A poll conducted for End Citizens United (PDF) indicates U.S. Rep. Beto O’Rourke (D-El Paso) is within single digits of U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz (R). The Democrat-leaning Public Policy Polling survey shows Cruz leading O’Rourke, 45%-37%, with 18% undecided. No Democratic candidate for U.S. Senate has come within single digits of a Republican candidate since former U.S. Sen. Lloyd Bentsen’s (D) last re-election win in 1988.

Poll respondents supported Donald Trump over Hillary Clinton, 47%-41%, in the 2016 general election, with 12% either voting for someone else or not voting (Trump won Texas, 52%-43%.). Asked about their partisan leanings, 36% reported themselves as Democrats, 40% as Republicans and 24% as independents.

U.S. Rep. Beto O'Rourke

U.S. Rep. Beto O’Rourke

U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz

U.S. Sen. Ted

The PPP poll focuses on the role of “special interest money” in politics generally and this race in particular, which is consistent with End Citizens United’s mission. Slightly more than half of poll respondents believe “special interest money in Texas elections is a major problem,” and almost another quarter believe it to be a “minor problem.” Sixty-three percent of respondents said they would be “more likely … to support a candidate who has pledged to not take any money from corporate special interests.” Unsurprisingly, O’Rourke takes a narrow lead over Cruz after respondents are informed that O’Rourke “is not taking a dime from … special interest group PACs” while Cruz “has accepted $1.3M from corporate PACs and just voted to give them a huge tax break.”

The survey of 757 “Texas voters” was conducted via phone and online and in the field January 17-18. The stated margin of error is ±3.6%. In 2016, we found that Hillary Clinton’s poll numbers consistently improved when a wider sample of adults than “likely voters” was used.

In December, End Citizens United announced Cruz was on its of “Big Money 20” target list. O’Rourke was the first challenger it endorsed this election cycle.

A few weeks ago, the Cruz campaign released its internal poll showing the incumbent leading O’Rourke, 52%-34%. Cruz’s favorability rating was 50/42 (In the End Citizens United poll, it is 38/49.). O’Rourke’s favorability rating was 14/7 (20/19 in the End Citizens United poll).

The Cruz poll indicated that only about a third of Texas voters had “heard of” O’Rourke. The End Citizens United poll also indicates O’Rourke still faces a large name ID deficit. In that poll, 61% of respondents were “not sure” whether they viewed O’Rourke favorably or unfavorably, compared to 13% when asked about Cruz.

Neither poll’s crosstabs were made available, as far as we can tell.

The closest a Democrat has come to winning a U.S. Senate seat since 1988 was in 1996, when everyman candidate Victor Morales lost to U.S. Sen. Phil Gramm (R) by 11 points.

Recent U.S. Senate Results

2014 – John Cornyn (R) 62%, David Alameel 34%
2012 – Cruz 56%, Paul Sadler 41%
2008 – Cornyn 55%, Rick Noriega 43%
2006 – Kay Bailey Hutchison (R) 62%, Barbara Ann Radnofsky 36%
2002 – Cornyn 55%, Ron Kirk 43%
2000 – Hutchison 65%, Gene Kelly 32%
1996 – Phil Gramm (R) 55%, Victor Morales 44%
1994 – Hutchison 61%, Richard Fisher 38%
1993 – Hutchison 67%, U.S. Sen. Bob Krueger 33%*
1990 – Gramm 60%, Hugh Parmer 37%
1988 – Lloyd Bentsen (D) 59%, Beau Bolter 40%

* Special election to fill Bentsen’s unexpired term. Krueger was appointed by then-Gov. Ann Richards (D).

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