The results of the latest University of Texas at Austin/Texas Tribune poll indicate continued Republican strength in Texas despite the ebbs and flows of the parties’ national fortunes between 2006 and 2010. With five months left before voting begins in the November general election, we find Rick Perry leading Bill White by nine points, 44%-35%, with 15% undecided and 7% preferring an unidentified “someone else.” At this point, anti-incumbent sentiment in Texas appears to be dwarfed by party identification and opposition to the national Democratic Party.
In races for other statewide offices, Republican candidates — most of whom are incumbents — enjoy double-digit leads (ranging from 11 to 19 points). Most notably, Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst holds a 14-point lead (44-30) over challenger Linda Chavez-Thompson, and incumbent Greg Abbott leads Barbara Ann Radnofsky by 19 points (47-28).
If there is a silver lining for the Democrats, it is that none of the Republican candidates breaks 50% of the vote; all races, except for the gubernatorial contest, show at least 20% undecided.
And then there is also this: when asked about a hypothetical race between a Republican, a Democrat, and a Tea-Party Movement candidate, the Republican candidate finishes third. Although the finding that a Tea-Party candidate would split the center-right vote is not shocking, the lack of support for the GOP standard-bearer is, we think, notable.
In the absence of a competitive third-party option, however, the Republicans appear to be in a strong position heading into the summer and fall. A dip in President Obama’s approval numbers and a slight improvement in Gov. Perry’s job approval lend further credence to continued Republican strength in Texas. The President’s positive job assessments decreased to 35% in May from 41% in February, with 16% approving somewhat and 19% strongly approving. The striking thing in the assessment of Obama, though, is the intensity of his overall disapproval numbers: of the 58% who said they disapprove of his job handling, 50% strongly disapprove. This represents a 10-point increase in the “strong disapproval” number from February. Obama’s “strong disapproval” numbers are even higher among Anglo respondents (65%, with an overall white disapproval share of 73%) and true independents (55% strong/66% overall disapprove), two critical target groups for both parties this fall.
By contrast, Gov. Perry’s numbers improved from February (up from 38% to 42%), suggesting something of a limit to the “anti-incumbent fever” the news media contends is sweeping the rest of the nation. Perry still suffers the judgment of a cranky electorate, with strong approvals at 13% surpassed by strong disapprovals at 23%. But with 16% neither approving nor disapproving, positive judgments of his job performance edge out negative assessments, 42%-39%. While these numbers are not stellar, we see no signs of erosion in the governor’s previous support, and note the contrast with Obama’s worsening overall position in Texas.
There will be more to say about the latest survey in subsequent posts as the Tribune rolls out more results: the survey contained the usual batter of most important problem and “mood of the state” items, as well as several policy questions. But at first cut, there is little in the data to indicate that Lone Star residents want to “throw the bums out” (at least at the state and local level). Rather, the pro-GOP tide evident in Virginia, New Jersey, and Massachusetts appears to be the prevalent dynamic here in Texas.