HOUSTON -- With election night now less than a month away, the new KHOU-Belo Texas Poll shows incumbent Republican Gov. Rick Perry is backed by half of all surveyed Texas voters; indicating he has built a commanding lead over Democratic challenger Bill White.
The poll shows Perry is supported by 50 percent of surveyed voters, compared to White's 36 percent. Another 9 percent of voters were undecided, while Libertarian candidate Kathie Glass picked up 3 percent.
Perry has led almost every poll conducted during this campaign, though not always by such a wide margin. But the governor breaking the 50 percent barrier in an independent statewide poll is a dramatic development in a campaign in which even White himself concedes he's the underdog.
The survey indicates Perry's support is not only wider than White's, it's also deeper. Pollsters at Public Strategies Inc., the Austin-based firm that conducted the study, suggested that Perry is ahead, not only because Republicans outnumber Democrats, but also because they're more likely to vote this November.
Among likely voters who say they'll definitely vote for their candidate, Perry leads White 39 percent to 25 percent.
This new poll also offers striking statistical evidence that Perry's criticism of President Barack Obama is having a direct impact upon his popularity. In this poll, 59 percent of surveyed Texas voters have an unfavorable impression of the president, with only 36 percent rating him favorably.
Perry's approval ratings are almost exactly the opposite of Obama's, with 56 percent approving of the governor's performance and 37 percent disapproving.
Perry is doing especially well among voters who are bullish on Texas. A 52 percent majority of likely voters say the state is headed in the right direction, while 36 percent say the state is on the wrong track. And among those who believe the state is headed in the right direction, Perry leads White by a 71 percent to 18 percent margin.
"So as long as the voting public continues to see the state's headed in the right direction, I think it's going to be Gov. Perry's advantage," said David Iannelli of Public Strategies, Inc.
The survey also indicates Perry is doing surprisingly well in traditional Democratic strongholds like Austin and the Rio Grande Valley -- although pollsters cautioned against reading too much into the statistically small numbers drawn from any individual Texas city.
The most important issue driving the vote appears to be the economy, with 25 percent of likely voters volunteering they're most concerned about economic issues and jobs. Another 19 percent cite immigration or border security as the most important issue, with 14 percent citing education and 9 percent saying taxes and government spending are on top of their minds.
Asked which candidate would best handle those issues, Perry led White in every category.
Oddly enough, even though half of the surveyed voters support the re-election of Perry -- whose ten years in office make him the longest-serving governor in Texas history -- an overwhelming 66 percent said they favor a constitutional amendment that imposing term limits on governors. Only 27 percent opposed the idea of limiting governors to two terms of four years each, for a total of eight years in office.
"It's interesting," Iannelli said. "You almost think the folks are saying, 'We're going to do this this time, but you know, enough. It's time for term limits in the state of Texas.' "
And in a year in which Perry has positioned himself as the anti-Washington candidate, most of the surveyed Texas voters – 51 percent -- oppose the idea of the governor running for president in 2012. Only 25 percent favored Perry running for the White House.
The KHOU-Belo Texas Poll surveyed 1,000 registered voters, 704 of whom indicated they were likely to actually vote in the upcoming elections. The telephone poll was conducted from Sept. 27 to Oct. 2. The poll has a 3.7 percent margin of error. And by the way, the results reported in this story may not add up to 100 percent due to rounding differences.