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Poll: Democrat O'Rourke trails Ted Cruz by just 4 percentage points in Texas

O’Rourke has 45 percent support among registered voters compared with Cruz’s 49 percent; Abbott leads governor's contest by 19.
Beto O'Rourke
Beto O'Rourke, who is running for the U.S. Senate, speaks during the general session at the Texas Democratic Convention on June 22, 2018, in Fort Worth, Texas.Richard W. Rodriguez / AP file

WASHINGTON — As Texas Democrats attempt to win a major statewide contest for the first time in almost three decades, a new NBC News/Marist poll finds Democrat Beto O’Rourke trailing Republican Sen. Ted Cruz by just 4 percentage points.

O’Rourke, a congressman from El Paso who has ignited Democratic hopes with his impressive fundraising, has 45 percent support among registered voters compared with Cruz’s 49 percent. Six percent of voters remain undecided.

While both candidates have largely consolidated their bases — with O’Rourke capturing the support of 90 percent of Democrats and Cruz securing 91 percent of Republicans — independents in the state are equally split: Forty-six percent of them back O’Rourke, while 45 percent support Cruz.

Looking at the race geographically, Cruz has majority support by about a 2-1 margin in both the more rural eastern and western parts of the state. But O’Rourke is holding steady with Cruz in Dallas/Fort Worth (both at 48 percent) and besting him in Houston (51 percent to 42 percent).

Among those firmly in Cruz’s camp are conservatives (81 percent support), white evangelicals (79 percent), whites without a college degree (67 percent) and rural voters (66 percent).

O’Rourke’s strongest constituencies include liberals (84 percent support), African-Americans (82 percent), moderates (62 percent), and voters under 45 (52 percent).

Among Latinos, who make up 20 percent of the registered voters sampled in the poll, O’Rourke gets 53 percent support compared with Cruz’s 42 percent.

Both candidates share similar levels of intensity among supporters, as well. More than six-in-10 voters say they strongly support their candidate — 63 percent for O’Rourke and 65 percent for Cruz.

They also both enjoy net favorable ratings among registered voters, although O’Rourke is still unknown to about a third of them (36 percent).

Cruz’s favorability stands at 49 percent favorable and 41 percent unfavorable, while O’Rourke’s is 41 percent favorable and 23 percent unfavorable.

O’Rourke’s relative strength against Cruz, who is running for a second term, is in contrast to Republican Gov. Greg Abbott’s whopping 19 point lead over Democratic challenger Lupe Valdez.

Abbott gets the backing of 56 percent of registered voters in Texas, compared with just 37 percent for Valdez. Abbott bests her in every region of the state and wins among independents, 54 percent to 35 percent. Seven-in-10 Abbott supporters (71 percent) also say they strongly support him, compared with 53 percent of Valdez backers who say the same.

“History is on the side of Republican candidates for U.S. Senate and governor,” said Lee M. Miringoff, director of the Marist College Institute for Public Opinion. “It’s been roughly three decades since a Democrat has been successful in contests for these offices in Texas. Yet O’Rourke is on the radar screen for many Texans.”

Texas voters narrowly approve of Trump

In a state that favored Trump by nearly 10 points in 2016, the president now just breaks even with registered voters. Forty-seven percent of them approve of the job he is doing, while 45 percent disapprove.

But among all adults in Texas, Trump disapprovers edge out his fans. Forty-six percent of all adults disapprove of Trump’s performance, compared with 43 percent who approve.

Disapproval of Trump is particularly pronounced in the state’s urban areas. Trump’s approval in Dallas/Fort Worth stands at 37 percent approve and 53 percent disapprove, while in Houston it’s 36 percent approve and 53 percent disapprove.

That data — and the Democratic enthusiasm around O’Rourke — could be a warning sign for Republicans who are defending several competitive House seats in suburban areas.

Forty-seven percent of Texas voters say they would prefer a Congress led by Republicans after November, while 40 percent name Democrats.

But it’s a slightly narrower divide when respondents are asked if they are more likely to vote for a Democrat or a Republican in their own congressional district. Among registered voters, 46 percent pick the GOP, while 43 percent back the Democrat.

And Democrats have a slight edge when Trump is a part of the midterm question. Asked if they want their midterm vote to send a message that the country needs more Democrats to be a check and balance to Trump, 49 percent agree. A smaller share — 42 percent — reply that their vote would be a push for more Republicans to back Trump’s agenda.

Health care is top issue for Texas Democrats, while jobs and immigration top GOP priorities

Asked to name the top issue that will decide their vote for Congress in November, Democrats in Texas name health care by a wide margin. Thirty-five percent cite it as their top issue, while 15 percent name the economy and immigration respectively.

Among Republicans, 27 percent name the economy and jobs as their top issue, while 23 percent cite immigration and just 8 percent name health care.

The survey of 970 adults (759 registered voters) was conducted Aug. 12-16, 2018. The margin of error for all adults is +/- 3.4 percentage points. The margin of error for registered voters is +/- 3.8 percentage points.