Issues, endorsements, and ideology: The public opinion context for the Texas primaries

The 2024 primary elections in Texas are among the most contested and the most heated of any legislative primaries since the establishment of the near-monopoly of state government after the Republican sweep of the 2002 elections. Governor Greg Abbott, Attorney General Ken Paxton, and Lt. Governor Dan Patrick have all waded into GOP primary contests with endorsements, campaign resources, and very hot rhetoric in multiple House races, opposing an unprecedented number of Republican incumbents.

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CategoryLean RepublicanNot very strong RepublicanStrong Republican
A lot15%10%20%
Not very much35%35%24%
Nothing at all21%10%15%

Gov. Abbott and the Attorney General have been especially active, with Abbott opposing members who voted to kill his favored school choice legislation, and AG Paxton seeking to punish legislators who supported his impeachment and removal from office. Neither is on the ballot themselves, though both are presenting their respective causes as litmus tests of conservative purity and Republican authenticity as they join primary battles also being fought by many of the most influential and well-funded interest groups in state politics. Hovering over all is Donald Trump, the former and would-be president – who has long enjoyed the loud support of both the Lt. Governor and the Attorney General, and who was recently endorsed in the Republican primary by Greg Abbott.

All this has fostered reasonable interest in the impact of issues, endorsements, and the role of ideology, or ideological purity, in the upcoming GOP legislative primary elections, particularly in the unusually large number of contested elections in the Texas House of Representatives.

Given these factors, the February UT/TxP poll asked potential Republican and Democratic Primary voters about the importance to their vote of (a) candidate ideology (specifically, supporting the most conservative, or liberal, candidate, respectively), (b) supporting a candidate who agrees with that voter on their most important one or two issues, and (c) supporting a candidate who has the endorsement of public figures they trust most when considering who to support in primary elections for the Texas House of Representatives.

Within the context of the options presented in the poll, primary voters were more likely to view a candidate’s issue positions as important than they were either ideology or endorsements in making primary election choices. Overall, 49% of voters said it was “extremely important” to vote for a candidate for the Texas House who agrees with them on a key issue or issues, 38% said the same about supporting the most conservative or liberal candidate, while 29% said the same about supporting the candidate with key endorsements.

Republican Primary Voters

While Republicans and Democrats ranked each factor in the same order (as measured by the relative shares rating each as important), potential Republican primary voters were more likely to rate two of the three factors as “extremely important” than were potential Democratic primary voters (52% to 44% on supporting candidates who agree with them key issues; 42% to 32% on supporting the most conservative/liberal candidate; and 30% to 29% on supporting the candidate with key endorsements).

Voters who said it was either “extremely,” “very,” or “somewhat important” to support the House candidate who agrees with them on the one or two political issues that are most important to them were subsequently asked what those one or two issues are in an open-ended question.

Among potential Republican primary voters, 64% mentioned something having to do with border security or immigration, followed by 33% who mentioned either the economy (23%) or inflation (10%), and 10% who mentioned abortion. No other issue was raised by more than 10% of potential Republican primary voters. (For much more on Republican attitudes about border policy and underlying attitudes on immigration, see the discussion of the February poll’s many immigration items in the overview post for the poll.)

In the same open-ended questions, only 2% of potential Republican primary voters mentioned vouchers, school choice, or ESA’s as one of the key issues affecting their support of GOP House candidates in the primary. Mentions of school choice were notably scarce given the efforts of Gov. Abbott and other groups to punish incumbent Republicans who voted against legislation favored by Abbott during the regular and special sessions of the Legislature last year, and the attention paid to these efforts by the news media and political players in the state.

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A lot29%
Not very much21%
Nothing at all12%

The role of Abbott’s and Paxton’s endorsements in GOP primary elections for Texas House have also been the subject of much speculation. The poll yielded little evidence that state leaders’ endorsements are likely to substantially impact the decisions of potential Republican primary voters. When asked whose endorsement is most important to them, former President Trump continues to exert the most influence, with 24% of potential GOP primary voters offering his endorsement as the most important to them. Only 7% mentioned Abbott, while fewer than 1% mentioned Paxton.

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A lot44%33%30%
Not very much12%16%19%
Nothing at all8%14%10%

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A lot18%4%12%
Not very much25%35%35%
Nothing at all26%28%23%

Despite extensive media attention to the impeachment of Ken Paxton and his very public efforts to retaliate in the primary election against Republicans who supported his removal from office, potential GOP primary voters made almost no mention of anything having to do with Paxton’s impeachment when asked about the most important issues conditioning their House primary vote. And when asked in a separate item how much they had heard about the endorsements of Ken Paxton in the Republican Primary, only 14% of potential GOP primary voters said they had heard “a lot,” significantly less than the 35% who said they had heard “a lot” about his legal problems. Among all voters, February polling finds 49% saying that the Texas House was justified in impeaching Paxton, compared to 21% who said it was not. Among all Republicans 28% say Paxton’s impeachment was justified compared to 37% who say it wasn’t, with 35% unsure. Among the somewhat smaller group of potential Republican primary voters, 30% say the House was justified, 39% say it wasn’t, and 31% aren’t sure.

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Yes, justified74%36%28%
No, not justified7%19%37%
Don't know/No opinion19%45%35%

Democratic Primary Voters

Amidst frequent discussion of the role that the Dobbs decision and its impact on abortion access will play in the 2024 election, abortion topped the issues offered by potential Democratic primary voters as most important (28%) to their state house primary vote, followed by the related issues of the economy (14%) and inflation (7%), gun violence (15%), healthcare (14%), and immigration and the border (12%). While Democratic primary voters cited the abortion most frequently, Democratic priorities were spread broadly among several issues, with no consensus analogous to the GOP focus on the border and immigration.

When asked about the importance of specific endorsements, Joe Biden topped the list (mentioned by 18% of potential Democratic primary voters) followed by Barack Obama (6%), with no other figure receiving mention from more than 2% of the potential Democratic primary electorate. (And yes, Taylor Swift was among those mentioned by 2% or less of Democratic primary voters.)

Views of the Texas Legislature

Overall, 42% of voters say that they approve of the job the Texas Legislature is doing, though only 9% “approve strongly,” with 34% disapproving, including 20% who “disapprove strongly.” While partisan differences are apparent, they aren’t overwhelming: 59% of Republicans expressed approval of the legislature’s performance compared to 16% who disapproved; among Democrats, 53% disapproved compared to 27% who approved in February 2024 polling. Overall, this is the first instance in which the legislature has been in net-positive approval territory since June 2019 polling.

Views of Biden and Trump

Views of Biden and Trump, who will be at the top of ticket in the general election in November, remain polarized along partisan lines, though the moderate intensity in Democratic support for Biden seen in some national polling is also evident in Texas. Overall, 43% of Texas voters have a favorable view of Biden while 50% hold unfavorable views. Among Democrats, 82% view him favorably – 48% very favorably and 34% somewhat favorably. Among Republicans, 86% view him unfavorably – 77% very unfavorably.

About half of Texas voters, 49%, view Trump favorably, while 45% view him unfavorably. Of the 83% of Republicans who view Trump favorably, 53% view him very favorably and 30% view him somewhat favorably, while 12% view him unfavorably. Among Democrats, 15% view him favorably and 78% view him unfavorably — including 73% who view him very unfavorably.

Among independents, Trump is viewed more favorably than Biden. Trump’s favorability ratings are net-negative among non-partisan voters: 42% view him favorably, while 49% view him unfavorably. But Biden is much deeper underwater among the same group: only 22% view him favorably, while 70% hold unfavorable views. 

Assessments of Biden’s job performance are weaker than his favorability ratings. Overall, Biden stands at 42% approval/50% disapproval, a slight improvement over his standing in Texas throughout 2023. Among Democrats, 84% approve of the job he’s doing – 43% approve strongly, 41% approve somewhat, with 10% disapproving. Among Republicans 85% disapprove (75% strongly). 

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Approve strongly20%
Approve somewhat22%
Neither approve nor disapprove7%
Disapprove somewhat9%
Disapprove strongly41%
Don't know1%

Trump’s long shadow in Texas

As the former president continues to face legal jeopardy related to his attempts to undo the results of the 2020 election, including his instigation of, and response to, the storming of the U.S. Capitol, a clear majority, 58%, say that “Joe Biden legitimately won the 2020 presidential election.” But 31% say he didn’t, and 12% are still unsure.

Republicans were most likely to doubt the legitimacy of Biden’s well-documented and Constitutionally-certified victory in the election. A clear majority of Texas Republican voters, 59%, said Biden had not legitimately won the election, while 23% considered Biden’s election legitimate; 18% were unsure. However, this is the smallest share of Republicans denying the election results since the question was first included in the poll in February 2022. As many as 69% of Texas GOP voters have denied the legitimacy of the outcome, most recently in August, 2023.

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Not sure2%18%18%

Partisanship exerts a powerful influence over whether Texas voters see the main criminal charges against Trump as mostly based on facts or mostly based on politics. More than 70% of Democrats think the criminal charges against Trump are factually-based, while similar shares of Republicans say the charges are mostly based on politics in the cases charging that he conspired to overturn the 2020 election results in the United States, that he did the same in Georgia, that he mishandled classified documents upon leaving office, and that he illegally paid hush money to an adult film star. Of the four cases, the share of Republican voters that view charges against him as political is lowest, 70%, in the adult film star hush money case; 16% of Republicans think those charges are based mostly on facts, and 14% are unsure.

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Mostly based on the facts76%42%16%
Mostly based on politics16%40%70%
Don't know/Unsure8%18%14%

The judge in that case ruled last week that Trump’s trial would commence on March 25, making it the first of the criminal trials to take place.

Looking ahead, 60% of Texas voters think it is “very likely” (24%) or “somewhat likely” (36%) that “there will be political violence in the United States in response to the 2024 election results,” while 21% think that political violence is “not too likely” and 5% “not at all likely.” The remainder (14%) were unsure. In a rare instance of bipartisan agreement in the poll, there was little partisan difference in responses.

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Very likely26%19%22%
Somewhat likely39%40%35%
Not too likely19%15%24%
Not at all likely5%8%5%
Don't know/No opinion11%18%14%

The February 2024 University of Texas/Texas Politics Project Poll surveyed 1,200 self-declared registered voters in Texas from February 2-12, 2024, and has a margin of error of +/- 2.83 percentage points (3.49% adjusted for weighting), unless otherwise noted. Data collection was carried out by YouGov over the internet. For detailed methodological information, including sampling and weighting, see pages 52-54 of the summary document for the poll, or the methodological information contained in the Texas Politics Project Polling data archive.

For more results, graphics, and analysis, see the release post and a post looking at policy attitudes on topics explored in the poll.

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