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Matthew McConaughey leads Gov. Greg Abbott in new Texas gubernatorial poll

Matthew Odam Nicole Cobler
Austin American-Statesman

Matthew McConaughey has said he would be a fool not to honestly consider running for governor in his home state of Texas. A poll released Sunday shows that the Academy Award-winning actor isn’t the only one considering the valid possibility of a McConaughey governorship. 

The star of “The Dallas Buyers Club” and the "Minister of Culture" at the University of Texas garnered more support for governor than Gov. Greg Abbott, who is seeking a third term next year, in a poll by The Dallas Morning News and the University of Texas at Tyler released Sunday.

In a hypothetical contest, McConaughey garners 45% support, with Abbott, a Republican, getting 33% and 22% saying they would vote for someone else, according to the poll.

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But Abbott remains likable in Texas, especially among Republicans. The poll showed that 50% of respondents approve of the way Abbott is handling his job as governor, with 36% disapproving and 15% saying neither. 

The poll, conducted April 6-13, comprised 37% self-identifying Republicans, 30% Democrats and 33% with no party affiliation. The poll surveyed 1,126 registered voters and has a margin of error of plus or minus 2.92 percentage points. 

The majority of McConaughey’s support came from the Democratic respondents, 66% of whom chose McConaughey over the other two possibilities, with 44% of independents doing the same, and 30% of Republican voters saying they would vote for the actor over the governor or an unspecified third party. 

A call to Abbott's office seeking comment on the poll results was not returned.

"Sometimes the left is better at this, sometimes the right. There’s different choices for different circumstances," Matthew McConaughey says of his centrist views.

Centrist approach

McConaughey told the American-Statesman in March that he had not gone so far as to consider which party, if any, he would affiliate with in a gubernatorial run, but he made clear that his politics hew to the middle. 

“I’m a ‘Meet You in the Middle’ man,” McConaughey said. “When I say ‘aggressively centric,’ that sometimes gets parceled over there with ‘Oh, that’s a shade of gray, a compromise.’ And I say, ‘Bullshit. That’s a dare. Right now, that’s radical. You want to be brave? Come on over here.’ Why? Because you got more agility, cause you got more adaptability. Because there’s different situations for different sides. Sometimes the left is better at this, sometimes the right. There’s different choices for different circumstances.”

Given the response of the voters questioned in the recent poll, McConaughey’s desire to stay in the middle might make for tricky political calculus in a two-party system.

When asked if they would most likely support Abbott, someone more centrist, more conservative, or more like Donald Trump in a Republican Party candidate, Republicans polled said they would prefer Abbott (47%), followed by a more centrist candidate (20%), with someone like Donald Trump (18%) or a more conservative candidate (14%) coming in third and fourth. 

Among Democrats, 51% polled said they would prefer a progressive gubernatorial candidate, 25% preferred a moderate choice and 24% said they did not know. 

McConaughey told the Statesman last month that he doesn’t think one party or another can claim ownership of any set of values or virtues, and he doesn’t believe broad stereotypes of either are fair or accurate. 

“The left thinks the right’s racist, and the right thinks the left’s socialist. Well, that ain’t true,” McConaughey said. “Then you go, well, the left is for empathy, compassion and solidarity; well, the right’s for resilience and work ethic and responsibility. I’m like, I like all six of those. Those are values that our mamas taught us. The right and the left don’t have ownership of those, excluding the other side.”

A representative for McConaughey said the actor had no immediate comment on the poll. 

More:Abbott, GOP see the border as a defining issue for 2022, and the Democrats might help them

Other poll results

The poll touched on other state and national issues, as well.

Thirty-six percent of respondents believe Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton has the integrity to serve as attorney general, with 26% saying he does not and the plurality of those polled (37%) saying they are not sure.

Former Paxton executives claimed they were improperly fired after alleging to the FBI that Paxton was misusing the powers of his office to help Austin businessman Nate Paul. 

Paxton has denied wrongdoing and blamed "rogue employees" for trying to block an investigation into Paul's complaint that federal authorities improperly searched Paul's Austin home and businesses as part of an unrelated investigation. In total, eight top executives of the agency accused Paxton of impropriety, and all eight later resigned or were fired.

Forty-eight percent of those polled approve of the job President Joe Biden has done, with 41% disapproving. However, 52% disapprove of the president's handling of  immigration at the border, where Abbott has focused much of his criticism of Biden in recent weeks. Thirty percent approve of Biden's border response. 

More: Is the Biden administration releasing 'hundreds' of infected migrants into Texas?

The poll also showed that Texans largely oppose a measure passed last week by the Texas House that would allow carrying handguns without a permit in the Lone Star State. Fifty-eight percent oppose the bill while 26% approve. The measure still needs Senate approval before being sent to the governor's desk for veto or signature. 

On abortion, a majority of Texans said the U.S. Supreme Court should not overturn Roe v. Wade. Sixty-one percent of registered voters said the landmark ruling should not be struck down, while 37% said it should be. 

Earlier this month, the Texas Senate approved a slate of bills to ban or restrict abortion, and the fight now moves to the House.