Tepid reviews for the red-hot legislative agenda in latest UT/Texas Tribune Poll results

The second batch of results from the October 2021 UT/Texas Tribune Poll were released by The Texas Tribune Monday in stories by James Barragan on Texans’ judgments of their elected officials actions on issues discussed during the legislative session as well as other policy questions, and a piece by Abby Livingston on Texans’ views of the jobs Texas’ U.S. Senators are doing as well as chief executives’ handling of key political issues (COVID-19, the economy, and immigration and border security). As we did with the first wave of results released by the Texas Tribune Friday, here are a few first cuts at the latest batch, with more interpretation to come in the near future.

1. Asked “how state leaders and the Legislature have handled each of the following in Texas” in 13 policy areas addressed in the legislative arena this year, only three earned even plurality approval overall: Second Amendment rights, public safety, and election and voting laws. The overall support in these issue areas was fueled by Republican supermajorities. Topping the list, 80% of Republicans approved of the handling of the Second Amendment; 75% approved of voting and election laws; 69% of public safety; and 73% of immigration and border security (though this consistent focus of Republican voters didn’t earn overall majority approval). That Texas Republicans’ support of the handling of #2A increased 10 percentage points since our last measurement in June underlines how gun issues remain part of the Republican brand, despite the fact that the share of Republicans that oppose unlicensed carry (30%) lead to majority opposition overall (38% support, 55% oppose). But the share of Republicans who oppose the state’s newest gun right decreased by 9 points from 39% in April 2021. There’s a similar dynamic at work with elections and voting, with well-established majorities of Republicans supporting the GOP approach growing larger over the course of the extended legislative session/primary campaign kick-off.

Do you approve or disapprove of how state leaders and the Legislature have handled each of the following in Texas?
(October 2021 University of Texas/Texas Tribune Poll)
  Overall Republicans Democrats
  App Dis Net App Dis Net App Dis Net
Second Amendment Rights 46% 32% +14 80% 7% +73 9% 63% -54
Public Safety 42% 30% +12 69% 7% +62 15% 59% -44
Election & Voting Laws 43% 38% +5 75% 7% +68 11% 76% -65
Immigration & Border Security 41% 44% -3 73% 16% +57 10% 74% -64
COVID/Coronavirus Pandemic 40% 45% -5 66% 17% +49 14% 78% -64
Gun Violence 35% 41% -6 62% 10% +52 7% 79% -72
Abortion Policy 39% 46% -7 67% 18% +49 10% 78% -68
Transgender Students in Public Schools 28% 36% -8 45% 17% +28 11% 63% -52
Redistricting 25% 38% -13 45% 12% +33 5% 70% -65
Foster Care 15% 29% -14 23% 14% +9 7% 48% -41
K-12 Public Education 26% 42% -16 42% 23% +19 10% 63% -53
Property Taxes 20% 46% -26 29% 43% -14 12% 48% -36
Reliability of the Electric Grid 18% 60% -42 31% 45% -14 6% 78% -72

2. The #txlege review also pointed to three areas in which most Texans have formed opinions, and pluralities of those attitudes are negative opinions of the performance of elected officials: the reliability of the electric grid (18% approve, 60% disapprove), property taxes (20% approve, 46% disapprove), and K-12 public education (26% approve, 42% disapprove). Skepticism about the success of state government efforts to improve the reliability of the electric grid has increased since legislative action during the regular session got panned in the court of public opinion in the June UT/Texas Tribune poll, when 22% approved and 52% disapproved. With three additional sessions to increase public confidence in the electric grid, the share disapproving of the state’s handling of the issue increased by 8-points, to 18% approve, 60% disapprove. The legislature’s last-minute lurch to pass an increase in the homestead exemption also lands amidst a long record of public skepticism toward the reality of actual reductions in individual property tax bills promised by credit-seeking incumbents, as we recently wrote. How deep does that skepticism run? Forty-three percent of Republicans, a plurality, disapproved of the legislature’s handling of property taxes, up from 33% at the end of the regular session. Amidst intense, even physical confrontations at schools over COVID policies as well as pitched fights over the treatment of race and gender identity in curriculum, K-12 policies became more salient and attitudes toward them more negative, fueled mostly by shifts in Democrats’ attitudes. The share of Texas voters disapproving of state leaders and the legislature’s handling of K-12 education increased from 30% to 42%, driven by an 18 point increase in Democratic disapproval from 46% to 63%.

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Approve strongly4%4%12%
Approve somewhat6%12%25%
Neither approve nor disapprove11%13%21%
Disapprove somewhat14%19%18%
Disapprove strongly61%33%16%
Don't know5%19%9%

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Approve strongly4%2%9%
Approve somewhat2%7%22%
Neither approve nor disapprove10%24%19%
Disapprove somewhat9%16%27%
Disapprove strongly69%45%18%
Don’t know/No opinion6%6%5%

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Approve strongly4%7%8%
Approve somewhat4%4%20%
Neither approve nor disapprove30%23%27%
Disapprove somewhat16%19%16%
Disapprove strongly29%23%17%
Don't know17%24%12%

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Approve strongly6%5%9%
Approve somewhat6%7%20%
Neither approve nor disapprove23%27%20%
Disapprove somewhat14%16%24%
Disapprove strongly34%27%19%
Don’t know/No opinion16%17%7%

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Approve strongly5%8%13%
Approve somewhat9%7%29%
Neither approve nor disapprove25%30%28%
Disapprove somewhat18%16%8%
Disapprove strongly28%15%8%
Don't know16%23%13%

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Approve strongly5%3%12%
Approve somewhat5%11%30%
Neither approve nor disapprove14%31%26%
Disapprove somewhat21%24%13%
Disapprove strongly42%22%10%
Don’t know/No opinion11%9%9%

3. Both the complexity of the issue and the stark divisions activated by SB 8 are on display in the survey’s abortion results. This not only merits, but requires more attention than this first cut, but 39% approved and 46% disapproved of how the state’s political class handled abortion policy. Texans are almost evenly split on the state’s 6-week ban, with 45% expressing support, 47% expressing opposition. Increased awareness of how the six-week abortion ban likely shuts off access to women prior to reaching that threshold, due to both the delay in women’s awareness of their pregnancy and the legal requirements that need to be met prior to actually undergoing the procedure, likely fueled a decrease in Democratic support for the six-week ban between April and October, from 67% to 79%. Republican attitudes remained almost completely unchanged over the same time period (72% support, 20% oppose). The poll revealed a majority opposed to SB 8’s attempt to empower citizens to sue people they believe helped someone obtain an abortion in violation of state law, composed of a large majority of Democrats (82% opposed, 78% strongly) and independents (54% opposed, 48% strongly), and a notable minority of Republicans (35% opposed, including 39% of Republican women). Interestingly, it was also opposed by 62% of suburban women.

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Strongly support5%21%29%
Somewhat support5%7%20%
Somewhat oppose4%5%11%
Strongly oppose78%49%24%
Don’t know/No opinion9%18%16%

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Strongly support10%19%28%
Somewhat support13%9%19%
Somewhat oppose5%10%6%
Strongly oppose60%49%30%
Don’t know/No opinion12%13%17%

4. Declines in Texans’ approval of President Joe Biden’s job performance in specific policy areas adds more dimension to his sinking overall job approval rating. The share of Texans disapproving of the president’s handling of the economy increased from 46% in April of this year to a majority in October (55%); the share disapproving of the president’s COVID response, increased from 35% to 51% over the same period; and the share disapproving of his handling of immigration and border security, increased to 63% — including the disapproval of 27% of Democrats.

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Approve strongly35%8%2%
Approve somewhat35%12%2%
Neither approve nor disapprove16%12%5%
Disapprove somewhat8%16%7%
Disapprove strongly4%43%82%
Don't know2%9%2%

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Approve strongly55%11%3%
Approve somewhat30%13%3%
Neither approve nor disapprove8%7%7%
Disapprove somewhat4%13%10%
Disapprove strongly4%44%76%
Don't know0%11%1%

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Approve strongly17%2%1%
Approve somewhat31%6%2%
Neither approve nor disapprove21%15%3%
Disapprove somewhat18%15%4%
Disapprove strongly9%49%88%
Don't know4%13%1%

5. In contrast to President Biden, Gov. Greg Abbott’s job approval in specific policy areas recovered modestly from their slump in the August Texas Politics Project poll. After dropping to only 39% approving and 53% disapproving of his handling of the COVID-19 pandemic in August, his October rating on the subject recovered, though to  still slightly net negative territory, 44% approving, 46% disapproving, identical to his ratings one year prior. Approval ratings of his handling of immigration and border security also registered an uptick, improving to 46% approving and 43% disapproving from 40% approving and 46% disapproving in August (a net approval change of -6 to +3). In the same vein, approval of the governor’s plan to use state money to add more barriers on the border between Texas and Mexico, part of the plan for almost $3 billion in spending on border security approved for the next biennium, was supported by 53% of Texans, including virtually all (91%) Republicans. And we suppose fiscal conservatism may be seen as a vice when it comes to securing the border, with 57% of Texas Republicans saying that the state spends “too little” on border security, statistically indistinguishable from the 61% who said the same in August, February, and as far back as February 2019, long before the additional infusion of state funds.

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Approve strongly4%17%39%
Approve somewhat6%16%35%
Neither approve nor disapprove7%7%9%
Disapprove somewhat8%16%9%
Disapprove strongly74%32%5%
Don't know1%12%2%

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Approve strongly7%11%47%
Approve somewhat4%16%32%
Neither approve nor disapprove7%6%7%
Disapprove somewhat11%13%6%
Disapprove strongly68%33%6%
Don't know2%20%3%

6. With neither up for re-election in 2022, views of both U.S. Senators are largely moving back to their (very different) steady states. Ted Cruz has a net job approval of +1 (45% approve, 44% disapprove), while John Cornyn sits at -15 (29% approve, 44% disapprove). Cornyn’s lackluster standing with the Texas electorate, which it’s fair to say is both comparative and absolute, is largely attributable to the five-term incumbent’s perpetual issue with his own partisans — at least when he’s not actively running for  reelection. While 44% of Texans disapprove of the job each of the state’s senators is doing in Washington, the composition of that disapproval is very different. While Cruz is notably reviled among Democrats in Texas and beyond, with 86% disapproving, disapproval for Cornyn is only slightly lower (70%, with less than 5% of Democrats approving of the job either is doing). Among Republicans, while only 6% disapprove of the job Cruz is doing, 21% disapprove of Cornyn’s job performance. And while 82% approve of Cruz, only 54% say the same of Cornyn. The reasons for this are easy to speculate on, but hard to pin down. Cornyn is an experienced politician (and candidate), increasing his job approval numbers among Republicans throughout 2020 (when he was up for reelection) culminating in 71% approval one year ago in October 2020 UT/TT polling. In February of 2021, it dropped back to 56%.

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SENCRUZApproveDisapproveNeither/Don't Know
Oct. 201544%37%20%
Feb. 201637%42%21%
June 201635%43%22%
Oct. 201635%45%20%
Feb. 201738%39%23%
June 201738%44%18%
Oct. 201738%43%18%
Feb. 201840%41%19%
June 201839%41%20%
Oct. 201847%42%11%
Feb. 201946%41%13%
June 201947%39%14%
Oct. 201946%39%15%
Feb. 202042%44%14%
Apr. 202045%39%15%
June 202046%42%13%
Oct. 202046%42%12%
Feb. 202145%43%12%
Mar. 202143%46%12%
Apr. 202143%48%9%
June 202143%46%11%
Aug. 202142%46%12%
Oct. 202145%46%12%
Feb. 202239%43%18%
Apr. 202243%43%13%
June 202241%45%13%
Aug. 202242%44%13%
Oct. 202243%44%13%
Dec. 202244%44%11%
Feb. 202340%46%13%
Apr. 202345%41%14%
June 202345%42%14%
Aug. 202342%45%13%
Oct. 202345%42%13%
Dec. 202344%41%13%
Feb. 202448%39%13%

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ApproveDisapproveNeither/Don't Know
November 201527%34%38%
February 201627%32%41%
June 201624%35%41%
October 201628%36%37%
February 201730%34%36%
June 201728%41%30%
October 201728%42%30%
February 201829%38%33%
June 201827%38%34%
October 201839%34%28%
February 201936%35%29%
June 201937%34%29%
October 201935%34%31%
February 202036%39%25%
April 202038%36%26%
June 202036%40%24%
October 202039%39%22%
February 202132%42%26%
March 202133%42%25%
April 202131%43%25%
June 202134%41%24%
August 202128%44%28%
October 202129%44%27%
February 202231%35%34%
April 202232%39%29%
June 202224%50%26%
August 202229%42%29%
October 202232%42%27%
December 202235%40%25%
February 202330%43%27%
April 202333%38%29%
June 202333%39%28%
August 202328%42%30%
October 202330%39%30%
December 202328%42%29%
February 202434%39%28%

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SENCRUZApproveDisapproveNeither/Don't Know
Oct. 201575%12%14%
Feb. 201665%18%18%
Jun. 201660%21%20%
Oct. 201664%20%16%
Feb. 201767%13%20%
June 201770%13%18%
Oct. 201765%18%17%
Feb. 201882%12%15%
June 201874%9%18%
Oct. 201887%6%6%
Feb. 201983%7%10%
June 201981%7%12%
Oct. 201979%8%13%
Feb. 202080%10%11%
April 202081%6%14%
Jun. 202081%8%11%
Oct. 202085%8%7%
Feb. 202181%9%10%
Mar. 202178%12%10%
Apr. 202180%13%8%
June 202179%10%10%
Aug. 202177%10%13%
Oct. 202182%6%11%
Feb. 202270%12%18%
Apr. 202278%11%11%
June 202275%11%14%
Aug. 202278%11%11%
Oct. 202280%8%11%
Feb. 202378%10%13%
Apr. 202378%11%11%
June 202377%10%13%
Aug. 202375%12%12%
Oct. 202372%12%16%
Dec. 202375%11%14%
Feb. 202478%11%11%

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ApproveDisapproveNeither/Don't Know
November 201543%24%32%
February 201645%20%34%
June 201641%21%39%
October 201644%18%36%
February 201752%13%36%
June 201751%21%27%
October 201746%23%31%
February 201850%18%32%
June 201846%18%35%
October 201870%8%21%
February 201962%14%25%
June 201963%12%26%
October 201961%12%28%
February 202066%10%23%
April 202066%12%22%
June 202065%15%20%
October 202071%11%18%
February 202156%18%24%
March 202157%20%23%
April 202157%18%25%
June 202160%17%24%
August 202151%21%28%
October 202154%21%24%
February 202254%16%30%
April 202253%17%30%
June 202241%34%25%
August 202248%27%25%
October 202255%22%23%
December 202258%22%20%
February 202348%26%25%
April 202350%26%24%
June 202351%24%24%
August 202346%27%27%
October 202343%26%31%
December 202343%27%31%
February 202445%26%30%

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