Underlying Poll Data Shows Cornyn on Shaky Ground

On Tuesday, Texas officially kicks-off the regular 2014 election cycle. Voters from both parties will visit the polls to begin the first step in choosing Republican and Democratic nominees for the fall. Illinois follows with their nomination process on March 18, but the heaviest voting months are May and June.

A new University of Texas/Texas Tribune poll (Feb. 7-17; 1,200 registered Texas voters; online pre-selected group; number of likely Republican primary voters not released) is projecting that Sen. John Cornyn (R) commands a 62 percent support level in a Republican primary ballot test against Rep. Steve Stockman’s (R-TX-36) 16 percent, but digging below the polling toplines reveals a much different story. In actuality, Cornyn’s first ballot question percentage was 43 percent, the exact number that the Gravis Marketing poll (Feb. 10-12; 729 Texas Republican primary voters – Cornyn 43 percent, Stockman 28 percent) reported earlier in the month.

The flawed UT/TT survey forced respondents to make a decision in each race polled, hence all of the aggregate voter percentages total 100. In the open attorney general’s race, for example, 47 percent of the Republican primary polling respondents said they were unsure, undecided, or had no first choice when asked. The final polling results then broke down in a 42-38-20 percent division for state Rep. Dan Branch, state Sen. Ken Paxton, and Railroad Commissioner Barry Smitherman. But, in a low turnout primary state to completely ignore the fact that almost half of the respondents had no first choice clearly damages the survey reliability factor and renders these results virtually meaningless.

In the Senate race, UT/TT reported Sen. Cornyn at 62 percent with Rep. Stockman in second place pulling 16 percent; attorney Linda Vega had seven percent; Tea Party favorite Dwyane Stovall and retired military officer Ken Cope scored 4 percent apiece; minor candidates Reid Reasor and Chris Mapp drew three percent, and also-ran candidate Curt Cleaver tallied one percent. Totaling all of these numbers equal 100 percent, meaning that no one is undecided. Though the pollsters did not publish the first ballot test results, they did confirm that Sen. Cornyn received 43 percent of the unaided vote when answering a direct question from the PRIsm Information Network.

If no candidate receives an outright majority on March 4, the top two finishers in all races will advance to a run-off election on May 27. To avoid a precarious secondary vote, Sen. Cornyn must top 50 percent on Tuesday. Normally, an incumbent being forced to a run-off is very bad news and usually spells defeat for the individual office holder, but such may not be the case for this Senate incumbent.

Even if the senator is forced to a run-off, his political fortunes will not likely end. Rep. Stockman, the likely second place finisher, has little money and the Cornyn forces are more able to implement a successful run-off strategy than the David Dewhurst political team did when they badly lost a 2012 run-off in a similar scenario to Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX).

In that race, Cruz proved to be a very strong candidate and though badly outspent, still commanded adequate resources to promote and support his message. Taking advantage of the low Texas nomination election participation percentages, the Cruz team made their money count – strictly identifying their vote base and transforming them into a 57 percent low-turnout coalition that easily defeated Dewhurst despite the latter spending $34 million largely on electronic advertising. Rep. Stockman does not have the capacity to emulate the Cruz campaign, despite having access to a pre-defined coalition of voters who will vote for the most conservative candidate.

The UT/Texas Tribune poll should not be viewed as credible. Sen. Cornyn is likely to remain in his position after this current election, but the road to another term has the potential of becoming rocky. We’ll witness an interesting vote on Tuesday night.

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