With the 2000 presidential elections less than two months away, the Rio Grande Valley is essentially split between Democratic nominee Al Gore and Republican candidate George W. Bush, according to a recent survey by The University of Texas-Pan American.
Indeed, the lower Rio Grande Valley has long been a stronghold of the Democratic Party. While Republicans have conquered most of the state, the Valley has supported Democratic candidates.
But that could all change in a few weeks.
"The most interesting aspects are that Bush actually leads Gore in the Valley within the margin of error and Bush and Gore supporters differ slightly on major issues," said Dr. Robert Wrinkle, a political science professor and director for the Center for Survey Research, which conducted the study.
"While both view education as the paramount issue, Gore supporters are more likely to list health care and Social Security as important concerns in their candidate selection, while Bush supporters rank education, national security and the economy as important."
The "Pulse of the Valley: Politics 2000" survey gauges Valley residents' opinions on issues and candidates in the November political elections.
Overall, 35.3 percent of the 648 lower Rio Grande Valley residents polled back Bush, compared to 34.6 percent for Gore. There was virtually no support for other candidates, and almost a quarter of likely voters are still undecided.
Mexican-Americans are more likely than Anglos to favor Gore, 41 percent to 15 percent. Anglos support Bush 55 percent to 30 percent in comparison to Mexican-Americans.
The latest national CNN/USA Today/Gallup poll, released Sept. 5, had Gore and Bush nearly deadlocked with 47 percent and 44 percent support, respectively. The poll's margin of error was plus or minus four percent.
In the 1998 gubernatorial elections, Bush fared better than any other Republican candidate in history. His popularity and success could be carrying over to this year's presidential election, said Dr. Jerry Polinard, UTPA Department of Political Science chair.
"While the Valley has been receptive to President Clinton, it does not have the same kind of familiarity with Vice President Gore," he said. "This area also is more competitive politically than a decade ago, and this survey reflects that."
"When the dust settles, I think a majority of the undecided vote will shift toward Gore, but Bush's numbers here will be higher than that of any previous Republican presidential candidate," Polinard said. "Still, it would be a major surprise if this poll were taken in late October or early November and Bush was close or ahead of Gore."
Other findings in the Center for Survey Research report are:
· Gore supporters rate gun control, health care, welfare, the economy and Social Security higher issues than Bush supporters, who view taxes, crime and the environment higher issues;
· 53 percent of Gore supporters believe abortion is an important issue, compared to 51.5 percent of Bush supporters.
The study was based on August telephone interviews in the four-county lower Rio Grande Valley (Cameron, Hidalgo, Starr and Willacy counties). The survey has a margin of error of plus or minus four percent.
"Pulse of the Valley" reports offer a snapshot of the attitudes and concerns at one point in time on a variety of issues. The Center for Survey Research has previously published reports on general satisfaction rates of Valley residents, perceptions of the education system and crime.