AUSTIN — Former vice president Joe Biden has stretched his lead in Texas in the Democratic presidential fight, buoyed by gains among Hispanics, a new Dallas Morning News-University of Texas at Tyler poll has found.
Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders has the most enthusiastic backing of any of the major Democratic presidential contenders, according to the poll.
However, among Texas Democrats and independents who lean Democratic, Sanders is running further behind Biden than he did in two statewide polls by UT-Tyler last fall.
Biden now leads Sanders, 35% to 18%. In the East Texas university’s September and November polls, the front-running Biden bested Sanders by only 9 percentage points.
In the latest survey, former New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg and Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren tied for third with 16% each. Bloomberg, who is concentrating on Super Tuesday states, has spent $24 million on ads in Texas, according to Kantar/Campaign Media Analysis Group.
The poll launches a new initiative for the 2020 election by The News and the UT Tyler Center for Opinion Research. It was conducted Jan. 21-30 with 1,169 registered voters — 305 surveyed by phone and 864 through online surveys — and has a margin of error of plus or minus 2.87 percentage points.
Biden supporter Stanley Knickerbocker, 74, of Cypress, who has split his ballot between parties in the past, said Republican actions under President Donald Trump and Senate GOP Leader Mitch McConnell have infuriated him. He said any of the Democrats running for president or to unseat Texas Sen. John Cornyn would be an improvement.
“The only thing they did was pass a tax cut for the rich,” he said.
Referring to Biden, Knickerbocker said “he’s going to stand up” for ordinary Americans. But the retired home improvement contractor also spoke approvingly of Sanders and Warren, saying, “I’m supporting whoever comes out” of the Democratic nominating contests.
Trump shows slight improvement
Texans’ views of Trump’s job performance have improved slightly since the fall, and he leads all major Democrats in head-to-head, general election match-ups.
Still, if the November election were held today, Biden and Bloomberg both would be competitive against the Republican incumbent in Texas, the poll found.
Trump leads Biden, 44% to 42%. He leads Bloomberg, his bitter enemy from the Gotham business world, 45% to 42%. Both leads were within the poll’s margin of error.
In hypothetical general election match-ups, Trump leads Sanders, 45% to 39% and Warren, 46% to 37%. The president had double-digit edges over three others.
The poll also found that 55% of Texans — Democrats, Republicans and independents alike — are not concerned that the Democratic-controlled U.S. House’s impeachment of Trump will affect the outcome of the election. Breaking strongly along party lines, 43% said Trump should be removed from office, while 48% said he should not be removed.
Trump’s standing with Lone Star State voters does not appear to have suffered from the impeachment and a trial in the GOP-led U.S. Senate that is expected to produce an acquittal this week, said Mark Owens, a UT-Tyler assistant professor who helped conduct the poll.
“I would have thought that the impeachment hearing would be seen as a negative,” he said. But “we’ve seen the approval move up,” he said, referring to the 45% of Texans who now say they like how Trump is handling his job, compared with 47% who disapprove. In September, just 40% approved, and in November, the split was 43% approve, 49% disapprove.
In Texas’ U.S. Senate race, Cornyn, a three-term incumbent, has support of 56% of Republicans and independents who lean Republican in the March 3 GOP primary.
Though all four of his Republican opponents poll only in the low single digits, Owens said Cornyn has some soft spots: 36% of GOP voters aren’t sure whom they’ll support.
Among all registered voters, 38% approve of the way Cornyn’s handling his job, while 30% disapprove and 31% don’t know. In September, 33% approved, and in November, 36% did. If the January results are better, Owens noted, nearly half of independents don’t know enough to have an opinion.
On the Democratic side, former congressional candidate MJ Hegar of Round Rock is the first choice of the most voters, but of only 8%. Dallas state Sen. Royce West is second with 6%. A little-known candidate, Annie “Mama” Garcia, is third with 5%. Nine others are at 4% or less, and 56% of Democratic primary voters aren’t sure whom they support.
Labor activist Cristina Tzintzún Ramirez, who in UT-Tyler’s November poll led the pack with 9.2%, fell to 4%. That tied her with former Houston City Council member Amanda Edwards, who in November was fourth with 8.1%.
“With a booming economy, record low taxes, rising wages and low unemployment, these candidates’ socialist policies — like their poll numbers — are flatlining,” said Cornyn campaign spokeswoman Krista Piferrer.
All of the Democrats are running “on a California platform,” she said.
Texas Democratic Party spokesman Abhi Rahman, though, said Cornyn is fighting for Trump and McConnell, not for the people.
“Poll after poll shows that John Cornyn is vulnerable and weak,” Rahman said. “Despite the Texas Republican establishment rallying around him and intimidating potential primary challengers, Cornyn still barely cracks 50% in a poll of Republicans.”
Turning purple? Costly
Looking at the presidential contest, pollster Owens said he found in the poll some signs of political trouble for Trump, who won Texas’ electoral votes over Hillary Clinton in 2016 by nine percentage points.
“He’s not losing support,” Owens said. “It’s just that the support’s not that great.”
El Paso accountant Lisa Lopez, in her late 40s, said she voted for Trump in 2016 and has always voted Republican.
“I won’t do it twice,” said Lopez, who is leaning toward a Democrat: Warren.
“I find his childish behavior on Twitter very troublesome,” Lopez said of Trump. “To me, character is just important in a president.”
In seven hypothetical November match-ups with Democrats, Trump’s support among all registered voters peaked at 46%, Owens noted. That was against Warren, who has vied with Sanders for progressives’ support; Pete Buttigieg, who has sought to wrest moderates from Biden; and former California hedge fund owner Tom Steyer, who has tapped his own fortune for TV ads, though only about $170,000 worth in Texas, according to Kantar/CMAG.
“It shows a ceiling,” the professor said. “Donald Trump continues to be at only 46%.”
Still, the poll found that if the election were held today, between 13% and 22% of Texans would vote for neither Trump nor the Democrat. That suggests much campaigning and effort would be required to yank Texas out of the GOP’s column this fall, Owens said.
“It points to the significant investment it would take to turn Texas into a purple state,” he said.
Biden and Hispanics, Sanders’ enthusiastic fans
Biden has made notable gains among Texas Hispanics. In November, Sanders surged ahead among Hispanics who are Democrats or independents who lean Democratic, with 39% to 20% for Biden. But in the latest poll, Biden has a narrow lead, 33% to 30% for Sanders.
After Texas Democrats Beto O’Rourke and Julián Castro dropped out of the presidential race, the Hispanic vote seemed up for grabs, Owens said.
“We didn’t know where they would go,” he said.
Biden was the first choice of 50% of African Americans likely to vote in the March 3 Democratic primary. Among those voters, Sanders was second with 16%, the poll found.
But 71% of likely Democratic voters who support Sanders said they were very enthusiastic to vote for him. The comparable measures of intense support for other major Democrats were 58% for Biden and Buttigieg; 55% for Bloomberg; and 53% for Warren. (67% of likely Democratic voters who support businessman Andrew Yang are very enthusiastic. But Yang is polling at only 3% among both registered and likely voters.)
Biden and Bloomberg were the second choice of Democratic registered voters, at 21% and 18%, respectively. Sanders was the second choice of 16% and Warren 14%. If the field narrows after Monday’s Iowa caucuses and next week’s New Hampshire primary, being an acceptable alternative to disappointed voters becomes more important.
On who would lead as president on economic opportunity, gun policy and national security, Trump enjoys big advantages over the Democrats who want to unseat him, the News-UT-Tyler poll found.
On who can lead as commander in chief, 43% of Texans say Trump. Biden was the closest Democrat, with 19% saying he could. On the economy, 45% said Trump, with 15% for Bloomberg and 13% for Biden.
Among Democrats, 43% said their presidential nominee’s most important trait is being the closest to voters on the issues. But 24% picked as the most crucial characteristic whether the nominee will appeal to independents, 21% said it’s whether the nominee supports former President Barack Obama’s policy legacy and only 11% said it’s whether the nominee will energize the Democratic base.
“On that idea of appealing to independents, Sanders does not do as well,” Owens said.
The Vermont senator grabbed support from just 11% who make a priority of appealing to independents. Biden is the first choice of 34% of such voters, and Bloomberg and Warren, of 15% each.
Border wall, Soleimani strike
On national security issues, 50% of Texans agree with Trump that building a wall along the Texas-Mexico boundary is necessary for a safe border, and 36% disagree. The rest neither agreed nor disagreed.
Asked about Trump’s recent order for U.S. military forces to assassinate Iranian Gen. Qassem Soleimani, 45% of Texans said they support the action, while 28% oppose it.
Although 68% of Texans say it’s likely a foreign nation will try to create confusion in the upcoming election, state voters are divided over whether the U.S. is prepared for such meddling. Asked if the country is ready to keep elections safe and secure, 44% said the U.S. is prepared and 42% said it is not.
Gov. Greg Abbott enjoys higher marks in performing his job than either Trump or Cornyn. By a margin of 59% to 26%, more Texans approve than disapprove of how the second-term Republican governor is handling his duties, the poll found.
Asked if they support or oppose Abbott’s recent decision to block refugees from resettling in Texas, 50% said they support the decision, while 30% oppose it. Abbott’s move blocked any initial resettlements by refugees in the state through at least Sept. 30.
The poll by The News and UT-Tyler is the first of five that will be taken between now and the Nov. 3 election.
About the Dallas Morning News-UT Tyler Poll
The Dallas Morning News-University of Texas Tyler poll is a statewide random sample of 1,169 registered voters taken over 10 days between Jan. 21-30. The mixed mode sample includes 305 registered voters who took the survey by phone and 864 registered voters who were randomly selected from a panel of registered voters that have opted in to take online surveys through a company called Dynata. The online and phone surveys were conducted in English and Spanish.
The data was weighted to be representative of the Texas registered-voter population. Iterative weighting was used to balance sample demographics to the state population parameters. The sample is balanced to match parameters for gender, age, race/ethnicity and education using an iterated process known as raking. These parameters were derived from 2018 Current Population Survey to reflect Texas’ 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.
The poll’s sampling error for 1,169 registered voters in Texas is +/- 2.87 percentage points at a 95 percent confidence interval. The survey asked additional questions of 427 registered voters who identify with the Democratic Party as members or independents that lean toward the party with margin of error of +/- 4.44% for those questions.
For the Republican primary, the margin of error is plus or minus 4.14 percentage points, and for the Democratic primary, it is plus or minus 4.44 percentage points.