AUSTIN, Texas — Former U.S. Rep. Beto O’Rourke has slipped to third place among Democratic voters in his home state’s presidential primary, behind former Vice President Joe Biden and U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, according to the latest University of Texas/Texas Tribune Poll.

On the eve of the third round of presidential debates to be held Thursday in Houston, Biden had the support of 26% of voters, followed by Warren at 18%, O’Rourke at 14% and U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont at 12%. In the June 2019 UT/TT Poll, Biden had 23%, O’Rourke had 15%, Warren was at 14% and Sanders had 12%.

Third Democratic debate in Houston

“If you look at this in the context of the trajectory of the polling in this race, Warren is moving and O’Rourke is static — not only nationally but in his own state,” said James Henson, who runs the Texas Politics Project at the University of Texas at Austin and co-directs the poll.

“He’s down by 1 point [from the previous UT/TT Poll], and Warren increased by 5 points,” he said. “Her movement nationally is also being expressed in Texas.”

None of the 16 other candidates in the survey got support from more 5% of Texas Democratic voters. Julián Castro, former Cabinet secretary and mayor of San Antonio, had the support of 3% (unchanged from June), which tied him for seventh with tech executive Andrew Yang of California and placed him behind U.S. Sen. Kamala Harris of California, at 5%, and Pete Buttigieg, mayor of South Bend, Indiana, at 4%.

Four candidates each got support from 1% of Texas Democrats: U.S. Sens. Cory Booker of New Jersey and Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota, U.S. Rep. Tim Ryan of Ohio, and author and speaker Marianne Williamson of California. No other candidates got appreciable support in the survey.

The top four candidates were also at the top of voters’ list of second choices for the nomination, in different order: Warren, 24%; O’Rourke and Sanders, 13% each; and Biden, 11%. Harris, at 8% was next, followed by Castro, Buttigieg and Yang, each at 4%.

“In a crowded field in which you know many of these candidates are not going to be in this race by the time voting happens in Texas, second choices matter,” Henson said. “And when you look at second choices, Warren’s support is deep and numerically larger than Biden’s.”

Asked which candidates they could not support in a race for president against Donald Trump, 18% of Texas Democrats named Biden, followed by Williamson, 17%; Sanders, 15%; O’Rourke and New York Mayor Bill de Blasio, 13%; and Harris, Warren and former U.S. Rep. John Delaney of Maryland, 12%. Castro did best among the 20 candidates in this regard, with only 6% of Texas Democrats saying they could not support him in a matchup with Trump.

The most important issue in the 2020 Democratic race?

That said, 43% of the voters said beating the incumbent is the most important issue in deciding who they’ll support in the primaries next March. Health care and gun control, each with 12%, were the next most important, followed by climate change, at 9%, and economic inequality, at 7%.

Voters who said beating Trump was the most important issue favored Biden and Warren, in that order, over other candidates. Those who had health care at the top ranked Biden and Sanders highest, and those with gun control at the top put O’Rourke and Biden atop their candidate rankings.

Beto O'Rourke and Julián Castro

Although O’Rourke hasn’t done as well in the presidential race, to this point, as in his Senate bid last year, 78% of Texas Democrats said they have a “very” or “somewhat” favorable opinion of him, while 11% have an unfavorable opinion and 8% either had a neutral or no opinion about him.

Castro is viewed positively by 62% of the voters and negatively by 7%, while 31% either had a neutral or no opinion about him.

“It seems that Castro is doing everything correctly to take advantage of a moment, but he’s not impressing any voters,” said Daron Shaw, professor of government at UT-Austin and co-director of the poll. “O’Rourke, on the other hand, seems to not be really doing anything, and yet he’s holding steady.”

“O'Rourke is stuck at about 14%, Castro can’t break 5%,” he added. “And both of them have high numbers of supporters willing to look around.”

In Castro’s case, 23% of his supporters said they are “very likely” to change their choice before the primaries; for O’Rourke, 16% said they’d likely switch.

The University of Texas/Texas Tribune internet survey of 550 registered voters who indicated their intention to vote in the 2020 Texas Democratic presidential primary was conducted from Aug. 29-Sept. 8 and has an overall margin of error of +/- 4.17 percentage points. Numbers in charts might not add up to 100% because of rounding.

Disclosure: The University of Texas at Austin has been a financial supporter of The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan news organization that is funded in part by donations from members, foundations and corporate sponsors. Financial supporters play no role in the Tribune's journalism. Find a complete list of them here.

This story was originally published at TexasTribune.org. The Texas Tribune is a nonprofit, nonpartisan media organization that informs Texans — and engages with them — about public policy, politics, government and statewide issues.   

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