Texas Public Opinion and the Agenda for the Second Special Session of the Legislature

Governor Abbott issued a proclamation Thursday calling another special session of the 87th Legislature to commence at noon on Saturday, August 7th. The governor is calling for the legislature to act on a long agenda of items that includes the 11 items in his call for the first session – none of which were passed as a result of most House Democrats breaking quorum by leaving the state for Washington D.C. – as well as six new subjects, including “legislation relating to legislative quorum requirements," (an idea promoted a few weeks ago by the Lt. Governor.)

The uncertain date of the return of the renegade House Democrats to Austin make the fate of this agenda unclear at the moment, but we do have a lot of polling data to give us a sense of public opinion on most, though not all, of the agenda proffered by the Governor. We’ve compiled results that provide relevant context below. Some of the items are more direct than others, and we didn’t have data related to a few of the items. We’ve excerpted the charges that we do have data for below under verbatim excerpts from the governor’s proclamation (in italics) – they are presented in the same order as listed in the proclamation. We’ll have more explication and analysis as the special session unfolds, assuming both chambers are able to meet quorum requirements in the near term. (And if we’ve missed relevant items, by all means, drop us a line.)

Legislation reforming the bail system in Texas to protect the public from accused criminals who may be released on bail.

In the most recent UT/Texas Tribune Poll, fielded in June 2021 after the conclusion of the regular session, we asked Texans how safe they felt in their neighborhoods. 

Loading chart...
Very safe37%
Somewhat safe46%
Somewhat unsafe11%
Very unsafe4%
Don't know/No opinion3%

Loading chart...
Very safe32%33%43%
Somewhat safe52%39%41%
Somewhat unsafe10%8%12%
Very unsafe5%6%2%
Don't know/No opinion1%14%2%

Also in June polling, we asked whether non-violent offenders should be prevented from being jailed because they can't afford bail (what most people would call "bail reform" and directly relevant to the legal issues facing both Houston and Dallas in the implementation of their bail practices).

Loading chart...
Strongly support26%
Somewhat support28%
Somewhat oppose15%
Strongly oppose18%
Don't know/No opinion13%

Loading chart...
Strongly support41%27%12%
Somewhat support29%23%29%
Somewhat oppose9%17%21%
Strongly oppose9%12%27%
Don't know/No opinion11%21%11%

Legislation strengthening the integrity of elections in Texas.

Our polling archive has dozens of related results, but we have asked about Texans' overall orientation toward potential changes to election laws several times in the last few years.

Loading chart...
More strict35%
Left as they are now29%
Less strict26%
Don't know/No opinion10%

Loading chart...
More strict9%33%60%
Left as they are now29%23%30%
Less strict54%21%4%
Don't know/No opinion8%23%7%

Given the prominence of increased penalties for election law violations cognizant of stepped up reporting requirements and enforcement mechanisms in legislation proposed by Republicans, we've also asked Texans how often they think people knowingly break election laws – that is, how much cheating and rigging people think is going on.

Loading chart...
Don't know/No opinion14%

Loading chart...
Don't know/No opinion11%23%13%

Legislation providing appropriations from unappropriated available revenues for COVID-19-related healthcare expenses, such as those listed below, taking into consideration the approximately $10.5 billion in funds received by local governments intended to be used on COVID-19 from the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 (ARPA), Pub. L. No. 117-2:

  • healthcare staffing needs, including physicians, nurses, and other medical professionals;
  • establishing, staffing, and operating alternative care sites;
  • supporting the operations of nursing homes, state supported living centers, assisted living facilities, and long-term care facilities; 
  • vaccine administration;
  • testing sites;
  • supplies and equipment, such as personal protective equipment (PPE) and ventilators; and
  • standing up and operating infusion centers.

The number of reported new cases of COVID-19 in Texas are increasing rapidly, according to state data. The state's leadership has been relatively quiet in terms of public health messaging; in fact, as cases and concern increased last week, the governor leaned in the opposite direction, issuing a proclamation limiting local governments and school authorities latitude in instituting testing and vaccination requirements. This approach seems likely to increase the differences along partisan and racial/ethnic lines in Texans' assessments of how state government has handled the pandemic.

Loading chart...
Approve strongly18%
Approve somewhat27%
Neither approve nor disapprove14%
Disapprove somewhat17%
Disapprove strongly22%
Don't know/No opinion3%

Loading chart...
Approve strongly7%18%27%
Approve somewhat13%15%41%
Neither approve nor disapprove14%22%12%
Disapprove somewhat25%18%10%
Disapprove strongly40%18%9%
Don't know/No opinion1%9%2%

Loading chart...
Approve strongly19%12%18%
Approve somewhat31%19%20%
Neither approve nor disapprove12%23%14%
Disapprove somewhat17%17%18%
Disapprove strongly20%25%27%
Don't know/No opinion2%5%3%

Legislation providing strategies for public-school education in prekindergarten through twelfth grade during the COVID-19 pandemic, which

  • students receive a high-quality education and progress in their learning;
  • in-person learning is available for any student whose parent wants it;
  • the wearing of face coverings is not mandatory; and
  • COVID-19 vaccinations are always voluntary.

Texans' concerns about the safety of sending children to school decreased in June, as vaccines became more widely available and utilitized and optimism about ending the pandemic seemed to increase. Even then, there were big differences between Democrats and Republicans, and among different racial and ethnic groups with respect to the dangers faced by children. It seems very likely that concern has increased as a result of the resurgent Delta variant of the COVID-19 virus – this will likely be visible in the next round of polling, along with the willingness to resume more frequent mask wearing (per the guidance of credible public health authorities).

Loading chart...

Loading chart...

Loading chart...
categoryMask WearingLarge Group Avoidance
June 202069%80%
October 202078%73%
February 202181%70%
April 202167%56%
June 202133%42%
August 202140%58%
October 202133%46%
February 202239%52%
April 202228%41%
June 202221%41%

Loading chart...
categoryMask WearingLarge Group Avoidance
June 202096%97%
October 202098%95%
February 202198%97%
April 202196%95%
June 202186%89%
August 202191%95%
October 202190%87%
February 202289%91%
April 202278%85%
June 202265%80%

Loading chart...
Already received a COVID vaccine60%
Don’t know/No opinion3%

Loading chart...
Already received a COVID vaccine79%55%47%
Don’t know/No opinion1%8%3%

Loading chart...
Already received a COVID vaccine60%60%62%
Don’t know/No opinion3%5%2%

Legislation enhancing criminal laws or providing funding from unappropriated available revenues to support law-enforcement agencies, counties, and other strategies as part of Texas’ comprehensive border security plan.

Not much in the way of suprises in the responses to a question we asked early in the regular session about state spending on border security (lawmakers subsequently approved $1 billion in border security spending for the next biennium).  

Loading chart...
Too much26%
About the right amount22%
Too little39%
Don't know/No opinion13%

Loading chart...
Too much48%16%9%
About the right amount25%16%21%
Too little13%47%61%
Don't know/No opinion14%21%9%

Loading chart...
CategoryLean conservativeSomewhat conservativeExtremely conservative
Too much13%4%6%
About the right amount24%19%15%
Too little49%70%73%
Don't know/No opinion14%6%7%

Legislation safeguarding the freedom of speech by protecting social-media and email users from being censored based on the user’s expressed viewpoints, including by providing a legal remedy for those wrongfullycexcluded from a platform.

We haven't asked any questions about social media regulation to date, but we have asked about trust in social media to provide information on COVID-19 – which in some way backs into the questions about social media companies' latitude in banning people from their platforms, even if it's not the motivating factor for conservative complaints and the kind of legislation the governor appears to be supporting here.

Loading chart...
Don't trust70%
Don't know/Unfamiliar13%

Loading chart...
Don't trust65%66%75%
Don't know/Unfamiliar13%22%13%

Legislation providing appropriations from unappropriated available revenues to the Legislature and legislative agencies in Article X of the General Appropriations Act.

Public awareness of the fact that Gov. Abbott vetoed the appropriation for the legislature is likely pretty low, even if it is an issue that is roiling life in Capitol circles. 

Loading chart...
Made a lot better8%
Made somewhat better26%
Made no impact17%
Made somewhat worse16%
Made a lot worse19%
Don't know/No opinion14%

Loading chart...
Made a lot better3%10%11%
Made somewhat better6%16%46%
Made no impact15%22%18%
Made somewhat worse29%14%6%
Made a lot worse37%13%5%
Don't know/No opinion10%24%14%

Legislation similar to Senate Bill 1109 from the 87th Legislature, Regular Session, requiring schools to provide appropriate education to middle- and high-school students about dating violence, domestic violence, and child abuse, but that recognizes the right of parents to opt their children out of the Instruction.

While we have no direct polling on the teaching of "sex education," whether broadly or narrowly construed, we can show that Texans' evaluation of the public education system in the state is luke warm.

Loading chart...
Not very good31%
Don't know/No opinion10%

Loading chart...
Not very good38%29%25%
Don't know/No opinion9%17%8%

Legislation identical to Senate Bill 29 as passed by the Texas Senate in the 87th Legislature, Regular Session, disallowing a student from competing in University Interscholastic League athletic competitions designated for the sex opposite to the student’s sex at birth.

We asked about this issue in June polling, finding some support for the status quo in both gender assignment and the alignment between that assignment and youth sports. But we should caution, as we learned while the state was roiled in a debate over the bathrooms that transgender Texans should use, (1) the status quo has an advantage in the short run because, by definition, it's what people are used to; (2) these attitudes are likely to change as attitudes have changed rapidly on other social issues in recent years; because (3) most people haven't thought much, or at all, about many of the issues being raised by legislation targetting transgender people. The apparent partisan differences are likely to grow as this issue becomes more salient.

Loading chart...
Strongly support49%
Somewhat support10%
Somewhat oppose7%
Strongly oppose20%
Don't know/No opinion13%

Loading chart...
Strongly support20%42%77%
Somewhat support12%9%9%
Somewhat oppose9%11%5%
Strongly oppose41%11%4%
Don't know/No opinion18%27%5%

Loading chart...
A lot of discrimination44%
Not very much13%
None at all6%
Don't know/no opinion8%

Loading chart...
A lot of discrimination70%33%21%
Not very much4%13%22%
None at all3%7%9%
Don't know/no opinion5%10%9%

Legislation similar to Senate Bill 394 from the 87th Legislature, Regular Session, which prohibits people from providing abortion-inducing drugs by mail or delivery service, strengthens the laws applicable to the reporting of abortions and abortion complications, and ensures that no abortion-inducing drugs are provided unless there is voluntary and informed consent.

The Legislature succeeded in limiting access to abortion during the legislative session, moving the goalposts for when a woman can access a legal abortion from 20 weeks to 6 (at most). While we have many items assessing general and specific attitudes about abortion access and policy, in June polling, attitudes about state leaders' and the legislature's handling of abortion policy was notably mixed, as we would expect.

Loading chart...
Approve strongly19%
Approve somewhat13%
Neither approve nor disapprove17%
Disapprove somewhat7%
Disapprove strongly35%
Don't know9%

Loading chart...
Approve strongly3%19%33%
Approve somewhat4%7%23%
Neither approve nor disapprove8%16%23%
Disapprove somewhat10%11%4%
Disapprove strongly68%30%9%
Don't know6%17%8%

Loading chart...
CategoryLean conservativeSomewhat conservativeExtremely conservative
Approve strongly18%35%42%
Approve somewhat23%23%24%
Neither approve nor disapprove19%18%21%
Disapprove somewhat9%5%1%
Disapprove strongly19%8%6%
Don't know12%10%6%

Legislation similar to House Bill 3507 from the 87th Legislature, Regular Session, relating to a “thirteenth check” or one-time supplemental payment of benefits under the Teacher Retirement System of Texas.

Teachers are popular, and few Texans think the state is spending too much on K-12 public education.

Loading chart...
Too much13%
About the right amount26%
Too little50%
Don't know/No opinion10%

Loading chart...
Too much2%17%21%
About the right amount13%22%39%
Too little76%41%31%
Don't know/No opinion8%20%9%

Legislation similar to House Bill 3979 concerning critical race theory as originally passed by the Texas Senate in the 87th Legislature, Regular Session.

We probled Texans' views of the underlying goal of continuing to legislate on how racism is considered in public school curricula. A bill on the subject passed during the regular session, but due to some last minute gymnastics in the Senate, it was passed with Democratic amendments mentioning teaching about subjects like White supremacy that seem to be anathema to the Governor and some legislative Republicans.

Loading chart...
Strongly support33%
Somewhat support11%
Somewhat oppose9%
Strongly oppose36%
Don't know/No opinion11%

Loading chart...
Strongly support7%26%57%
Somewhat support10%11%12%
Somewhat oppose10%10%9%
Strongly oppose65%32%12%
Don't know/No opinion8%20%10%

Loading chart...
Strongly support41%13%25%
Somewhat support8%11%16%
Somewhat oppose9%13%9%
Strongly oppose32%48%39%
Don't know/No opinion10%15%12%

Loading chart...
CategoryLean conservativeSomewhat conservativeExtremely conservative
Strongly support46%62%68%
Somewhat support13%13%7%
Somewhat oppose9%8%6%
Strongly oppose21%11%12%
Don't know/No opinion12%6%8%

Legislation providing appropriations from unappropriated available revenues for the following purposes:
• property-tax relief;
• enhanced protection for the safety of children in Texas’ foster-care
system by attracting and retaining private providers for the system; and
• to better safeguard the state from potential cybersecurity threats.

Action on Texas frequently sky-high property taxes received nowhere near the rhetorical or legislative attention during the 87th legislature that it received in the 86th, and this might have shown in voters' appraisal in the June 2021 UT/Texas Tribune Poll of how state leaders and the legislature handled the issue.

Loading chart...
Approve strongly6%
Approve somewhat12%
Neither approve nor disapprove28%
Disapprove somewhat16%
Disapprove strongly22%
Don't know16%

Loading chart...
CategoryThe Bible is the actual word of God and is to be taken literally, word for word.The Bible is the word of God but not everything in it should be taken literally, word for word.The Bible is a book written by men and is not the word of God.Don't know.
Approve strongly7%5%6%6%
Approve somewhat18%15%4%7%
Neither approve nor disapprove34%25%19%41%
Disapprove somewhat13%16%15%9%
Disapprove strongly15%21%38%22%
Don't know13%18%18%16%

Loading chart...
Approve strongly7%6%6%
Approve somewhat10%11%17%
Neither approve nor disapprove26%31%20%
Disapprove somewhat15%16%19%
Disapprove strongly25%20%23%
Don't know17%15%15%

Legislation shielding private employers and employees from political subdivision rules, regulations, ordinances, and other actions that require any terms of employment that exceed or conflict with federal or state law relating to any form of employment leave, hiring practices, employment benefits, or scheduling practices.

Efforts to limit the policy making autonomy of local governments continues to be a theme of the increasingly rural and suburb-focused Republican leadership. Texas voters as a group don’t express quite the level of hostility toward local government that we see emanating from the governor’s office.

Loading chart...
Approve strongly21%
Approve somewhat29%
Neither approve nor disapprove21%
Disapprove somewhat11%
Disapprove strongly13%
Don't know/No opinion4%

Loading chart...
Approve strongly22%16%22%
Approve somewhat32%18%30%
Neither approve nor disapprove20%29%19%
Disapprove somewhat11%12%11%
Disapprove strongly12%16%14%
Don't know/No opinion3%10%3%

Loading chart...
Approve strongly17%
Approve somewhat30%
Neither approve nor disapprove23%
Disapprove somewhat12%
Disapprove strongly14%
Don't know5%

Loading chart...
Approve strongly14%11%20%
Approve somewhat31%21%32%
Neither approve nor disapprove22%29%21%
Disapprove somewhat13%10%13%
Disapprove strongly16%20%10%
Don't know4%7%5%

Legislation relating to legislative quorum requirements.

Appealing as this might be to Republicans unhappy with the House Democrats' quorum break, any action would require a constitutional amendment. This is likely to require a lot of public education on the subject to move forward in a significant way, though Republicans would likely enjoy an advantage in the effort to sell it.

Loading chart...
Extremely closely15%
Somewhat closely45%
Not very closely29%
Not at all closely11%

Loading chart...
Extremely closely16%12%15%
Somewhat closely45%43%46%
Not very closely30%23%30%
Not at all closely9%22%9%