Vicky Martinez waited as nurse Karen Seibold prepares her first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine at the Tennison Memorial United Methodist Church in Mt. Pleasant on May 7, 2021.

Credit: Shelby Tauber for The Texas Tribune

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As an increasing number of Texans get vaccinated against COVID-19, most voters here are returning to their pre-pandemic lives — or something close to it — after a year of living carefully, according to the University of Texas/Texas Tribune Poll.

In the June poll, 47% of voters said they were coming and going as they were before the pandemic restrictions hit, while 39% said they were leaving the house regularly while still exercising caution. Another 14% said they were still staying home all the time or only going out when absolutely necessary, according to the poll.

Conservatives are more likely to be living normally now, the poll found: 68% of Republicans are returning to pre-pandemic lifestyles compared with only one in five Democrats — even though Democrats are more likely to have been vaccinated.

A year ago, nearly three-quarters of Texans were isolating at home, according to a UT/TT poll from April 2020, a month into the statewide stay-at-home orders. At the time, more than half of Texas voters were “extremely” or “very” concerned about the virus spreading throughout their community, according to UT/TT polls.

But now, only 27% of the poll’s respondents have that level of concern over viral spread, and the fear is concentrated among communities of color, the poll found.

Among Black voters in Texas, 58% say they are still extremely or very concerned about the spread of the virus in their communities, just over half are worried about themselves or someone they know getting infected, and only 19% say they have fully returned to their normal, pre-pandemic lives, according to the poll.

One-third of Hispanic voters said they have returned to normal life, and 38% said they are extremely or very concerned about viral spread in their communities.

By contrast, 59% of white voters have returned to their normal pre-pandemic lives with no additional precautions or restrictions that aren’t mandated, the poll shows. Fewer than one in five white Texans have a high level of concern about themselves or someone they know being infected.

“There are pretty large racial and ethnic disparities in levels of concern. This gap has persisted throughout the pandemic,” said Joshua Blank, research director for the Texas Politics Project at the University of Texas at Austin. “The fact that these groups express more concern is a reflection of the reality that they’ve faced more harm or impact.”

Less than half of Texas voters believe that coronavirus is still a significant crisis, compared with two-thirds in April 2020.

Democrats and Republicans differ sharply on this, and have disagreed since the beginning of the pandemic, the poll found. More than three-quarters of Democrats believe the pandemic is still a significant crisis, while less than one-quarter of Republicans feel the same. More than a third of Republicans say it’s not an issue at all.

At the start of the pandemic, 91% of Democrats viewed coronavirus as a significant concern, while less than half of Republicans felt that way, the April 2020 UT/TT poll found. By June 2020, that level of concern among Republicans dropped to 29% and stayed close to that rate for the next year.

The consistent differences in the perspective on the pandemic between the two parties has been reflected in the decisions being made by Texas’ Republican leaders — easing business restrictions just a month after shutdowns started, or fighting Democratic efforts to push through voting procedures that they believed reduced risk at the voting booth, pollsters said.

It also seems to be the underpinning of GOP Gov. Greg Abbott’s more recent decisions to end the statewide mask mandate in March, block so-called vaccine passports and ban local governments and school districts from enacting safety protocols, among other policies, said James Henson, co-director of the poll and head of the Texas Politics Project at UT-Austin.

Texans are fairly evenly divided overall on the issue of requiring vaccine credentials in order to gain admission to events or activities with large groups of people. The poll found 41% of voters support vaccine passports, while 46% oppose them. Along partisan lines, the divide is much deeper. Nearly three-quarters of Democrats support requiring vaccine credentials, compared with 17% of Republicans, the poll found.

More than two-thirds of Republicans approve of the job the state government is doing in response to the coronavirus now, compared to just 20% of Democrats, the poll shows. Overall, the approval rating for the state response to the pandemic came in at 45%, with a 34% disapproval rating.

“Republicans were ready to move on much sooner than Democrats were,” Henson said. “There’s been a gap from the beginning. And I think it’s hard not to map that on to the political response from Republican leadership in the state.”

Personal decisions

About 50% of voting-age Texans have been fully vaccinated, according to the Texas Department of State Health Services.

Yet the poll shows that while Republican and Democrat voters in Texas differ on what personal precautions they are taking, the majority of Texas voters are still masking up and avoiding large groups of people. Half of them are still avoiding other people outside of their households.

Democrats are twice as likely as Republicans to avoid large crowds, the poll showed. They are also almost three times as likely to mask up around people outside their households or avoid them altogether, according to the poll.

People of color are also more likely to be taking personal protection measures. Nearly 90% of Black voters and 72% of Hispanics are still wearing their masks around people outside their households, compared with 44% of white Texans. The differences were similar regarding avoiding large groups and avoiding other people in general.

At the same time, however, this most recent poll shows that more Texans feel safe doing more activities that, a year ago, they viewed as dangerous — most of all grocery shopping, haircuts and working at the office.

More than half of Texas voters still see going to bars as a risky activity.

Vaccines

Black people, Hispanics and other people of color in Texas have higher rates of infection and deaths, have less access to the vaccines than white Texans and tend to hold jobs that put them at higher risk of getting infected.

They also trust vaccines, in general, slightly more than white Texans, the poll found, and Black voters were nearly three times more likely to say they planned to get a COVID-19 vaccine as soon as it was available to them.

Both national and state agencies have made focused outreach efforts to increase vaccination acceptance among communities of color, which is most likely what is being reflected in the poll, Henson and Blank said.

Overall, though, two-thirds of Texans believe that vaccines in general are safe and effective.

Democratic voters were also more likely to have already been vaccinated against the coronavirus, with 79% reporting that they had gotten their shot, compared with 47% of Republican voters.

The University of Texas/Texas Tribune internet survey of 1,200 registered voters was conducted from June 10-21 and has an overall margin of error of +/- 2.83 percentage points.

Disclosure: The University of Texas at Austin has been a financial supporter of The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan news organization that is funded in part by donations from members, foundations and corporate sponsors. Financial supporters play no role in the Tribune’s journalism. Find a complete list of them here.

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