For most of this year, more than a third of Texas voters told pollsters they did not know enough about Democratic U.S. Senate candidate Beto O’Rourke to have an opinion of him. But with a surge of national coverage on the candidate, it seems that O’Rourke is firmly on voters’ radar—and that may not be good news for him. A race that had been considered neck-and-neck has been blown open by Republican incumbent Ted Cruz in a new poll released Tuesday.
A new Quinnipiac University Poll found Cruz leading in his reelection campaign 54 percent to O’Rourke’s 45 percent. O’Rourke’s standing in the survey is up from 43 percent in an August poll, but Cruz has shot up from 49 percent to 54 percent—one of his highest reelection numbers this year. A major difference may be that the previous poll was conducted among registered voters, while the new survey is the first that Quinnipiac did this year of likely voters. (As Quinnipiac notes: “This is the first survey of likely voters in this race by the independent Quinnipiac University Poll, and cannot be compared to earlier surveys of registered voters.”)
And yet, little explains this jump better than a newfound awareness of O’Rourke among Texas voters. In the August survey, 33 percent had a positive view of the El Paso congressman, and 23 percent had a negative view. But 43 percent said they did not know enough about O’Rourke to have an opinion of him.
In the new survey, 43 percent of the voters had a positive view of O’Rourke, but those holding a negative view were up to 42 percent. More than half of the white men surveyed now do not feel positively about O’Rourke, and almost half the white women hold a negative view. Black people overwhelmingly feel positive about O’Rourke, but Hispanics only lean positively, with 48 percent holding a positive opinion and 35 percent a negative opinion of him.
That’s not to say Cruz is universally loved by the likely voters of Texas. His negative rating is 43 percent, but 52 percent of those surveyed have a favorable view. Cruz leads largely because 66 percent of the white voters say they will support Cruz over O’Rourke. Cruz also has the support of 45 percent of the Hispanics surveyed.
O’Rourke holds a slight lead among self-described independent voters, but it is close enough to be a statistical tie in the poll’s margin of error. Voters ages 49 and younger support O’Rourke, while the older voters favor Cruz. This is significant because older white people in past elections have made up more than 60 percent of the voter turnout.
About a quarter of the likely voters said immigration was their top issue, and 67 percent of them supported Cruz—a sign that Texans are supporting President Donald Trump’s immigration policies. Job approval for Trump split 49 percent to 49 percent. One out of five of the voters surveyed listed health care as their top concern, of whom 81 percent backed O’Rourke.
In the governor’s race, incumbent Republican Greg Abbott is leading Democratic former Dallas County Sheriff Lupe Valdez 58 percent to 39 percent. Most stunning is the fact Abbott leads among Hispanic voters 49 percent to 45 percent.
The survey of 807 likely Texas voters was conducted September 11–17 through live phone calls to land lines and cell phones. The margin of error is plus or minus 4.1 percentage points.