School choice opponents likely to face stiff opposition in Texas GOP primaries, UH Hobby poll finds

Sixty percent of Republican voters polled said they’d be less likely to support a Texas House incumbent who voted against school vouchers in the 2023 legislative sessions.

Crowds display signs opposing school vouchers at a rally at the Capitol on Saturday October 7, 2023. Becky Fogel/KUT
Becky Fogel

Republican state lawmakers who opposed school vouchers are highly vulnerable to primary challenges. That's the finding of a new poll out this morning from the University of Houston Hobby School of Public Affairs.

The poll finds that 60% of Republican primary voters would be less likely to vote for an incumbent Texas House member who voted against vouchers in the 2023 sessions. By comparison, 46% of Republican primary voters said they'd be less likely to support an incumbent who voted to impeach Attorney General Ken Paxton.

"Overall, Republican incumbents who voted against school choice will likely pay a price at the polls," said Mark Jones of Rice University's Baker Institute, who co-authored the report. "Whereas, if you voted for impeachment, you're going to pay a price, but not nearly as high a one as if you had voted against school choice.”

Rural Republican lawmakers opposed and blocked the bill because it took away funding that could go to public schools. According to the poll, 24% of people surveyed live in rural and semi-rural counties.

Governor Greg Abbott has pledged at least $19 million in funds he's raised to help back primary challengers to those who opposed him over school choice in last year’s legislative sessions.

"The only candidate in the Houston area who voted against school choice is Ernest Bailes over on the east side, in Liberty County," Jones said, noting Bailes also voted to impeach Paxton. "He can only hope that his strong ties to the district and his support in the district based on everything else he's done will help carry him over the top.”

Both Abbott and Senator Ted Cruz have endorsed challenger Janis Holt in the Republican primary for Bailes' House District 18. Jones said that's highly significant.

The poll finds more than 60% of Republican primary voters said they'd be more likely to support a candidate backed by Abbott or Cruz. The only endorsement the poll found would carry more weight would be that of former President Donald Trump. "In the Republican primary, there are three endorsements that are worth their weight in gold: Donald Trump's, Greg Abbott's, and Ted Cruz's," Jones said.