AUSTIN (KXAN) — If and when former Texas Rep. Beto O’Rourke decides to make a race for governor official, Governor Greg Abbott could face a tough road to re-election.
A new poll by the Texas Hispanic Policy Foundation found 43% of registered voters said they’d vote for Abbott and 42% said they’d vote for O’Rourke. While Democrat O’Rourke hasn’t held public office since 2019, he’s remained among Texas’ biggest political stars.
O’Rourke’s 2018 run to unseat U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz was a historically narrow loss and for many, represented a shifting electorate in the Lone Star State. The 49 year-old also campaigned for president in the 2020 U.S. Presidential Election, but suspended his campaign in November 2019.
Among Texans who voted in 2020, 44% said Abbott would get their 2022 vote. Forty-three percent said O’Rourke would get theirs.
By party lines
When polled by party affiliation, 86% of Republicans said they’d vote for Abbott and 88% of Democrats said they’d vote for O’Rourke. Meanwhile, Abbott leads O’Rourke 42% to 29% among Independent voters.
For white voters in Texas, Abbott is the preferred candidate (58%) over O’Rourke (30%). Thirty-one percent of Hispanic voters said they’d vote for Abbott, while 49% said they’d vote for O’Rourke. Abbott showed particularly unpopular among Black participants, with only 10% of registered voters saying Abbott would get their vote — 76% of Black voters said they’d vote for O’Rourke.
You can find the full poll at Texas Hispanic Policy Foundation.
As far as challengers from the state GOP go, Abbott leads his rival former Texas GOP chairman Allen West by a large margin.
Sixty-four of likely GOP primary voters said they plan to vote for Abbott’s re-election. Only 13% said West has their vote.
A polarizing incumbent
Abbott’s national notoriety surged in the wake of several controversial executive orders and mass outages to the Texas power grid during February’s winter storm.
“Abbott” became a frequent trending Twitter term in regard to the governor’s handling of the COVID-19 pandemic in Texas. Abbott took heat for banning local governments/governmental entities from mandating masks as coronavirus cases surged statewide. The mandate repeatedly crash-landed into courts as many such entities, particularly public schools, pushed back or fully defied it.
Last month, Abbott issued an executive order banning any entity from requiring anyone — employee or consumers — to be vaccinated for COVID-19.
Abbott’s signing of Senate Bill 8, which went into effect Sept. 1, was widely condemned across the country. Under the law, abortions cannot be performed once fetal cardiac activity is detected, which can happen as soon as six weeks before many people know they’re pregnant.
SB 8 also allows private citizens to sue abortion providers or anyone who helps someone get an abortion. Some critics say this would essentially put a bounty on people’s heads and encourage frivolous lawsuits. Citizens can be sued for $10,000 or more if an abortion is performed outside of the six-week period.
Senate Bill 8 also doesn’t make exceptions for victims of rape or incest, with the governor saying these people had the six-week time period to have the procedure. Additionally, Abbott said rather than focusing on abortion, the state would “eliminate rape.”
“Let’s be clear: rape is a crime,” Abbott said. “And Texas will work tirelessly to make sure that we eliminate all rapists from the streets of Texas by aggressively going out and arresting them and prosecuting them and getting them off the streets.”
On Monday, the U.S. Supreme Court began hearing oral arguments on the Constitutionality of SB 8.
Many have postulated that Abbott’s shift toward more far-right legislation is an effort to court favor among supporters of former Pres. Donald Trump and/or to show a more conservative agenda than his GOP primary opponents.
“Governor Abbott has shored up his right flank and stands firmly on solid ground with Republican primary voters,” said Jason Villalba, Chairman and CEO of the TxHPF. “But based on our data, it appears that he has achieved this objective by cutting deeply into his support with Texans who vote in the general election. Much can happen over the course of the year, but these numbers show that not only can we expect a competitive general election, but that Abbott’s shift to the hard right may have imperiled his governorship.”
A June poll from Quinnipiac University indicated 48% of 1,099 voters said Abbott doesn’t deserve to be re-elected. At that time, numbers showed the voters sample at that time preferred the idea of Matthew McConaughey running over an O’Rourke campaign.
Adding McConaughey wouldn’t make a difference
For months, native Texan and Oscar-winning actor McConaughey has teased the idea that he may throw his own hat into the ring.
The TxHPF poll showed the race would be virtually unchanged if McConaughey, a University of Texas graduate and Minister of Culture, were to run as an Independent. Only 9% of registered voters said they’d cast a ballot for People Magazine’s 2005 Sexiest Man Alive.
TxHPF Director of Research and Analytics Mark P. Jones, of Rice University, commented: “Matthew McConaughey is a very popular actor, but his popularity is not turning into support at the ballot box in this survey.”
The Texas Hispanic Policy Foundation is a nonprofit and nonpartisan organization that analyzes attitudes and actions among Texas Hispanics in collaboration with Rice University and the Baker Institute for Public Policy.