Joe Biden, then a candidate for president, spoke during a campaign stop in Dallas last year. Credit: Cooper Neill for The Texas Tribune

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WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden’s popularity among Texans has taken a precipitous slide in recent months, according to the latest Texas Tribune/University of Texas poll.

The survey found only 35% of Texans approved of the way he is handling his job, while 55% of Texans disapproved of his first 10 months in office.

While it’s been a generation since Democratic presidential candidates fared well in Texas, Biden narrowed the margin with former President Donald Trump to just under 6 points.

Texans equally approved and disapproved of Biden’s job performance for the first four months of this year. His positive and negative ratings were within the margin of error through April. But by August and into the fall, a striking slide in Texans’ opinions of Biden took place.

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Those numbers deteriorated in August, when only 40% of Texans said in the same poll that they approved of Biden’s job performance, compared with 51% who disapproved.

Biden’s difficult withdrawal from Afghanistan further punctured his popularity over the summer. But Biden’s political problems in Texas extend beyond that issue.

“The fall here is more precipitous than we would have thought,” said Daron Shaw, a University of Texas at Austin professor and one of the co-directors of the poll. “It’s not just natural erosion of the honeymoon.”

According to the polling, Texans are unhappy with Biden over the economy, his COVID-19 response and his track record on transportation and infrastructure.

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Shaw pointed to polling that showed Biden exceptionally weak on border security and immigration as a cause for his decline in Texas popularity. Only 22% of Texans approved of his handling of those issues, while 63% disapprove of his performance on that front.

“Biden’s ratings are dismal on immigration and border security,” Shaw said.

Shaw characterized that issue as uniquely resonant in Texas, due to the state’s shared border with Mexico, and he critiqued the administration’s response to the issue.

“It’s emblematic of the notion that the Biden administration is tone deaf and doesn’t really get the problem and is kind of floundering around,” he added.

Republicans and Democrats alike have criticized Biden for his border and immigration policies, but from opposite sides of the debate.

Democrats are critical of the Biden administration for not rolling back Trump-era border and immigration policies more quickly. Republicans, meanwhile, argue that such action is the reason for an influx of migrants crossing the border.

“Could Biden’s numbers get worse as we move into an election year? Yes,” said Jim Henson, co-director of the UT/TT Poll and director of the Texas Politics Project at UT-Austin.

One of the key questions looking ahead is whether the environment will improve for Biden after the U.S. House passed a massive $1 trillion infrastructure bill on Friday, a linchpin of the president’s domestic agenda that had stalled in Congress for months.

“Nationally, I would expect that he’ll recover,” Henson said. “In Texas, I’m not sure how much good it’s going to do him.”

At the same time, Gov. Greg Abbott’s position in the polls has stabilized, though his overall approval rate remains lopsided. While he took a popularity hit in August, Abbott’s image on his handling of COVID-19 ticked up to a 44% approval rating among Texans versus 46% disapproval. Similarly, 46% of Texans approved of his handling of border and immigration policy while 43% disapprove.

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In June, Abbott announced Texas would build a state-funded border wall to decrease the number of migrants entering through its border with Mexico. Earlier this year, the two-term Republican governor launched Operation Lone Star, an effort that directed state military and police resources to the border to aid local and federal authorities fighting the smuggling of people and drugs across the border.

On the same topic, 39% of Texans are pleased with Biden’s COVID-19 response, compared to a 51% disapproval within the state.

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Earlier this fall, the Biden administration required all federal workers and contractors to get the COVID-19 vaccine. He also required last week that companies with over 100 employees mandate COVID-19 vaccines for all of their employees or require them to get tested weekly for the virus, but an appeals court temporarily blocked the order Saturday after a handful of states, including Texas, several businesses and advocacy groups filed a joint petition that argued overreach by the administration.

In contrast, Abbott has banned COVID-19 vaccine mandates within the state.

Texans were nearly evenly split in their opinion of U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz. Forty-five percent of Texas positively rated Cruz’s job performance, while 44% disapproved. The state’s senior senator, John Cornyn, had the approval of 29% of Texans, while 44% of respondents said they are unhappy with him.

Neither senator is up for reelection this term.

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The survey of 1,200 registered voters was conducted online from Oct. 22-31. The margin of error was +/- 2.83 points. The sample for the Republican primary had 554 voters, with a margin of error of +/- 4.16 points. The sample for the Democratic primary included 436 voters, with a margin of error of +/- 4.69 points.

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.

The Texas Tribune

The Texas Tribune is the only member-supported, digital-first, nonpartisan media organization that informs Texans — and engages with them — about public policy, politics, government and statewide issues.

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