point decrease in Democratic approval, 14 point drop in net Democratic approval since August, 23 point net drop since February (!). The Democratic-led U.S. Congress continues to fare very poorly, too, including among Texas Democrats: 36% of Democrats approve of the job Congress is doing, 36% disapprove.

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Approve strongly16%
Approve somewhat19%
Neither approve nor disapprove9%
Disapprove somewhat7%
Disapprove strongly48%
Don't know2%

2. Greg Abbott’s numbers have stabilized, suggesting he is in a solid if not completely secure position in both the primary and general elections a year away from November 2022. His job approval numbers improved slightly (from 41% in August to 43% in October, with disapproval decreasing from 50% to 48%, for a net swing from -9 to -5); he is polling over 50% against the GOP primary field; and he is polling 9% ahead of his most likely Democratic challenger (who he has already started campaigning against), leading Beto O’Rourke in a hypothetical head to head, 46% to 37%, with a reserve of 14% of uncommitted GOP voters who seem very unlikely to cross party lines in a general election (particularly for O’Rourke). While it may be tempting to look at Abbott below the 50% threshold and consider him weak, a few points bear stating. First, it is incredibly early, and the Democrats’ only likely candidate still hasn’t announced his candidacy. Second, if we remove those voters who say that they haven’t thought about it enough at this point to have an opinion and leave only those willing to commit to a candidate (a potential harbinger of future turnout), Abbott’s 46% would translate to 51% (46% divided by 90%). O’Rourke’s 37% would translate to 41% (37% divided by 90%). Given that Abbott defeated his last two challengers by 19.4 and 13.3 points, respectively, O’Rourke potentially starting in the 10-point range might be called progress.

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PollApproveDisapproveNeither/Don't Know
November 201542%29%28%
February 201641%29%30%
June 201642%31%27%
October 201642%33%25%
February 201745%33%23%
June 201745%38%16%
October 201748%33%19%
February 201846%31%23%
June 201847%36%18%
October 201852%32%17%
February 201951%32%17%
June 201951%31%18%
October 201952%28%21%
February 202048%34%18%
April 202056%32%13%
June 202049%39%13%
October 202047%40%14%
February 202146%39%15%
March 202145%43%11%
April 202143%45%13%
June 202144%44%11%
August 202141%50%9%
October 202143%48%10%
February 202244%42%15%
April 202247%41%13%
June 202243%46%12%
August 202246%44%10%
October 202247%44%9%
December 202249%41%8%
February 202346%43%12%
April 202346%41%12%
June 202347%42%12%
August 202345%45%10%
October 202349%40%10%
December 202348%41%11%
February 202453%37%10%

3. The national political environment seems to be pushing Texas independents in a direction likely to add to GOP advantages if current conditions hold. Negative partisanship and increased party competition in Texas have made independent voters more important than ever. On one hand, independents are generally negative in their assessments of most macro conditions and political leadership – Greg Abbott’s job approval among independents is underwater (again), with 27% approving and 57% disapproving, but Joe Biden’s ratings are even worse (20%/57%). Yet in a hypothetical match-up for governor between Abbott and Beto O’Rourke, they favor Abbott 38% to 24%. In October 2018 polling and in exit polling after the Senate contest between O’Rourke and Cruz that saw the Democrat finish within striking distance, independents favored O’Rourke. So while independents' discontent poses some dangers for GOP incumbents, Abbott likely needs them least, and he still leads with them in head to heads with both O’Rourke and an unnamed Democrat.

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Approve strongly2%11%35%
Approve somewhat3%16%44%
Neither approve nor disapprove9%12%5%
Disapprove somewhat7%19%10%
Disapprove strongly78%38%5%
Don't know0%4%1%

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Approve strongly37%4%2%
Approve somewhat38%16%3%
Neither approve nor disapprove12%18%3%
Disapprove somewhat8%7%6%
Disapprove strongly3%50%85%
Don't know2%5%1%

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Greg Abbott4%38%84%
Beto O’Rourke83%23%3%
Someone else3%16%9%
Haven’t thought about it enough to have an opinion10%24%5%

4. Speaking of Beto O’Rourke, he’s a known quantity and, for better and worse, the only game in town for Democrats at the top of the ballot. Forced to include the as-yet-undeclared O’Rourke in a hypothetical primary match-up with a group of unknown, but declared, Democratic candidates for governor, he unsurprisingly emerged as the clear favorite among potential Democratic primary voters. But his favorability ratings reflect both the Texas electorate’s familiarity with him and the baggage he’s gained since bursting (Roadtripping? Skateboarding?)  into statewide politics in advance of his near-defeat of Senator Ted Cruz in 2018. As O’Rourke continues to wait in the wings, overall 35% of voters view him favorably (20% very), with 50% viewing him unfavorably (a very substantial 44% “very unfavorable”). In June 2019, O’Rourke was at 42% favorable and 46% unfavorable among all Texas voters; among Democrats, 44% rated him very favorably, 34% somewhat favorably, with 72% of Republicans viewing him very unfavorably. In the latest poll, he remains in good stead with Texas Democrats ahead of the primary (47% hold very favorable views, 31% somewhat favorable); but he also remains extremely disliked among Texas Republicans, 80% of whom now view him very unfavorably.

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Very favorable20%
Somewhat favorable15%
Neither favorable nor unfavorable8%
Somewhat unfavorable6%
Very unfavorable44%
Don’t know/No opinion7%

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Very favorable47%9%1%
Somewhat favorable31%13%3%
Neither favorable nor unfavorable10%10%5%
Somewhat unfavorable5%4%7%
Very unfavorable2%44%80%
Don’t know/No opinion5%20%4%

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Very favorable44%17%4%
Somewhat favorable34%22%9%
Neither favorable nor unfavorable9%11%6%
Somewhat unfavorable6%7%7%
Very unfavorable4%34%72%
Don't know/no opinion2%9%4%

5. Incumbent Attorney General Ken Paxton remains the front runner in the GOP primary, with no signs of a clear breakout candidate among his challengers. Paxton leads a relatively stout field with 48% of the vote, followed in a distant second by George P. Bush at 16%, and neither Matt Krause (3%) nor Eva Guzman (2%) breaking single digits. Land Commissioner George P. Bush’s second place finish likely masks problems for him among GOP primary voters. Among those voters who indicated that they intend to vote in the upcoming Republican primaries, 30% held an unfavorable view of Bush, compared to 35% who held a favorable one. So while Bush has the advantage of significantly higher name identification over the other two challengers (67% had no opinion of Guzman, 85% had no opinion of Krause), it comes with baggage — most notably, Bush is underwater with those voters who describe themselves as extremely conservative, 28% with a favorable view, 39% with an unfavorable one. The family brand ain’t what it used to be in Texas.

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Ken Paxton48%
George P. Bush16%
Matt Krause3%
Eva Guzman2%
Someone else3%
Haven’t thought about it enough to have an opinion27%

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Very favorable5%3%11%
Somewhat favorable7%8%23%
Neither favorable nor unfavorable17%17%23%
Somewhat unfavorable19%20%12%
Very unfavorable29%26%16%
Don’t know/No opinion23%26%15%

6. Widespread Republican distrust has made skepticism of the accuracy of national elections the default attitude among a majority of Texans. Only a third of Texans say that they think official election results in the United States are “very accurate,” with a vast gulf between Democrats and Republicans. Among Texas Democrats, 64% say U.S. elections are very accurate, compared to only 9% of Republicans who say the same; a disconcerting 66% of Republicans say national election results are either somewhat (31%) or very (35%) inaccurate. Public discourse around elections – including the continued reluctance of Republican incumbents to clearly acknowledge the results of the 2020 presidential election and the continuing insistence by the loser in that election that it was stolen from him – make these results unsurprising. But the stubbornness of these numbers say a lot about the decay in the electorate’s trust in elections in particular and, in general, of the legitimacy of the political system overall. The fever hasn’t broken, though it’s effects remain evident and perverse. The passage and implementation of SB 1 has done little to reduce Republican sentiment for stricter voting and election rules: 56% wanted the rules made stricter in October, a decline from 67% in August, but still up from the 46% who said that they wanted stricter rules at the beginning of the year. As the Justice Department files suit over SB 1, Texan Republicans’ views of elections in their home state remain informed by the party’s official posture and ever vigilant even amidst a persistent lack of evidence of systematic fraud or inaccuracy.

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Very accurate64%27%9%
Somewhat accurate25%23%21%
Somewhat inaccurate4%21%31%
Very inaccurate1%16%35%
Don't know/No opinion6%12%4%

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More strict9%33%56%
Left as they are now19%33%36%
Less strict64%18%4%
Don't know/No opinion9%15%5%

Some quick hits:

After a freshman session as Speaker of the House that lasted ten months and included three contentious special sessions, less than 50% of the electorate can express an opinion of the job he’s doing. Reviews are mixed among those who do – 20% approve, 28% disapprove. Among Republicans,  36% approve / 11% disapprove. Interestingly, more Democrats have views of him, which, given the policy output he presided over, are unsurprisingly negative: 3% approve, 51% disapprove.

With the tortuous session over and the members scattered to the four corners of the state, the legislature’s job approval improved from dismal to merely negative. After receiving the lowest rating in 11 polls going back to 2011 in the August Texas Politics Project Poll – 28% approval / 48% disapproval – the Lege ascended to comparatively Olympian ratings of 35% approval / 40% disapproval. 

Lt. Gov. Patrick isn’t sweating either. In many ways, he is sitting the prettiest among statewide incumbents, without the exposure of the governorship or noisy primary opponents, nor the serious challengers and legal baggage of the Attorney General. Like Abbott, Patrick received the initial support of 56% of potential GOP primary voters, with none of the four other announced candidates receiving more than 2% of the vote. There remain 36% of potential GOP primary voters who haven’t thought much about this race so far, which is to be expected even if it leaves some room for volatility. Hedging aside, given that 67% of potential Republican primary voters approve of Patrick’s job performance and only 10% disapprove, it’s hard to imagine any shift in public opinion that would endanger Patrick’s position in the GOP primary.

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Dan Patrick56%
Daniel Miller2%
Aaron Sorrells1%
Trayce Bradford1%
Zach Vance0%
Someone else5%
Haven’t thought about it enough to have an opinion36%

Stay tuned next week for more results from the poll on a range of policy issues, with a focus on state level issues with strong national implications, including abortion, guns, immigration/border security, and a raft of other issues championed by some and opposed by others during the legislative session. Watch the Texas Tribune early Monday morning for the next wave of results.  We'll be posting more analysis of results next week, too, along with our usual mailing. To get on our mailing list, use the form below.


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