Biden rebounds to edge over Trump in Texas, as Hegar slightly narrows Cornyn’s lead in Senate race

AUSTIN — Former Vice President Joe Biden has regained a narrow lead over President Donald Trump in Texas, after wooing more independents and Hispanics, according to a poll released Sunday by The Dallas Morning News and University of Texas at Tyler.

Biden’s lead among likely voters is 48%-45%, within the poll’s margin of error.

In the Texas race for U.S. Senate, Republican incumbent John Cornyn lost a bit more ground against Democrat MJ Hegar. Cornyn’s lead now stands at 8 points, down from 11 in September.

Also, in a sign of potential trouble for Texas as it grapples with the coronavirus pandemic, fewer than half of Texas registered voters say they’re likely to take a COVID-19 vaccine when it becomes available. That’s a slide from last spring, when about three-quarters were willing.

“Texas remains a tossup because of the public’s attitudes toward President Trump,” said political scientist Mark Owens, who directed the poll.

In September, 32% of Texans said they had no confidence in Trump’s ability to keep communities safe from the coronavirus pandemic, Owens noted. Today, 44% voice that sentiment. Trump, though, still has the advantage as the candidate Texans believe would handle the economy best.

Biden, who was 2 points behind Trump among likely voters in The News and UT-Tyler’s September survey, edged slightly ahead of the president this month by expanding his support among independents and grabbing a better than 3-to-1 advantage among Hispanics.

The former vice president’s rebound from last month, when Trump led among likely Texas voters, 48-46, is sure to boost the already high spirits of state Democrats.

In recent days, some Democratic leaders have bitterly complained that the Biden campaign stinted on buying TV ads in Texas — possibly missing out on an opportunity to proclaim Trump’s presidency kaput on election night.

The poll, though, was taken before Thursday’s final presidential debate. Many Texas Republicans were cheered by Trump’s performance, and especially by Biden’s comment about a national need to transition away from the oil industry, an issue that strongly resonates in the state.

The poll, conducted Oct. 13-20, surveyed 1,012 registered voters. Of those, 925 are likely voters, 408 of whom had already voted and just 120 of whom said they plan to vote in person on Nov. 3. The margin of error is plus or minus 3.08 percentage points for the bigger group, and 3.22 points for the subset of likely voters.

The party split of poll respondents — 40% Republicans, 33% Democrats — “is in line with what we expect to see across the state,” Owens said.

COVID, economy dominate

While Trump’s hospitalization with COVID-19 dominated headlines as the poll was being taken, 63% of Texans said the president’s illness neither heightened nor reduced their concern about the virus. The survey found 25% more concerned and 12% less.

In some ways, the pandemic and its economic fallout push the presidential race in opposite directions, Owens said.

As COVID-19 infections and hospitalizations have begun to rise again in Texas, especially toward the end of the survey period, Texans’ trust in Trump and Gov. Greg Abbott to protect them and their communities has ebbed, the poll found.

Trump’s job approval, at 47-46, is largely unchanged from a divided verdict in September (40-38). Similarly, the more popular Abbott’s job rating didn’t move, remaining at 54% approve, 34% disapprove.

But asked if they trust the leaders to keep their communities healthy and safe during the public health crisis, Texans gave Trump a thumbs-down, with 44% saying they trust him and 54% saying they don’t.

Abbott remains above water on that question, with 52% trusting and 45% not trusting him. In September, the same percentage trusted the governor but just 39% did not.

A slim majority of likely voters, 51%, said they directly know someone — a friend, family member or co-worker — who is infected with the coronavirus. Among these voters with personal experience, Biden leads Trump, 51-42.

Also, most Texans no longer say they’re likely to take a coronavirus vaccine if one becomes available.

In April, 76% said they were likely to take such a vaccine and just 10% said they were unlikely to do so.

This month — after a flurry of reporting about Trump administration pressure for federal agencies to issue optimistic statements about vaccines and treatment, as well as a decades-long erosion of trust in immunizations — just 49% are likely to take a COVID-19 vaccine. Statewide, 27% are unlikely to do it, while 23% are neither likely nor unlikely.

In exurban or “metro adjacent” counties — think counties farther from Dallas-Fort Worth than Collin or Denton — vaccine take-up rates appear to be the worst: Just 36% of voters there are likely to get the shots, compared with 57% in rural Texas and 50% in “metro” — a combination of inner cities and suburbs.

Even with high unemployment and many small businesses closing, though, more Texans think Trump will do a better job handling the economy than Biden would.

Among likely voters, Trump has a 53-46 edge in perceptions of who would be the better economic steward, Owens noted.

“Biden’s liberal taxation agenda, his giveaway agendas, his socialism issues, that’s all anti-American and anti-productive in terms of growth for the economy and for our money that we’ve worked for,” said poll respondent Marvin Fagan, 75, of Kaufman.

Fagan, who worked his way up from machine-tool worker to manufacturing plant owner, said he doubts anyone could’ve handled coronavirus better than Trump.

“It should be really up to the individual about how they want to take care of themselves because I don’t think government can take care of us,” he said.

While the poll showed a slight majority of Texans distrust Trump on the pandemic, “there are individuals who are willing to, despite that, vote for him because of what he can do with the economy,” said Owens, the UT-Tyler professor.

Biden’s progress

No Democrat running for president has carried Texas since Jimmy Carter in 1976. Biden is knocking on the door, the poll suggests, though Trump has posted gains among white suburban voters lately.

In the September poll, Biden was ahead among independents, 46-37. But in the latest survey, completed Tuesday, Biden’s edge among independents grew to 51-29. They make up 27% of likely voters.

“Biden wouldn’t be my first choice to get to cast a vote for, to be honest,” said Hayley Dyer, 32, an independent voter. “But I would rather vote for anyone than to vote for Donald Trump.”

Dyer, a marketing professional for a tech company who moved from Dallas to Tarrant County to ride out the pandemic at her parents’ place, cited Trump’s handling of COVID-19.

‘He knew about the virus before it got here,” she said. “We could’ve been ahead of it. I don’t understand why we weren’t.”

Among Hispanics, who make up 22% of likely voters, Biden has also gained. His 30-point lead among Latinos in September — 58-28 — blossomed to 48 points, or 69-21, in this month’s poll.

Though Trump is wooing African Americans, Biden slightly improved his standing with Black voters, to 89-5, while avoiding significant slippage among whites.

Still, as in September, Trump enjoys commanding leads over Biden among white evangelicals (currently 76-24), white men (65-27), whites with no college degree (65-30), gun owners (58-35) and seniors of all races and ethnicities (56-40).

The president, who has warned that under Biden, suburbs would become unsafe and overrun with housing for low-income people, saw his lead among white suburban residents increase to 83-15, from September’s 74-16.

Overall, though, Trump is running behind his performance in Texas from four years ago, when he carried it over Hillary Clinton, 52-43.

Pollster Owens said Trump’s on track to again to lose in the largest counties, those with more than 1 million residents, but also in mid-size counties.

“Our poll suggests that Biden may get close to 50% of the vote in counties with populations larger than 250,000,” he said. “Collin County proves to be an exception, where the president’s support in the poll matches his 2016 vote share” of 56%. “President Trump’s support in mid-sized cities (20,000-250,000) has eroded from what were big wins in 2016 as he received 70% of the vote in those 22 counties.”

Senate race

In his bid for a fourth term in the U.S. Senate against Hegar, Cornyn’s leads in prior polls were in the low double digits. Now, Hegar, the military veteran and political newcomer from Round Rock, has reduced it to high single digits. It’s 8 points, both among all voters (40-32) and likely voters (42-34), the poll found.

Still, though Cornyn’s not hugely popular, his underlying numbers may block his being overtaken by Hegar.

In September, the Republican incumbent’s favorability rating among all voters was positive by a net of 8 points. This month, Cornyn was viewed favorably by 43% and unfavorably by 30%, a net positive of 13 points. And the pool of voters who are undecided dipped by one-third, to 22%, leaving Hegar fewer fence-sitters to woo in pursuit of an upset.

“Cornyn’s persistent lead with voters that we polled shows that Texas voters are still willing to vote for Republican candidates,” Owens said.

Among all voters, Hegar is viewed favorably by 37%, and unfavorably by 27%.

Do they understand average Texans’ concerns? That was a wash, the poll found. Cornyn’s score for relating to the common person was 53-40, Hegar’s 50-40.

Harris and Pence

Vice President Mike Pence, a Republican, is viewed favorably by 48% of Texas registered voters and unfavorably by 39%, the poll found.

California Democratic Sen. Kamala Harris, Biden’s running mate who’s the first African American woman on a major party’s national ticket, has a net favorable rating in Texas. But it’s slimmer than Pence’s — 44% approve of Harris, 41% disapprove.

Amy Coney Barrett

By 60-40, Texas registered voters said the Senate should vote before the election on Trump’s nomination of federal appellate Judge Amy Coney Barrett to a vacancy on the U.S. Supreme Court.

Barrett, an Indiana jurist who would succeed the late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, is viewed favorably by 46% and unfavorably by 27%. Among Republicans, 65% have a very favorable impression of Barrett — far higher than 28% of Democrats who see her very unfavorably.

Texas House

Texas voters prefer a Democratic candidate for Texas House over a Republican, 50-49, the poll shows.

Democrats are making a concerted effort to seize control of the 150-member chamber for the first time in nearly two decades. They need a net gain of nine seats.

Owens said independent voters, who favor a generic candidate for state representative offered by Democrats by 59-41 over the GOP candidate, are crucial to the Democrats’ slight advantage.

The independents contribute 5 percentage points of the Democrats’ support on the Texas House ballot question, he said.

METHODOLOGY

The Dallas Morning News/UT-Tyler Poll is a statewide random sample of 1,012 registered voters conducted between Oct. 13-20. The sample includes 268 registered voters surveyed over the phone by the Center for Opinion Research with support from ReconMR and 744 registered voters randomly selected from Dynata’s panel of respondents. The Web sample was stratified to represent the demographics of Texas’ registered voter population. The online and phone surveys were conducted in English and Spanish.

In this poll, the sampling error for 1,012 registered voters in Texas is +/- 3.08 percentage points at a 95 percent confidence interval. Within the sample there are also 925 likely voters, who have voted or are “extremely likely” to vote in November’s election. The margin of error for our sample of likely voters is +/- 3.22 percentage points.

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