President Donald Trump leads former Vice President Joe Biden with the support of 50% of the state’s likely voters to Biden’s 45% in the 2020 race for president, according to the latest University of Texas/Texas Tribune Poll.
The Republicans — Trump and his running mate, Vice President Mike Pence — had strong support from white (62%-34%) and male (55%-39%) voters, while the Democrats, Biden and U.S. Sen. Kamala Harris, are the favorites of female (51%-46%), Black (87%-11%) and Hispanic (54%-37%) voters in Texas.
Among Republican voters, 92% favor Trump, while 96% of Democratic voters said they’ll vote for Biden. The state’s independent voters prefer Biden, 45%-37%, over Trump.
Despite the dramatic swings in events and issues during 2020, the contest for the hearts and minds of Texas voters has changed little in the race for the nation’s top elected office. The latest poll is a case in point; the survey was conducted during a period that included the first presidential debate and Trump’s hospitalization for COVID-19. Even so, the result is in line with previous UT/TT surveys. In February, a UT/TT Poll found Trump ahead of Biden 47%-43% in what was then a hypothetical head-to-head race, because the Democrats had not chosen their nominee. In April, Trump led 49%-44%, and in June, 48%-44%.
Daron Shaw, a professor of government at the University of Texas at Austin and co-director of the poll, noted the constancy of those poll results since before Biden was the chosen Democratic candidate.
“What it really shows you is just how much of this is about Trump,” he said. “The race is a marker for attitudes towards Trump. It really is a referendum.”
The president himself is a decisive issue for voters who support Biden. While 55% said they’re voting for Biden because they want him to be president, 45% of the Democrat’s supporters said he’s their choice because they don’t want Trump to be president. Most of Trump’s voters — 81% — said they want him to be elected, while 19% said they’ll vote for Trump because they don’t want Biden to be president.
“Numerically, Trump’s problem is with the Democrats,” Shaw said. “If you can’t win any Democratic votes in Texas, you’re not going to win by [Greg] Abbott margins or [George W.] Bush margins. It turns a 10-point race into a 5-point race.”
The economy was the most important issue behind the presidential vote for 11% of voters, and for 22% of independents asked to name the top issue behind their choice. It was also the top pick among Republicans (15%), followed by socialism and/or communism, the issue mentioned by 12% of Republican voters on that open-ended question. Among Democrats, 19% cited removing the president as their top issue, followed by coronavirus/COVID-19 (11%) and health care (9%).
Most voters have made their final decisions: 91% said they are unlikely to change their minds before they vote.
“The reality is, if you look across those items, you see that the issue is, again, the personal traits of the president and, to a lesser extent, the former vice president,” said Josh Blank, research director for the Texas Politics Project at UT-Austin. “Ultimately, it is all about Trump.”
While Trump is 5 percentage points ahead of Biden in the head-to-head matchup, he comes up a bit short of what might be expected of a Republican on a Texas ballot. In a generic congressional race pitting an unnamed Republican against an unnamed Democrat, the poll found the Republican had a 7-percentage-point advantage (51%-44%) among Texas voters. In a generic race for the state Legislature, a Republican would have an 8-percentage-point edge (51%-43%). And Republican John Cornyn, seeking reelection to the U.S. Senate, has an 8-percentage-point lead over Democrat MJ Hegar in this poll, outperforming the president by 3 percentage points with Texans.
“We’re not seeing the race open up in the way we’re used to,” Blank said. He said the independent voters in Texas who typically end up with Republicans — like they did in the Texas race for president four years ago, siding with Trump — are on Biden’s side this year.
“The president lost independents in Texas a little while ago, and he hasn’t gained them back,” Blank said. “That’s affecting Republicans up and down the ballot.”
The president’s job ratings from Texas voters have remained relatively constant over time. In the current poll, 49% of voters said they approve of the job he’s been doing as president, while 46% disapprove. A year ago, 47% approved and 48% disapproved. In October 2017, three years ago, 45% approved and 50% disapproved.
What looks like an even split disguises a deep partisan divide: 89% of Democrats disapprove of the president’s job performance, while 90% of Republicans approve. Independent voters disapprove by a 53%-31% margin.
When voters are asked about Trump’s handling of the economy, his approval now — 52% — hasn’t changed much since February, when it was 50%, but more voters disapprove now — 42% — than earlier this year, when 36% didn’t like the way he was handling the economy. Voter responses were tied to their allegiances: 82% of Democrats and 49% of independents disapprove of the president’s handling of the economy, while 91% of Republicans approve.
Asked about the president’s response to the pandemic, 45% of voters said they approve and 48% disapprove. And similar splits are evident in approval of the president’s handling of race relations: Overall, 43% approve and 48% disapprove. On both topics, as with Trump’s overall job rating and his rating on the economy, voters’ ratings matched their partisan leanings. On the pandemic, 83% of Republicans said the president is doing a good job, and 87% of Democrats said he’s not. On race relations, 78% of Republicans approve of the job Trump has done, while 87% of Democrats disapprove.
Voters’ general opinions of the president are split, with 46% saying they have a favorable opinion and 48% saying they have an unfavorable one. That’s an improvement over early polls. Four years ago, in the October before he was elected president, 31% of Texans had a favorable opinion of Trump and 58% had an unfavorable opinion. And while 85% of Republicans registered a favorable opinion of the president in the current poll, the same percentage of Democrats have an unfavorable opinion.
Biden’s numbers in the new poll are less positive than Trump’s: 41% of voters have a favorable impression of the Democrat, while 51% said they have an unfavorable opinion. In February, Biden’s ratings were 33% positive and 53% negative. The partisan split is here, too: 80% of Democrats have a positive impression of their nominee, while 87% of Republicans have a negative one.
The University of Texas/Texas Tribune internet survey of 1,200 registered voters was conducted from Sept. 25 to Oct. 4 and has an overall margin of error of +/- 2.83 percentage points. The margin of error for results from 908 likely voters is +/- 3.25 percentage points. Numbers in charts might not add up to 100% because of rounding.
Disclosure: The University of Texas at Austin has been a financial supporter of The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan news organization that is funded in part by donations from members, foundations and corporate sponsors. Financial supporters play no role in the Tribune's journalism. Find a complete list of them here.
UT/TT Poll, October 2020, Summary (day 1)