A West Texas Democrat seeking to represent the state in the U.S. Senate asserts that he’s already running even with incumbent Ted Cruz, who won the seat with 57 percent of the vote in 2012 before later running for president.
In an August 2017 Facebook post, El Paso U.S. Rep. Beto O’Rourke’s campaign said: "Beto O’Rourke out-raised Senator Ted Cruz in the second financial quarter without taking a DIME from PACs, and the latest polls show us tied neck-and-neck."
O’Rourke indeed raised more money than Cruz from April through June 2017 though Cruz, a Republican, ended the quarter with a balance of $5.7 million in campaign cash compared to O’Rourke’s $1.9 million. Also, we’ve previously noted that O’Rourke no longer takes PAC contributions.
Let’s focus the Truth-O-Meter this time on whether the latest polls show O’Rourke "tied neck-and-neck" with Cruz.
To our inquiry, Jody Casey of O’Rourke’s campaign emailed us a web link to an April 2017 USA Today Network news story headlined "O’Rourke, Castro running even with Cruz, poll shows," Castro being U.S. Rep. Joaquin Castro of San Antonio, who later said he wouldn’t be challenging Cruz.
According to the USA Today Network story, a statewide poll of 1,000 adults commissioned by the Texas Lyceum, a leadership group, found 30 percent of respondents favoring Cruz, 30 percent backing O’Rourke.
That’s neck and neck--albeit with 40 percent of the respondents not accounted for.
Texas Lyceum poll
For the full skinny, we turned to the Lyceum’s post about the poll, which specifies that the poll was conducted statewide April 3-9, 2017, and that 890 respondents who self-identified as registered voters answered this question: "If the 2018 election for Senate were held today, would you vote for the Republican Ted Cruz, the Democrat Beto O’Rourke, or haven’t you thought enough about it?" Each time, the order of the names was randomized, according to the results.
Beyond the 30 percent-30 percent split between O’Rourke and Cruz, the results indicate, 37 percent of respondents said they hadn’t thought enough about it with 3 percent refusing to reply or saying they didn’t know.
By phone, Josh Blank the Texas Lyceum’s research director, told us that an observer could read the results as indicative of a neck-and-neck race; he said he thinks it’s too soon to reach that conclusion. "The electorate isn’t knowledgeable enough yet," Blank said. The April poll "is mainly a reflection of name identification and voter attitudes about" Cruz, he said.
By email, Blank noted that among the 37 percent of respondents who did not choose between Cruz and O’Rourke, 36 percent identified as moderates, 33 percent identified as conservatives, and 19 percent identified as liberals. That is, Blank said, "a larger share of voters who admitted to not yet having a preference identify as conservative as opposed to liberal. When they choose to tune into the race, they are going to be predisposed towards supporting Cruz over O'Rourke."
We asked Mike Baselice of Austin, a pollster for Republican clients who’s not working for Cruz, to assess the April poll results. By email, Baselice suggested that the poll showed Cruz and O’Rourke with identical levels of support because it surveyed too few Republicans considering the actual Texas electorate. In the poll, 27 percent of adults identified as Republican, 32 percent as Democratic and 40 percent as Independent. Thirty-seven percent self-identified as conservative, 34 percent as moderate, 21 percent as liberal.
Baselice wrote: "Our surveys have shown an 8-10" percentage "point Republican advantage over Democrats in terms of partisan vote behavior. "You can look at the down-ballot races where the vast majority of the candidates are unknown to the voters, and yet we see that Republicans defeated Democrats statewide by an average of 15 points in 2016," Baselice said. That margin, by our calculation, averaged 14.8 percentage points across seven races, one for the Texas Railroad Commission and six for judicial posts.
Blank, asked about Baselice’s comment, said by email that the April poll intentionally gathered the opinions of more people than likely voters. Blank said future polls, closer to the November 2018 election, will be filtered to "make the measurement of the electorate more conservative, and more in-line with the ultimate outcome "
Texas Tribune survey
Blank noted that more recently, a University of Texas/Texas Tribune survey of 1,200 Texas adults taken from June 2-11, 2017, found few people familiar with O’Rourke, who’s making his first bid for statewide office.
That poll didn’t ask people to pick between Cruz and O’Rourke. Rather, 18 percent of respondents held a favorable view of O’Rourke, 15 percent neither favorable or unfavorable and 13 percent felt unfavorable--with 55 percent not knowing or having no opinion. In contrast, the poll found 37 percent of respondents with a favorable view of Cruz, 12 percent neither favorable or unfavorable and 45 percent unfavorable--with 6 percent not knowing or having no opinion.
We otherwise heard back from Jim Williams of North Carolina-based Public Policy Polling, which serves Democratic clients. By phone, Williams said the firm last polled Texans about the 2018 U.S. Senate race in August 2016. That poll suggested Cruz would lead Democrat Wendy Davis or Julián Castro, the former San Antonio mayor and Housing and Urban Development secretary; it didn’t test Cruz versus O’Rourke.
O’Rourke said "the latest polls show us tied neck-and-neck" with Cruz.
An April 2017 poll showed a 30 percent-30 percent race though a plurality of registered voters indicated they didn’t know enough to commit either way and the poll folded in too many Democrats. O’Rourke didn’t identify any other poll of the match-up nor did we find one.
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