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Is Beto stuck in neutral? New poll shows Abbott leading by 7 points.

Niki Griswold
Austin American-Statesman

Gov. Greg Abbott holds a 7-point lead over Democratic rival Beto O’Rourke according to the latest poll in the closely watched and highly contentious race for Texas governor. The survey by The Dallas Morning News and the University of Texas at Tyler found that the margin is unchanged since the last time the organizations polled Texans on their preference for governor, in May.

Of the 1,384 registered voters who participated in the poll Aug 1-7, 46% said they would vote for Abbott while 39% said they would vote for O’Rourke. 

The survey’s findings are consistent with other recent polls, which show Abbott 5-7 points ahead of O’Rourke. 

“It isn't a massive lead, say, in the double-digit range, but it's also a significant lead and one that O’Rourke over the past three months, in spite of Uvalde and in spite of Dobbs and in spite of issues with the electric grid, has been unable to reduce in any notable way,” said Mark Jones, a political scientist at Rice University. “(But) all hope is not lost for Democrats in that they remain within striking distance.” 

O’Rourke is in the midst of a 49-day tour, hosting 70 events in more than 65 counties to connect with voters as he seeks to unseat Abbott, who is running for his third term in office. O’Rourke’s run has garnered significant attention in both traditional and social media and has drawn crowds in traditional Republican strongholds, but Jones said that any possible momentum is not reflected in the survey results. 

“What we may be seeing is enhanced enthusiasm among O’Rourke supporters who are already going to turn out to vote, but not that next stage,” Jones said. “The next two stages that O'Rourke would have to reach in order to actually defeat Abbott is mobilizing individuals who generally would not turn out to vote and convincing at least some past Greg Abbott voters to switch their preferences to Beto this time around.”

Gov. Greg Abbott arrives with Mark Arend, Editor in Chief of Site Selection Magazine, for a ceremony at the Governor’s Mansion on Tuesday March 1, 2022, where Abbott received the Governor’s Cup from the magazine.  The award highlights top-performing states for job creation and capital investment.

Of the poll respondents who identify as politically independent, 34% said they would vote for O’Rourke, while 31% said they would vote for Abbott, which could be a major factor in the gubernatorial race considering that more than 80% of voters in each party have indicated they are already committed to voting for their party’s nominee. 

The polls margin of error was plus or minus 2.6%.

“A lot of Texans seem to have made up their mind already, so that's a real problem considering that O’Rourke’s primary goal here is to try to persuade some voters who otherwise might not vote or vote for the Republican,” said Brandon Rottinghaus, a political science professor at the University of Houston. “They need these noncommitted, moderate, independent-leaning voters to side with them in big numbers, to be able to offset the advantage that Republicans have in rural areas.”

Rottinghaus said the poll results contain good news for both campaigns — Abbott’s steady lead bodes well for the incumbent, while keeping the gap in the single digits is good for O’Rourke. However, Rottinghaus said O’Rourke’s opportunity to pull ahead could lie in how Texans fall on major issues. 

“Gun violence, public education, the grid and, generally, the direction of the state, those things are all breaking the Democrats’ way. So that's a good sign for his ability to persuade people,” Rottinghaus said. 

According to the poll results, a large percentage of Texans want lawmakers to take more action on gun violence. 

Shawn C., who wouldn't give his last name, carries a rifle and a Greg Abbott sign to protest across the street from Beto O'Rourke's Drive for Texas event in Rockdale on Aug. 5

When asked whether elected officials are doing enough to prevent mass shootings, 40% strongly disagreed, while 23% somewhat disagreed. Forty-two percent of respondents strongly agreed that Abbott should call a special session of the Texas Legislature to respond to mass shootings, while an additional 24% somewhat agreed. Abbott so far has shrugged off calls for a special session.

In regards to raising the minimum age for a person to buy a semi-automatic, assault-style rifle from 18 to 21, 52% favored the idea a great deal, with 15% favoring the idea a modest amount. 

However, the state of the economy and low support for President Joe Biden could work in Abbott’s favor. 

Forty-four percent of the survey’s respondents strongly disapproved of the president’s handling of the economy, with 48% saying Biden and Congress are responsible for inflation and a higher cost of living in Texas right now. 

The poll also found Abbott has significant support for some of his efforts to address border security — 78% of respondents supported his short-lived move to inspect all commercial vehicles at the border, 51% supported busing migrants to Washington, 57% supported the use of state funds to deploy the National Guard and Department of Public Safety troopers to patrol the border, and 47% supported the use of state funds to extend the border wall. 

But with more than two months until the election, Rottinghaus said there is still plenty of time for the race to “ebb and flow.” 

“The race is close, but it’s not a barn burner,” Rottinghaus said. 

Abbott and O’Rourke have agreed to a televised debate at the University of Texas-Rio Grande Valley in South Texas in the fall.

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