Beto's gun ban backfiring? New poll shows Abbott with growing lead

Beto's gun ban backfiring? New poll shows Abbott with growing lead
AP Photo/Dario Lopez-Mills

Robert Francis “Beto” O’Rourke was quick to seize on the horrific shooting in Uvalde, Texas to try to improve his political fortunes; showing up at a community briefing to heckle Gov. Greg Abbott and demand new gun laws, appearing at the protest outside of the NRA Annual Meeting in Houston, and most importantly, once again embracing the banning and confiscating AR-15s and other modern sporting rifles after backing away early in his run for governor. None of that appears to have helped his sputtering campaign, and in fact, it very well may have backfired on him.

A new poll of the Texas governor’s race released on Monday shows incumbent Gov. Greg Abbott with a commanding lead over O’Rourke, and importantly, this poll was conducted after the shooting in Uvalde.

The BluePrint Polling survey found that 48.5 percent of respondents said they would definitely vote for Abbott, while 7 percent were leaning toward the Republican. A further 32.9 percent said they would definitely vote for O’Rourke and just 4.3 percent said they were leaning toward the Democrat.

While 7 percent of those surveyed said they were unsure who they would vote for, the figures show aggregate support for Abbott now stands at 56 percent and O’Rourke enjoys just 37 percent support—a gap of 19 points.

The poll was conducted from June 8 to 10 among 603 voters and had a margin of error of +/- 3.99 percent.

The mass shooting at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde took place on May 24 and left 19 children and two teachers dead. O’Rourke has strongly criticized Abbott over the shooting, confronting him during a press conference and highlighting the fact that the governor has previously eased the state’s gun laws.

However, Abbott’s poll numbers appear to have improved since the shooting. Though polling in the governor’s race has been relatively limited so far, a survey from the University of Texas at Tyler conducted from May 2 to 10 showed the Republican leading O’Rourke with 46 percent support to the Democrat’s 39 percent.

Interestingly, the BluePrint poll shows about 60% of respondents are in favor of “more restrictive gun purchase laws”, but that doesn’t appear to have helped O’Rourke in any way. The 19-point lead recorded by Abbott in this poll is the largest we’ve seen since the governor’s race was first surveyed in June of 2021.

The most important issue on the minds of voters right now is the economy and Bidenflation, not imposing new gun control laws, but as even the New York Times has pointed out, the popularity of gun control in public opinion polls rarely matches up to reality when voters have the opportunity to vote directly on new gun control measures via referendum or ballot initiatives.

Now, this is just one poll, and it’s the first I’ve seen conducted in Texas since the school shooting in Uvalde, but it does suggest that O’Rourke’s attempt to make gun control a centerpiece of his campaign isn’t paying off, despite Democrats trying to convince themselves otherwise.

The very issue that had haunted his campaign for governor for months — his remarks during his 2020 presidential campaign calling for more aggressive gun restrictions — has suddenly helped revive it. Those past comments — “Hell yes, we’re going to take your AR-15, your AK-47,” he said on a debate stage in 2019 — had seemed politically foolish as he campaigned in gun-friendly Texas, and he had sought to moderate them. Now, to many Texans saddened and angered by a deadly attack on schoolchildren by a gunman with an AR-15-style rifle, Mr. O’Rourke’s stance on guns has taken on a fresh resonance.

“They say that cost him the election,” said Mary Taylor, 66, a retired human resources manager and former substitute teacher who attended a town hall event on guns that Mr. O’Rourke held in Dallas on Wednesday. “But he had the right idea last time, and now he has more people that are getting on the bandwagon.”

It sure doesn’t look that way according to this new poll.

Luke Macias, a Republican political consultant who has worked with some of the state’s most conservative lawmakers, said Mr. O’Rourke seems to be returning to the stances that he took as a presidential candidate, ones that damaged his credibility with independent Texas voters.

“Once you lose their trust, it is hard to gain them back,” Mr. Macias said.

Still, Democrats and some independents said they hoped this was the moment that would transcend politics. For many, the emotions from the attack are still raw as funerals have begun in Uvalde, and the trauma has made it difficult for many to even discuss its political ramifications. In conversations, the voices of Democratic leaders and voters often cracked with emotion, and some of them shed tears.

I don’t blame anyone for having an emotional response to the murders of 19 fourth graders and two of their teachers. I think we’re all impacted by these horrific events, and no one wants to see more of them. That’s not the question. The question is what are the best strategies to prevent these types of attacks in the future, and O’Rourke’s insistence on criminalizing the continued possession of the most commonly-sold rifle in the country doesn’t appear to be resonating with Texas voters, even those who might back more “modest” measures like universal background checks or raising the age to purchase a long gun from 18 to 21.

We’re a long way from November, and maybe this poll is an outlier, but I wouldn’t count on that being the case. By immediately politicizing this tragedy and shamelessly attempting to use it for his political advantage, I suspect that Robert Francis “Beto” O’Rourke has turned off more Texans with his rhetoric and his campaign stunts than he’s been able to convince to hop on his anti-gun bandwagon, and voters look likely to reject both Beto and his gun ban come Election Day.