Beto O’Rourke Is Polling Like a Generic Democrat. Can That Make Him a Threat?

Cruz’s disapproval ratings may put him at risk.

Rep. Beto O'Rourke (D-TX) speaks to a group of supporters at Scholz Garten on April 1, 2017, in Austin.

Among political junkies, Public Policy Polling will probably never live down its 2009 survey that showed U.S. Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison leading Governor Rick Perry by 25 percentage points (56 percent to 31 percent) going into the 2010 Republican primary for governor. Soon after, Rasmussen Reports released a survey showing Perry well ahead, 46 percent to 36 percent. And of course, Perry ultimately won that contest without a runoff.

So, I’m not quite sure what to make of the new Public Policy Polling survey showing Democrat Beto O’Rourke trailing U.S. Senator Ted Cruz by just eight points (45 percent to 37 percent). The poll was paid for by End Citizens United, a Democratic organization that targets campaign finance reform, but many of the numbers are comparable with other surveys. For example, O’Rourke is polling like a generic Democrat: 61 percent of those contacted by Public Policy Polling didn’t have an opinion on O’Rourke. On the other hand, nearly everyone had an opinion on Cruz—a 49 percent unfavorable and a 38 percent favorable rating.

After the survey’s initial questions, though, it quickly pivots. It’s blatantly designed to elicit a specific response. For example, there are questions like, “Who do you think Ted Cruz is more responsive to: ordinary Texans, or his big campaign donors?”

And then: “Beto O’Rourke is not taking a dime from political action committees or special interest group PACS. His campaign is entirely funded by individuals. If elected, Beto O’Rourke will work for the people of Texas not special interests in Washington. Ted Cruz has accepted $1.3 million from corporate PACS and just voted to give them a huge tax break. Having hear this, let me ask you again: if the candidates for US Senate this fall were Republican Ted Cruz and Democrat Beto O’Rourke, who would you vote for?”

Yet even with that long-winded sales pitch, O’Rourke only took the lead 43 percent to 41 percent. So far, no other polling has indicated that O’Rourke can win the Senate race.

But there is one trend here that’s worth keeping an eye on: Cruz’s unfavorable ratings. Many surveys have pointed to the potential for Cruz losing the race, largely because he emerged from his 2016 Republican presidential contest as damaged goods.