AUSTIN — Former Vice President Joe Biden has built a 5-point lead over President Donald Trump in Texas, as unease over Trump’s handling of coronavirus mounts, a new Dallas Morning News-University of Texas Tyler poll has found.
If the general election were held today, Biden would carry Texas, with 46% of the vote to Trump’s 41%. 14% were undecided or named someone else.
Biden’s lead, which comes after he and Trump were tied 43%-43% in The News and UT-Tyler’s April survey, is significant, if barely: The poll, conducted June 29-July 7, has a margin of error of plus or minus 2.24 percentage points.
The story behind Biden’s slight bulge is the softening of the Republican incumbent’s support among independents and “weak partisans,” said Kenneth Bryant Jr., a UT-Tyler political scientist who helped design the poll.
“While President Trump has and still enjoys near universal approval from Republicans, and overwhelming disfavor from Democrats, he has lost considerable ground among the folks in the middle, who may ultimately decide who wins Texas in November,” Bryant said.
Up to now, though, the Biden campaign has done little to demonstrate it’ll make a major effort before the Nov. 3 general election in Texas. The state hasn’t voted for a Democrat in a presidential election since Jimmy Carter carried the state in 1976.
Democratic Senate race
The poll, the fourth of six tracking the 2020 election and current events by The News and the UT-Tyler Center for Public Opinion, also showed some movement, though not enough to be significant, by long-time Dallas state Sen. Royce West in Tuesday’s runoff for the Democratic nomination for U.S. Senate.
Purple Heart winner and political neophyte MJ Hegar of Round Rock, who has a big financial edge as well as late-hour help in the form of a TV ad blitz by the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee and EMILY’s List, leads West, 32% to 20%, among Democrats and independents who lean Democratic, the poll found.
Since April, when Hegar led West, 32% to 16%, he’s closed the deficit with Hegar among women and college-educated voters to single digits. For Democratic voters, the poll’s margin of error was plus or minus 3.27 percentage points.
Neither Democrat gained much traction from the April survey as their party’s November standard bearer against three-term GOP incumbent Sen. John Cornyn:
If the general election were held today, Cornyn would win a plurality of 37% against Hegar’s 26%, with 31% undecided, the latest poll found.
Against West, Cornyn’s plurality would be slightly larger: 37% to West’s 25%, with 32% undecided.
The poll, which surveyed 1,909 registered voters, 129 by phone and 1,780 through online surveys, found the coronavirus pandemic to be a drag in Texas in the popularity and job ratings of both Trump and second-term GOP Gov. Greg Abbott.
Local elected officials garnered higher approvals and levels of confidence, as reflected by support of nearly 4 to 1 for letting cities and counties set their own mask requirements. But while 82% of Texans said they wore a mask in the past 7 days, interviews with some respondents suggested a portion of that was grudging compliance, not necessarily pervasive acceptance of public health experts’ arguments that face coverings reduce transmission.
“I’m wearing a mask only because I have to, not because I want to,” said Texas City funeral home owner Jay Carnes, a Trump supporter who’s disappointed Abbott “caved” on the issue of requiring Texans to wear face coverings while in public.
“These people are just so nasty and mean who see it as a cure all, they’re just so scared,” he said of mask-law proponents.
By 66% to 19%, Texans support another stay at home order if infections and hospitalizations do not decline. More than one-third, 36%, though, say the threat of the virus has been blown out of proportion. 56% agree with the statement that China is responsible for the coronavirus pandemic, and just 18% disagree. In April, Texans agreed that China’s responsible, 61% to 16%.
And a slight majority now agree that the COVID-19 pandemic will probably lead to civil unrest: 53% agree it will; 21% disagree. In April, only a plurality (45%) of Texans agreed the pandemic likely will lead to disorder.
If a vaccine for COVID-19 were to become available, by 67% to 16%, Texans say they’re likely to take it. That’s down from April, though, when 76% said they were likely or very likely to take it and just 10% said they were unlikely or very unlikely to do so.
It’s unknown what percentage of participation would be needed to achieve herd immunity, which makes spread unlikely. That varies from disease to disease. For another highly infectious disease, measles, it’s estimated 94% of the population must be immune to block transmission, according to the Mayo Clinic.
Recently, Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases said he would “settle” for a vaccine that’s 70% to 75% effective. But he noted that this incomplete protection, together with some Americans’ resistance to taking a vaccine, makes it “unlikely” the U.S. can achieve enough immunity to quell COVID-10.
Poll respondent Becky Maner, 43, of Greenville, said she’s appalled by the “just stupid” attitudes some fellow Texans have about not wearing masks and balking at taking a vaccine.
Speaking for her three children, husband and herself, she said, “As early as we can get the vaccine, we will get it.” People who don’t like wearing a mask should lunge at a vaccine as “the next answer,” said Maner, who works for T Mobile in Frisco and is a Biden supporter.
“I don’t know when we got so wrapped up in conspiracy theories and that people are out to harm us by vaccines,” she said. “I just don’t get it.”
Unease with handling of crisis
Mark Owens, a UT-Tyler political scientist who oversaw the telephone and online survey, said new questions added to the June 29-July 7 survey showed growing unease with state and federal leaders’ handling of the public health crisis.
By 70% to 17%, he noted, registered Texas voters agreed that the state should not have reopened restaurants and bars so quickly — as Abbott did, respectively, on May 1 and May 22.
Only 22% agreed the coronavirus outbreak in Texas is under control, while 63% disagreed.
The drag on Trump and Abbott’s approval ratings was striking.
While in April Texans were evenly divided in their appraisals of the president’s overall job performance, in the new poll, 42% approve of the job he’s doing, while 50% disapprove. On COVID-19, just 38% of state residents are pleased with Trump’s performance, with a majority (52%) disapproving. In April, 43% approved and 44% disapproved.
Abbott also came down a peg, though he started at a much higher one, the poll found.
Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick’s job approval was 37% approve, 37% disapprove. Throughout his nearly six years in the state’s No. 2 job, the former Houston state senator and radio talk-show host has like Abbott enjoyed strong support among staunch conservatives. But Patrick has pulled less support than the governor from GOP moderates, independents and even Democrats.
While the two men don’t have to face the voters until 2022, Abbott’s situation is increasingly complicated. Several of the most conservative state lawmakers and GOP activists have attacked him for overreaching and wielding too much power during the pandemic.
Democrats and others, meanwhile, have kept up a steady drumbeat of criticism that he stopped listening to medical experts and scientists, and surrendered to pressure from Trump and Patrick, who is Trump’s top supporter in the state, for what they cite as an overly hasty reopening of the economy.
The hammering from both ends of the political spectrum may be taking its toll.
In April, Abbott, who declared a state disaster the month before, enjoyed a net 61%-23% overall job approval, and approval by 63% to 22% of the way he was handling coronavirus.
But Abbott, who has kept local officials on a generally tight leash, preferring to make most of the reopening decisions himself, is now experiencing erosion of the once-lofty numbers. A resurgence of cases prompted him to close bars on June 26 and issue a statewide mask order on July 2.
His overall job approval slipped by 7 percentage points, to 54% approve and 31% disapprove. On COVID-19, the dip was more dramatic — 15 percentage points, as just 48% now approve of the way he’s handling the virus, compared with 40% who disapprove.
A bare majority of voters still trust Abbott, Owens noted.
But among the 50% of voters who “strongly agree” Texas should not have reopened bars and restaurants so quickly, he’s lost a lot of people’s confidence, the professor noted.
In April, when asked if they trusted Abbott to keep their community safe and healthy, 66% did. Only 30% dissented.
In the latest poll, though, those with a fair amount or a great deal of confidence in the governor were just 50% of respondents — a 16 percentage point decrease. 47% say they have not too much or no confidence Abbott will keep their towns safe.
Trust in the governor fell across all age groups, educational attainment levels and races.
But the drop among Hispanics was particularly acute: 63% had confidence he’d keep their community safe in April, but just 37% do now. Among those making between $30,000 a year and $50,000, there was almost as big a plunge in confidence: just 41% now, down from 62% in April.
Distrust of Trump’s ability to keep communities safe during the pandemic has increased, the poll found. In April, 45% of Texans had confidence in the president and 45% did not. Now, 42% trust him while 56% do not.
60% of 18 to 24 year olds say they have “no confidence” Trump will keep their community safe during the pandemic, and 70% of Blacks. By race, 55% of whites say they have a fair amount or a great deal of trust in Trump, compared with just 27% of Hispanics, 26% of Asian Americans and 14% of Blacks.
Only among those making more than $100,000 a year was there a slight majority who said they trust Trump on the pandemic. Among those making under $50,000, only 37% did.
Besides accounts of Americans’ growing isolation and economic woes caused by COVID-19, newspapers and newscasts have been filled with stories about protests of police brutality and racial inequality since the Memorial Day killing of George Floyd by Minneapolis police.
Asked if the federal government’s response to coronavirus and the protests has caused them to reconsider whom they’ll vote for for president in November, 60% of Texans — and 70% of Republicans and independents who lean Republican — said not too much or not at all. But just 55% of independent voters said federal responses aren’t moving them to rethink their White House choice much or at all. 37% said they’re reconsidering to a fair or great degree.
In Texans’ personal lives, the poll found fewer people are taking social distancing precautions as did in April.
However, more said they’d worn a mask in the past 7 days — 82%, compared with just 68% in April.
Whose encouragement to wear masks mattered most? 49% of Republicans cited Abbott, compared with just 25% of independents and 24% of Democrats.
Fauci and the White House Task Force on Coronavirus, though, were cited by 51% of Democrats. Only 38% of Republicans credited Fauci and the task force as their motivators.
Answers also varied by the population density of respondents’ communities: In metro areas, the most common reason people have worn a mask is because local businesses required it. In rural areas, people tended to cite the encouragement of local leaders. In suburban areas, though, Dr. Fauci and White House Task Force were the most common reason people complied.
The Dallas Morning News/UT Tyler Poll reflects a statewide random sample of 1,909 registered voters during the eight days between June 29-July 7. The mixed mode sample includes 129 registered voters who were surveyed by the Center for Opinion Research over the phone and 1780 registered voters that were randomly selected from a panel of registered voters that are contacted to take surveys by the Dynata. The online and phone surveys were conducted in English and Spanish.
The data were weighted to be representative of the Texas register voter population. Iterative weighting was used to balance sample demographics to the state population parameters, specifically the estimated gender, age, race/ethnicity, and education of registered voters in the state using an iterated process known as raking. These parameters were derived from 2018 Current Population Survey to reflect Texas’s electorate. The use of these weights in statistical analysis ensures that the characteristics of the sample closely reflect the characteristics of registered voters in Texas. This was done separately for the probability phone sample and the online sample, before one weight was generated by standardizing the non-probability online sample with the probability phone sample (see Elliott 2009).
In this poll, the sampling error for 1,909 registered voters in Texas is +/- 2.24 percentage points at a 95 percent confidence interval. The survey’s design asked additional questions to 898 registered voters who indicated they voted in the Democratic Primary (margin of error of +/- 3.27%).