Abbott falls in polls as Beto, McConaughey consider entering race

Matthew McConaughey on a football sideline, cheering on his team, is a common sight, and now, according to a new survey, so is his name atop a political poll. 

It’s a result that’s no longer a surprise for University of Texas at Tyler assistant professor Mark Owens.

"Not as much when we think about this, in April, he was leading the governor at that time," he said.

Owens is part of a team that surveyed more than a thousand voters between September 7th and the 14th. The poll shows McConaughey is back in front of Gov. Greg Abbott, even though the popular actor has not officially jumped into the race.

"We specifically asked one follow up question to individuals, we asked if you knew if you supported Matthew McConaughey, why do you support him?" Owens said. "And it directly came back to the question that people believe that he's honest."

The poll provides a simple explanation into how a political outsider can remain in play as 54% of respondents in the survey believe the state is on the wrong track. The governor's job performance rating is also down to 45%.

"Well, one of the things about third-party candidates and celebrity candidates is we love them in theory, they're great, they're fun. We think they're going to be the same kind of character that they play in the movies and then we realize they're not," said political analyst Brian Smith with St. Edwards University.

Smith noted McConaughey in the poll also does better in a head-to-head race with Abbott than Democrat Beto O'Rourke.

"This is the problem that O'Rourke has, he has a very, very high floor, meaning there's a lot of people that like him, but a low ceiling. He's proven twice that he's not able to expand his electoral base. In 2018, he had the perfect storm to beat Ted Cruz," Smith said. "It's a mid-year election with an unpopular president. He's running against a not very popular senator and he has a blank check book and he can't even win Texas. So in 2022, it's going to be reversed. It's going to be a referendum on Biden. And Greg Abbott is more popular, at least right now, than Ted Cruz."

A key part of the poll is the big shift with independent voters. Abbott's approval among that critical voting block has dropped from 53% early last year to 30%. Many disagree with the governor's push for tougher abortion restrictions, his ban on mask mandates by schools, and the open carry of a handgun without a permit. 

While the poll is a red flag for Abbott, Owens says the governor can bounce back and it’s also important to note a key factor: the COVID-19 pandemic.

"And that's not something that government can really control. And yet it's something that we think and can talk about, rules that he's trying to navigate these questions. Right. Whether we should be required to wear masks in schools or not. These are questions that most governors don't have to answer," said Owens.

There have been other high profile independent candidates who ran for governor in Texas. They also generated a lot of buzz but did not win at the ballot box.  This time the political climate is different and according to Smith, the campaign could be similar to the time when former pro wrestler and actor Jessie Ventura won the governor’s race in Minnesota.

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