Voters at the Alvord City Hall, voting early on Oct. 28, 2020. Credit: Shelby Tauber for The Texas Tribune

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Texas voters weren’t impressed by the work of the Texas Legislature this year. That might make for some interesting arguments leading up to next year’s elections, but it could also fall flat, since lawmakers drew so few truly competitive districts in the new political maps that will be used in those elections.

The latest University of Texas/Texas Tribune Poll found a mixed set of reactions from Texas voters:

  • Voters approve of lawmakers’ work on Second Amendment rights by a 46%-32% margin, but when it comes to the legislative response to gun violence, 35% approve and 41% disapprove.
  • Approving voters were outnumbered by disapproving voters on immigration/border security, responses to COVID-19, abortion, transgender student athletes, public education, redistricting, property taxes and foster care.
  • More voters than not approved the Legislature’s work on election and voting laws and public safety.
  • The biggest reaction to a list of issues was in the 60% of voters who disapprove of lawmakers’ handling of reliability of the electric grid, after a nearly statewide loss of electricity during last February’s polar vortex.

You might see all of that as fodder for next year’s elections. For challengers chasing incumbents in the party primaries, that might be the case. But new redistricting maps drawn after the 2020 census are designed to protect incumbent lawmakers in general elections, along with preserving the Republican majority in the Texas Legislature.

Few legislative districts are competitive. Nearly all of the 181 contests in the November 2022 general election will be decided in favor of the political party — and most often, the incumbent — chosen by the mapmakers this year.

The issues are there. The contests are not.

Elections have consequences. It’s a cliche because it’s true.

One consequence of the 2020 election is that it reaffirmed solid Republican majorities in both the Texas House and Senate, and those legislators drew maps that reduce future threats to their majority. In the process, they also protected themselves from everything but challengers in the party primaries.

That’s cheating, but it’s the nature of redistricting — no matter who’s in charge. The people in charge take care of the people in charge. Their maps are being challenged in courts — the first lawsuits were filed before lawmakers were even finished. But unless the courts decide the maps need significant revisions, the new maps will be used in next year’s elections.

Voters will get their best shot at the issues in just a few months. The party primary elections are set for March 1. Candidates can officially file for office as early as Saturday, and the filing period will last a month.

The first threats to incumbents — and for most of them, the only real threats — will come from within their own parties and within the next four months.

For the state’s attorney general, the issues are personal. At least three Republican elected officials — a former Texas Supreme Court justice, a land commissioner and a state representative — say they will challenge Ken Paxton. He was indicted more than six years ago on securities fraud and still hasn’t gone to court during years of procedural legal folderol. What’s more, he’s the subject of an investigation sparked by top aides who claim he used his state office to benefit a political donor.

For others, starting with the governor and the lieutenant governor, the work of the Legislature during 2021 will be the content of the 2022 election. Their primary voters like some of that work. In that most recent UT/TT Poll, strong majorities of Republican voters generally approve of the lawmakers’ work on the Second Amendment (80%); elections and voting (75%); immigration and border security (73%); public safety (69%); and abortion (67%).

Among all voters, none of those issues won the approval of more than 46%. On two issues — immigration/border security and abortion — disapproval outpaced approval.

The state’s incumbent lawmakers didn’t get winning scores on other issues, like their COVID-19 responses and their work on public education, property taxes and the foster care system.

But the sharpest differences in voters’ responses fall along party lines. They reveal the careful path taken by the Republican majority during a marathon year of legislating. They stuck with their own party’s voters even when it meant going against most of the state’s general election voters.

And since the political maps put most of the competition in next year’s elections in the primaries and not in the general election, those partisans are the voters who’ll grade their work.

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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