Greg Abbott widens lead over Beto O’Rourke with likely voters in latest UT poll

Texas gubernatorial candidate Beto ORourke speaks to a packed auditorium during a stop on his College Tour campaign at Texas State University on Oct. 5, 2022, in San Marcos. (Eli Hartman For The Texas Tribune, Eli Hartman For The Texas Tribune)

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Gov. Greg Abbott leads Democratic challenger Beto O’Rourke by 11 percentage points with three days until early voting starts for the election, according to a new poll from the Texas Politics Project at the University of Texas at Austin.

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It is one of the wider advantages that Abbott has registered with likely voters in public polling. Abbott had a smaller 5-point advantage in the last UT poll, which was done around early September, though that was among registered voters. After Labor Day, pollsters tend to switch from registered-voter samples to likely-voter samples.

Abbott garnered the support of 54% of likely voters in the latest poll, while O’Rourke got 43%. Two percent picked third-party candidates and another 2% said they supported someone else.

It was similar bad news for Democrats in five other statewide races that were polled. The Republican incumbents all had double-digit leads, including Attorney General Ken Paxton, who led Democrat Rochelle Garza by 14. Previous polls have suggested he may be in the tightest statewide race.

Early voting starts Monday for the Nov. 8 election. Most likely voters have made up their minds between Abbott and O’Rourke, according to the poll, which found only 7% were somewhat or very likely to switch their preference.

Jim Henson, director of the Texas Politics Project at UT, said the results “underline the contrast between the last midterm in 2018 and 2022.”

“O’Rourke’s assets as a candidate were amplified by a national dynamic in 2018 that boosted Democrats,” Henson said, referring to O’Rourke’s near-miss loss against U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas. “But the results in this poll illustrate how he’s facing a very different national environment in 2022 that’s hurting rather than helping his efforts to close the baseline Republican advantages in statewide elections.”

Democratic President Joe Biden remains unpopular in Texas, with 39% of registered voters approving of his job performance and 52% disapproving. And he is especially unpopular when it comes to the issues that likely voters call most important to their vote: immigration and border security.

Thirty-two percent of likely voters said immigration and border security were the top issues factoring into their vote, while 14% said the state economy and 13% said abortion. No other issue was in double digits.

By double-digit margins, likely voters said they trusted Abbott more than O’Rourke to do a better job on the border and state economy. They were equally split on abortion, with 44% saying they trust Abbott and 44% saying the same for O’Rourke.

Registered voters narrowly approve of the job Abbott is doing overall, 47% to 44%, virtually unchanged from the last UT poll. O’Rourke’s favorability rating remains upside down by 3 points among likely voters.

At the same time, registered voters still believe the state is headed in the wrong direction under Abbott. Fifty percent said they think the state is on the wrong track, while 37% picked the right track, similar to the margin in August.

On the ballot, both candidates for governor have locked up support inside their parties, but Abbott leads by a lot with independents, 60% to 29%. Abbott is ahead by double digits among men but only 2 points among women.

More notably, the poll shows likely Hispanic voters are evenly divided between the two at 48% each. Abbott has endeavored to win the Hispanic vote, though most polls have given O’Rourke the advantage with the group.

Beyond the governor’s race, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick leads his Democratic opponent, Mike Collier, by 15 percentage points. Comptroller Glenn Hegar is ahead of his Democratic challenger, Janet Dudding, by 12 points. Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller has a 12-point lead over his Democratic foe, Susan Hays. And Republican Dawn Buckingham leads Democrat Jay Kleberg by 11 in the open race for land commissioner.

The poll was conducted online from Oct. 7-17. The pollsters sampled 1,200 registered voters and then defined likely voters as those that said they have voted in every election in the past two to three years or those that rated their likelihood of voting in November on a 10-point scale as a 9 or 10. That produced a likely-voter sample of 883 people. The margin of error for registered voters was +/-2.83 points, while it was 3.3 points for likely voters.

Disclosure: 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.

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