U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz remains the top presidential choice of Texas Republican voters, but Gov. Rick Perry is starting to close the gap between the two, according to the latest University of Texas/Texas Tribune Poll.
It might not seem that way at first glance. While 27 percent of likely Republican voters say Cruz would be their choice in a hypothetical primary for the 2016 presidential nomination, only 14 percent choose Perry. Author and former surgeon Ben Carson is looming in the governor’s rearview mirror, with 10 percent, followed by former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, U.S. Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky and former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, each at 7 percent.
But in the June UT/TT Poll, Perry was running fourth, with 7 percent, while Cruz was way out in front with 33 percent of the respondents at his side. A year ago, Cruz had a 3-to-1 lead over the governor.
“Rick Perry’s political instincts about how to respond to law and order at the border are still pretty good,” said Jim Henson, co-director of the poll and director of the Texas Politics Project at the University of Texas at Austin. “Everyone else is milling around in the middle of the pack.”
Other Republicans included in the survey — U.S. Sens. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin and Marco Rubio of Florida, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, former U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum and Ohio Gov. John Kasich — each come in with 4 percent or less. Eleven percent of the likely Republican voters say they haven’t thought enough about the race to have a favorite.
Texas voters have favorable impressions of the two Republicans currently at the top of the GOP pileup, with 44 percent saying they have a very or somewhat favorable opinion of Cruz and 45 percent saying the same about Perry. More than a third of the voters — 36 percent — have an unfavorable opinion of Cruz; 40 percent have an unfavorable impression of Perry.
“This race on the Republican side shows that there is no heir to the throne,” said Daron Shaw, co-director of the poll and a professor of government at UT-Austin. He said the GOP tends to nominate candidates for president who finished in second place four years prior. “There’s no runner-up looking for the title this time.”
Shaw said the numbers are still volatile and the changes in the standings are relatively small. But he added that Perry’s profile is rising some. “You guys in the media love second acts, and Perry is a great second act,” he said.
Democrats, on the other hand, have a straight-up front-runner in Hillary Clinton, who has the support of 60 percent of likely Democratic voters in Texas, according to the poll. She’s followed by U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, at 13 percent, and Vice President Joe Biden, at 10 percent.
Other potential Democratic candidates — New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, former Montana Gov. Brian Schweitzer, former U.S. Sen. Jim Webb of Virginia and Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley — each get support from 2 percent or less of voters, and 13 percent of the Democratic likely voters said they have no favorite.
“The not-Hillary vote is sort of befuddled right now,” Shaw said.
According to the poll, Perry gets better job reviews than either the president or Congress, with 46 percent of Texas voters saying they approve of his performance and 38 percent saying they don’t. Among those who feel strongly about it, 22 percent approve and 27 percent disapprove of the governor’s work in office.
President Obama gets good reviews from 36 percent of Texans and bad reviews from 57 percent. And most of the voters who disapprove — 48 percent — say they strongly disapprove. Only 14 percent strongly approve of his performance.
Texas voters have hard views of Congress, with 14 percent saying they approve of its job performance and 71 percent saying they disapprove. Among those who feel strongly, 2 percent approve and 41 percent disapprove.
“The president remains deeply unpopular, and I think we’re seeing that expressed in races from governor to dog-catcher,” Henson said. “Anyone wondering why the president has been turning up in so many ads on TV can find their answer right here.”
The University of Texas/Texas Tribune internet survey of 1,200 registered voters was conducted from Oct. 10 to Oct. 19 and has an overall margin of error of +/- 2.83 percentage points. Among 866 likely voters in the head-to-head general election races, the margin of error is +/- 3.33 percent. Among 560 likely Republican primary voters, the margin of error is +/- 4.14 percent, and among 429 likely Democratic primary voters, the margin of error is +/- 4.73 percent. Numbers in the charts might not add up to 100 percent because of rounding.
This is one of several stories on the latest University of Texas/Texas Tribune Poll. Yesterday: Texans’ views on the governor’s race. Next week: Texans on issues.
Disclosure: UT-Austin is a corporate sponsor of The Texas Tribune. A complete list of Tribune donors and sponsors can be viewed here.