Hobby School Survey Finds Texas Senate Race Headed for Runoff

With just a week to go before Super Tuesday, more than half of  likely voters in the Texas Democratic primary for the U.S. Senate say they don’t know enough about the candidates to have an opinion.

A survey from the University of Houston Hobby School of Public Affairs found that the race is almost certainly headed for a runoff between Air Force veteran MJ Hegar and any one of a number of potential second-place finishers.

Hegar, a Round Rock Democrat who narrowly lost a 2018 Congressional race to incumbent Republican John Carter, is the best-known candidate among the crowded field. Still, more than half of voters said they did not know enough about her to have an opinion. Those numbers were even higher for the other 11 candidates.

Among people who indicated a preference in the race, Hegar was the top choice of 41%, more than three times the vote preference for state Sen. Royce West of Dallas, at 12.3%. Chris Bell, a former Houston city councilman and congressman, was in third place with support from 10.8% of voters, while Cristina Tzintzún Ramirez was fourth, with 8.3%.

The other eight candidates were led by Annie Garcia and Michael Cooper, each with 5.4%; Amanda Edwards with 5.0%; and Sema Hernandez with 4.5%

Renée Cross, senior director of the Hobby School, said the Senate race has been overshadowed by the Democratic presidential primary. And having a dozen candidates hasn’t made it easier for voters to sort out the Democratic Senate race.

“Texas Democrats were optimistic about their chances against Republican Sen. John Cornyn, especially after Beto O’Rourke came close against Ted Cruz in 2018,” she said. “But with so many candidates, it’s been hard for anyone to stand out.”

The poll, conducted between Feb. 6 and Feb. 18 among likely Democratic primary voters, found Hegar leading across all geographic areas of the state except for the border – although Bell came close in the Houston area – and across most generational, racial and ethnic groups. West drew more support from African Americans with 28.5%, compared to 18.1% for Hegar.

Full results are posted on the Hobby School website.

Mark Jones, a political scientist with the Baker Institute for Public Policy at Rice University and a Hobby senior research fellow, said even candidates who have spent years in politics, including West and Bell, aren’t well known statewide.  “More than three out of five likely voters don’t know enough about West and Bell to have an opinion about them, and even the best known candidate, Hegar, is an unknown quantity for more than half of likely Democratic primary voters.”

And, Jones said, “almost half of Democratic primary voters either don’t know who they are going to vote for or said they did not plan to vote for any of the candidates.”

Jim Granato, executive director of the Hobby School, said the data show that Hegar’s dominance is based heavily on her considerable support among Anglos, at almost 60%, and among Anglo women, at 65%.

“That could matter, because Anglo women are expected to account for about one of every three Texas Democratic primary voters this year,” Granato said.

While Hegar was the preferred candidate among Latinos, with support from 22.8%, she was closely followed by Tzintzún Ramirez, the preferred candidate of nearly one in five Latinos, or 19.6%.

Poll results were drawn from a YouGov online survey of 1,352 likely Texas Democratic primary voters conducted for the Hobby School, with a margin of error of +/-2.7%. A report on the Democratic presidential primary was released Monday and may be seen here. Results of polling on a range of policies, including health care and the Green New Deal, will be released later this week.

/Public Release. View in full here.