Greg Abbott's lead over Beto O'Rourke has shrunk to 5 points, new poll shows

Beto O'Rourke is inching closer to Gov. Greg Abbott in the marquee Texas election matchup this fall, according to a poll released Wednesday by the Texas Politics Project at the University of Texas.

The Democrat from El Paso slightly trails Abbott, a Republican who is seeking a third term, by 5 percentage points among registered voters. Abbott held a 6-point edge in June in the last UT poll.

Abbott had been 10-11 points ahead of O'Rourke earlier this year. Meanwhile, other recent polls indicate Abbott holding a 7% lead.

The O'Rourke campaign touted the poll as a sign of momentum in a Wednesday news release. "Beto continues to cut Greg Abbott's lead, closing the gap by six points since the spring while Abbott's support failed to budge a single point over the summer, a notable weakness for an incumbent who sits well below 50%," the campaign said in the release.

Abbott's campaign did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The poll, with a margin of error of plus or minus 2.83 percentage points, surveyed 1,200 registered voters in late August and early September.

Joshua Blank, research director at the Texas Politics Project, said the latest poll results show Texas is on a trajectory to becoming a more competitive state.

"If we were looking at polling conducted six or eight years ago, we would expect the Republican advantage to be closer to 10 points, and then to maybe expand further," Blank said. "Here, we're looking at a Republican advantage among registered voters of 5 points, that might expand to 7 or 8."

Abbott won his first election in 2014 by 21 points and his second election in 2018 by 13 points. If, say, O'Rourke lost by 5 points or fewer than 5 points in November, then Texas could be considered a battleground state in 2024, Blank said.

"That would be of huge consequence on the state and on the nation," Blank said. "Texas is not a state that Republicans tend to have to spend resources and time defending. And if it is, it's an incredibly expensive state to do so."

Democrat Beto O'Rourke, left, and Republican Gov. Greg Abbott
Democrat Beto O'Rourke, left, and Republican Gov. Greg Abbott

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Abbott's campaign has maintained its focus on the economy and border security, while O'Rourke rallies around abortion access and stopping gun violence. O'Rourke has largely framed his campaign around events earlier this year: the May 24 mass shooting at a Uvalde elementary school and the Supreme Court overturning Roe v. Wade a month later.

Poll respondents indicated that addressing mass shootings was important to them. More than half of the respondents (57%) indicated Texas elected officials have done too little to prevent mass shootings, and more than half (54%) said gun laws should be stricter compared with 18% who believe they should be less strict.

Blank said a plurality of Texans continue to say they would like to see gun control laws made stricter. Abbott has signed multiple bills loosening gun restrictions and said a day after the Uvalde shooting that tougher gun laws are "not a real solution" to gun violence. He has resisted calls from Uvalde families and others to call a special session of the Legislature to address gun safety.

"The only difference, such as there is one, is this poll found the highest share saying that they wanted to see the laws made more strict in 10 surveys that we've asked the question since February 2015," Blank said. "It's the highest share of independents, the highest share of Hispanics, the highest share of women, and the highest share of suburban voters all saying they want gun control laws more strict."

More than three-quarters of respondents indicated the delay by police in confronting the shooter in Uvalde contributed "a lot" to the severity of the shooting. Nearly two-thirds of respondents believed the weapon used by the shooter contributed to the shooting's severity. The 18-year-old gunman legally purchased the AR-15-like assault-style rifle he used to massacre 19 children and two teachers.

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But just 7% of voters said gun control/gun violence was the most important problem facing Texas today. Border security at 16% and immigration at 14% topped that list.

Texans were evenly split on the Supreme Court's abortion decision. Shortly after the ruling, Texas enacted an abortion ban, a law signed last year by Abbott. Nearly half of voters believed Texas abortion laws should be "less strict."

Abbott has grabbed national attention in recent months for busing migrants to Washington, Chicago, and New York City to alleviate the strain on Texas border communities that have seen an influx of migrants, caused by what he has called President Joe Biden's failed border policies. Elected officials in the cities receiving the migrants continue to condemn Abbott while welcoming the migrants. Just over half of the poll respondents indicated support for the busing program.

Abbott and O'Rourke have leaned on different strategies as they scramble to persuade voters. Abbott has poured millions of dollars in ads, while O'Rourke embarked on a 65-county campaign trip holding in-person events across the state.

Abbott and O'Rourke will debate at the University of Texas-Rio Grande Valley on Sept. 30.

Oct. 11 is the last day to register to vote for the midterm elections. Early voting starts Oct. 24. Election Day is Nov. 8.

This article originally appeared on Austin American-Statesman: Texas Gov. Greg Abbott leads Beto O'Rourke by 5 points, UT poll shows