Texas voters have some thoughts for lawmakers on guns, policing, abortion, alcohol to go, and a variety of other issues that remain pending as the Texas Legislature enters the last month of its regular session, according to the University of Texas/Texas Tribune Poll.
Immigration and border security were the most-mentioned items in an open-ended question about what the Legislature ought to be working on. Those are federal matters, but they’re top of mind for Texas voters, outranking mentions of the next three voter priorities combined. Where immigration and border security topped the legislative priorities list for 36% of voters, COVID-19, the energy system/grid, and the economy/jobs, together were the top priorities of 32%. In a February UT/TT Poll, COVID-19 was the top concern, with immigration and border security in second place.
“A plurality of Democrats are still worried about COVID, but there is a border crisis going on,” said Joshua Blank, research director for the Texas Politics Project at the University of Texas at Austin. “It’s not a surprise that this has risen back to the top.”
That said, few Texans are paying close attention to their lawmakers in Austin. Only 10% said they’re following the Legislature “extremely” closely, while 40% said they were watching “somewhat” closely. The other half? Not very closely, 33%, and not at all closely, 17%.
Requiring police officers to intervene when another officer is violating the law or department policy in their use of force against a civilian was the most popular policing proposal in the poll — with the support of 86% of voters. That idea had overwhelming support among voters from all political and demographic groups.
Most voters — 69% — support allowing civilians to sue officers for violating state law or department police in their use of force. Democrats (89%) like that idea more than Republicans (52%), but it has support among majorities of voters from both parties.
Two-thirds of the state’s voters would ban police use of chokeholds, a proposal still pending in this final month of the legislative session. That support includes 90% of Democrats and 50% of Republicans, as well as majorities of Black voters (81%), Hispanic voters (68%) and white voters (64%). At the same time, 37% of Republican voters oppose a ban on chokeholds, a view shared by 26% of white voters, 21% of Hispanic voters and 10% of Black voters.
A large majority of Black voters — 82% — think the deaths of Black people during police encounters are “a sign of broader problems,” a view shared by 46% of Hispanic voters and 38% of white voters. Overall, 47% of Texas voters hold that view, while 45% said those deaths are “isolated incidents.” Only 9% of Black voters agree that those incidents were isolated, an opinion shared by 41% of Hispanic voters and a majority (54%) of white voters. Among Democrats, 87% said those incidents were a sign of broader problems; 82% of Republicans said they were isolated incidents.
The state’s increasing racial and ethnic diversity is a cause for optimism, according to 39% of voters, while 29% said it’s a cause for concern. Among Democrats, 59% said it’s a cause for optimism, while 25% of Republicans said so. The greatest number of Republicans — 40% — said they have no opinion. And there were differences depending on where people live: 46% percent of urban voters, 38% of suburban voters and 31% of rural voters are optimistic about increasing diversity; the rest were split between concern and registering no opinion.
A strong majority of voters (64%) want a say if and when local officials want to cut police spending, the poll found. Republicans (83%) were especially supportive of that notion, joined by a 46% plurality of Democrats. Asked about their own police, 42% would increase spending, 30% would leave it about where it is and 17% would decrease it. While 30% of Democrats would cut their local police spending “a little” or “a lot,” smaller public safety budgets don’t attract the kind of support it would take to win a public referendum on cuts.
Voters aren’t supportive of “defund the police” efforts — at least not without putting cuts on the ballot — but they do appear ready to tighten laws around police violence.
“There is an obvious basis for common-sense public safety reform,” said Daron Shaw, a government professor at UT-Austin and co-director of the poll.
A solid majority of Texas voters don’t think adults should be allowed to carry handguns in public places without permits or licenses, though the idea is popular with a 56% majority of Republicans. Overall, 59% oppose unlicensed carry — a number driven up by the 85% of Democrats who oppose it. On the Republican side, the gun questions revealed a gender gap. Among Republican men, 70% said they support unlicensed carry; 49% of Republican women oppose that position.
More people carrying guns would make the United States safer, according to 34% of Texas voters, while 39% said that would make the country less safe. Another 16% said more armed Texans would have “no impact on safety.”
Almost half of Texas voters (46%) would make gun laws stricter, while 30% would leave them alone and 20% would loosen them. The partisan lines were sharp: 85% of Democrats would make gun laws stricter, while 53% of Republicans would leave them as they are and another 29% would loosen them. That GOP gender gap appeared again here: 20% of Republican women would make gun laws more strict, while only 10% of GOP men would; 19% of Republican women would loosen those laws, while 41% of GOP men would.
Three-fourths of the state’s voters believe Texas should require criminal and mental background checks before any gun sales, including those at gun shows and private transactions. Only 18% oppose such checks.
“A lot of the [legislative] agenda right now seems at odds with public opinion,” said James Henson, co-director of the poll and head of the Texas Politics Project at UT-Austin. He said Republican lawmakers are pursuing some ideas that “come from the most conservative wing of the majority party.
“Guns is the best example,” Henson said. “But this is also notable on the abortion questions.”
Most Texans (54%) oppose automatically banning all abortions in Texas if the U.S. Supreme Court overturns Roe v. Wade — what’s known as a “trigger” law that would take effect in the event of such a ruling — but about a third would support a ban.
Nearly half of the state’s voters (49%) support making abortions illegal after 6 weeks — except in the case of a medical emergency. That includes the support of 74% of Republicans. Among Democrats, 67% oppose the idea.
For all of that, there’s no consensus about changing the state’s current abortion laws: 33% would make them stricter, 33% would make them less strict and 22% would leave them alone. The partisan break is evident in those answers, too: 55% of Republicans would tighten the state’s abortion laws and 63% of Democrats would loosen them.
The sentiments of the overall majority that doesn’t want to make abortion laws more restrictive are less evident in this legislative session, Henson said. Republican lawmakers with their ears tuned to conservative activists sometimes take positions that work well in primary elections that don’t line up with the majority of general election voters. Another example is the majority of voters who oppose unlicensed carry of handguns, a measure that’s working its way through the Legislature and that Gov. Greg Abbott has said he’s willing to sign.
Giving anyone the right to sue abortion providers they believe have violated state law is supported by 44% of Texas voters and opposed by 37%.
One of the most popular ideas in conservative circles — prohibiting local governments from using taxpayer money to lobbyists or organizations to represent them in Austin — turns out to be fairly popular with voters of all stripes. Overall, 69% of Texas voters would support such a ban, including 63% of Democrats and 75% of Republicans.
“This cues up attitudes towards lobbyists and spending of government funds,” Blank said. “There’s something for everyone to dislike.”
Almost half of the state’s voters support limiting the governor’s use of emergency powers during a pandemic or other threat to public health: 45% would impose limits, while 38% said they’d oppose limits. The parties aren’t as split as you might expect: 50% of Democrats and 43% of Republicans would limit the governor’s power. But more Republicans (45%) than Democrats (29%) oppose limits.
“Both of these issues are inside baseball, and not something voters are going to have strong opinions about,” Blank said. “It’s not really activating voters.”
Letting restaurants sell alcoholic beverages for delivery or pickup — a service that caught on with some during the pandemic — has the support of 70% of Texas voters and opposition from only 19%. Breaking that down by subgroups doesn’t change anything: All of the subgroups strongly support drinks to go.
Only 33% of Texas voters said they’ve heard “some” or “a lot” about the state’s decision not to expand its Medicaid care and insurance program for low-income adults and children. Even so, 55% said they support expanding eligibility. Republican voters are split, with 32% in favor and 41% against, but 83% of Democratic voters support Medicaid expansion. Urban Texans support expansion (64%) more than suburban (51%) and rural (51%) Texans, but all three geographic groups support it.
“Despite decade-long political discussion about the high number of uninsured people in Texas, it’s not something Texans say they’ve heard a lot about,” Henson said. “At the same time, it’s clear that a majority of Texans think the health care system is lacking. Voters seem to be open to the possibilities.”
Keeping the death penalty for people convicted of violent crimes has the support of 63% of Texas voters — a strong majority but also a low point in support over the course of UT/TT Polls from February 2010 to now. At that time, 78% supported the death penalty; as recently as February 2015, support was at 75% of all voters.
The University of Texas/Texas Tribune internet survey of 1,200 registered voters was conducted from April 16-22 and has an overall margin of error of +/- 2.83 percentage points. Numbers in charts might not add up to 100% because of rounding.
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