Analysis: Poll support for McConaughey says less about actor than it does Texas' current governor

Matthew McConaughey flashes the hook 'em horns sign at a UT football game. - INSTAGRAM / WDPG SHARE
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Matthew McConaughey flashes the hook 'em horns sign at a UT football game.
If you follow Texas politics, you've likely heard about the new Dallas Morning News poll showing more of Texas' registered voters would prefer Hollywood A-lister Matthew McConaughey to reside in the Governor's Mansion than its current occupant.

In case you haven't, here's the deal: 45% of the state’s registered voters said they'd prefer to vote for McConaughey in the 2022 race, compared to just 33% who said they'd rather support incumbent Republican Gov. Greg Abbott.

While there's something to be said for McConaughey's cool drawl and Texas bonafides, let's not fool ourselves about what voters were really broadcasting in that poll.

For one thing, it's hard to know how just how serious the actor is. While he continues to mention his interest in running for office, let's just say his policy discussions have been a tad light.

From what we can glean from the rare occasions he's tipped his hand on where he stands, he's appeared vaguely middle of the road. For example, he's spoken up for gun control without laying out any plan on how to get there. At the same time, he's murkily lamented the ills of the "illiberal left."

Little surprise, then, the Texas Tribune recently reported that McConaughey has only voted twice in Texas since 2012 and never in a primary — the latter of which would hint which party he favors. Indeed, when asked as recently as last month by the Austin-American Statesman which banner he might run under, he admitted he hadn't quite figured that out yet.

Right now, it looks like McConaughey is benefitting from high name recognition and his status as a blank slate. Those same factors gave Kanye West a momentary buzz before his 2020 presidential run fizzled like a gaudy set of dollar-store Christmas lights.

And Texans have seen that schtick play out closer to home, too. Remember country-singer-turned mystery writer Kinky Friedman's 2006 sort-of run for governor as an independent? It was such a belly flop that chances are a good number of you had already forgotten it. An equally healthy percentage were probably unaware it even occurred.

The reality is most Texas voters who gave McConaughey a thumbs up in the poll aren't even sure he's serious about a run. A lot are probably wary that an actor who seems to have a contractual requirement to take off his shirt in every movie role is more interested in stroking his ego than in the hard work of governing.

Here's the reality: it's safe to assume that a healthy swath of respondents were sending a signal about how they see Texas' current state of governance — specifically Abbott's leadership.

In Abbott, they see a governor so cowed by Trump's lock on his party that he's willing to engage in shrill antics like his recent press conference demanding the Biden White House shut down a shelter for migrant teens in San Antonio.

They see governor more interested in spending his political capital during the legislative session on culture war issues and partisanship than in solving tough issues like criminal justice reform, improving schools and finding ways to cover the 4.3 million Texans without medical insurance.

They see a governor who tried to thread the needle during the pandemic by pretending to care about the input of scientific advisors while pandering to conspiracy kooks in hopes he can avoid a primary challenge from the right.

They see a governor who pledged to hold the powerful accountable for February's power failures but has so far shown little willingness to acknowledge systemic failures or back solutions that would anger the powerful petroleum lobby.

Predictably, the poll results largely broke down along party lines, with the majority of GOP voters saying they prefer Abbott and the majority of Dems saying they prefer McConaughey. Interestingly, 44% of independents said they’d support the actor, while only 18% said they'd prefer to see Abbott.

Those numbers don't give political observers a sense of whether McConaughey is serious enough about his teases to say "alright, alright, alright" to a run. But they do suggest an awful lot of voters outside of Abbott's Republican base are eager to say "no thanks" when he runs in 2022.

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