Trending into 2024: How the past year in Texas public opinion sets the stage for the election year in Texas

While the New Year inevitably caps the holiday season with a vibe of fresh starts and new directions, trends in public opinion generally illustrate just how slowly political attitudes change. Just as so many New Year’s resolutions fade or are otherwise forsaken by Valentine’s Day, leaving established habits to propel most of us down familiar tracks, data from the last year of polling in Texas suggests that the vibe of a new calendar year in politics is likely to look a lot like the last one. Which is to say: expect the vicious internecine fighting and no-hold-barred free-for-all among Republicans that catalyzed the corrosive politics of 2023 to continue providing the context for politics and governance in Texas in 2024. But by the same token, there is no reason to expect partisans' established views of elected officials and candidates to shift dramatically as the election year unfolds.

Texans’ attitudes about politics – whether about issues, ideas, institutions, political leaders, or any other political subject – are only one of several persistent elements that shape how the state’s political system works. Political elites, by definition, make decisions that are far more consequential than any individual vote. Structural elements like the economy, international flows of migrants, or climate change ripple through politics. But in a democratic political system, even one experiencing duress, public opinion interacts with all of these factors, responding to context and to the actions of elites while also acting as part of a feedback loop among all three. Below are nine observations drawn from University of Texas/Texas Politics Project polling data to provide context as the 2024 elections unfold.

1. Expect ongoing internal tensions within both parties to continue driving both election dynamics and public policies that exacerbate divisions both within and between the parties at all levels.

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categoryTotal
Conservative enough41%
Too conservative13%
Not conservative enough33%
Don't know/No opinion12%

The Republican monopoly of state government in Texas makes the bitter conflict within the state GOP exponentially more consequential to the character and output of state government than similar, if less intense, Democratic infighting. While 2023 was defined, in many ways, by acrimonious Republican public disagreements driven by the legislative session, primary elections highlight a party’s internal differences and divisions. In Texas, after a long session of very public disputes that overlapped with primary season without any cooling off period, tensions among Republican voters about the ideological commitment of their elected partisans remains starkly evident in UT/Texas Politics Project polling.

After two consecutive sessions in which the Republican-led state government passed a host of conservative policies that tested the boundaries of public support (and in some cases, the U.S. Constitution) in areas including abortion, border and immigration policy, gun access, the treatment of transgender children, and diversity policies in public institutions, Republican voters remain closely divided on whether the party’s elected officials are conservative enough. 

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CategoryLean RepublicanNot very strong RepublicanStrong Republican
Conservative enough37%40%45%
Too conservative13%20%10%
Not conservative enough37%23%38%
Don't know/No opinion14%17%7%

Looking at the 6 instances that Republican voters were asked to evaluate their elected officials in 2023 highlights the consistent underpinnings of the GOP’s increasingly public conflicts. Across the 6 UT/Texas Politics Project polls conducted in 2023, 35% of all Republican voters, on average, said their elected officials were not conservative enough, compared to 41% who said they were conservative enough (only 14% said too conservative).

There were hardly any notable differences in the views of the most committed Republicans and conservatives – those likely to play an outsized role in GOP primaries. Among strong Republicans, 2023 polling found 36% saying, on average, that the party wasn’t conservative enough, compared to 46% who said they were conservative enough. Among self-identified conservatives, 43% said the party was conservative enough, on average, compared to 40% who say that it isn’t. 

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CategoryLean conservativeSomewhat conservativeExtremely conservative
Conservative enough42%52%38%
Too conservative26%6%2%
Not conservative enough15%35%57%
Don't know/No opinion17%6%3%

The most intensely conservative Republicans are the most skeptical of their elected officials’ conservatism. Among those who describe themselves as “extremely conservative,” 56% described the party’s elected officials as lacking in conservatism in 2023 (on average). The durability of the division of these opinions over time, but also their consistency within different elements of the GOP coalition — especially, among those voters expected to be more likely to vote in Republican primaries —  highlights the currency of playing to this very real division in Republican voters’ attitudes. The confluence of extreme conservatism with strong Republican party identification creates the conditions for a seemingly endless series of ideological litmus tests for both incumbents and challengers in legislative primary races — regardless of the actual output of the legislature.

Public opinion data provides a clearer picture of why there is a potential voter pool available for recruiting challengers to Republican incumbents decried as insufficiently conservative or Republican – while also suggesting why most of those challengers still face uphill battles in many cases. These relatively straightforward public opinion dynamics — where conservatism signals Republicanism when evaluating candidates – are intertwined with other sources of factional conflict among Republicans already evident in the 2024 primaries. From Attorney General Ken Paxton’s vendetta against legislators who supported his impeachment, to Gov. Greg Abbott’s targeting of Republican opponents of his voucher/school choice legislation, to the personal animosity between Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and Speaker of the House Dade Phelan, to the inflamed, on-going conflict between the House and the Senate, to the intervention of conservative and GOP aligned interest groups in all of these fights — the battle lines create a fractal.

So while the case for arguing that committed conservatism is the basis for judging the legitimacy of any given Republican candidate is grounded in what Republican voters are expressing in polling, the multiple axes of conflict among elites and their allies have destabilized the criteria for qualifying as either a conservative or a “real” Republican. If a legislator has cast any vote, issued any utterance, or posted any social media that signals disloyalty to one side or the other in these multiple conflicts, their legitimacy may be called into question. It only takes a vote for the Paxton impeachment or against the Governor's voucher plan, or a social media post supporting the Speaker of the House, to lead members with unquestionably reactionary legislative records into being branded a RINO or even a crypto-Democrat. (For a good discussion with both graphic illustrations of this dynamic and examples of legislators caught up in the name-calling, see the January 2, Texas Monthly article by Michael Hardy, Ben Rowan and Alexandra Samuels, “The Texas GOP CIVIL War is Messier Than Anyone Expected.”)

Even setting aside the kaleidoscopic cleavages among Republican elites, aggregate statewide data doesn’t offer direct guidance in handicapping individual legislative or congressional primary races; but the data does illustrate the relative size of the ideological cleavages. The persistence of a non-trivial share of Republicans made up of strong party loyalists and the most ideologically committed conservatives who want the Texas GOP to keep moving to the right – consistently about a third of Texas GOP voters – ensures that 2023’s open conflict will continue. Even allowing for the degree to which personal agendas fueled by ample resources can challenge even the most conservative legislative record, this dynamic incentivizes legislators to support an agenda on social issues like abortion and LGTBQ issues that crosses the threshold from conservative to reactionary — at times in support of policies that go squarely against majority public opinion in the state.

Yet in a state where general elections are gradually becoming less lopsided (if not quite “competitive”), the current situation also creates incentives for the governing party to balance an extreme social agenda with attempts to create positive associations on issues that are less likely to alienate mainline Republicans, or to aid the mobilization efforts of Democratic candidates and their allies. The centrality of lowering property taxes in Republican campaigns in 2022 and on their 2023 legislative agenda illustrates this counterbalancing effort. Yet as fundamental as property tax reduction has been to the GOP agenda over the last decade, expect another perennial issue to be even more central to the campaigns of Republican candidates in both primary and general elections in 2024.

2. No set of issues provides opportunities for Republican incumbents to both solidify and mobilize their base while appealing to persuadable general election voters like border security and immigration.

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categoryDemocratsIndependentsRepublicans
Feb. 201514%33%59%
June 201514%25%59%
Oct. 201512%32%57%
Feb. 201617%28%54%
June 20168%29%52%
Oct. 20167%32%56%
Feb. 20178%21%51%
June 20177%36%51%
Oct. 201712%30%44%
Feb. 201812%32%48%
June 20188%24%53%
Oct. 20189%29%62%
Feb. 201911%29%62%
June 201911%35%59%
Oct. 201912%28%57%
Feb. 202010%32%52%
Apr. 20201%8%28%
June 20203%14%29%
Oct. 20203%11%30%
Feb. 20212%23%46%
Mar. 20218%35%61%
Apr. 20216%35%65%
June 20216%35%59%
Aug. 20212%29%64%
Oct. 20212%26%68%
Feb. 20223%28%58%
Apr. 20224%31%61%
June 20222%19%45%
Aug. 20224%38%54%
Oct. 20224%35%61%
Dec. 20223%27%60%
Feb. 20235%32%59%
Apr. 20235%19%57%
June 20237%39%59%
Aug. 20235%38%59%
Oct. 20239%43%60%
Dec. 20237%32%61%
Feb. 202414%44%68%

As the graphic above illustrates, at any given time over the past decade, half or more of Texas Republicans cited immigration or border security as the most important problem facing the state. Only the early, uncertain stages of the global COVID-19 pandemic diverted Republican voters’ attention. Amidst an uptick in the perennial problem of migration on the southern border and an unfolding presidential primary in which the brand of the most likely GOP candidate is closely associated with nativist sentiment focused on migration both legal and illegal, border politics will remain the go-to issue for Texas Republicans in 2024.

As the UT/TxPP has found repeatedly, Texas Republicans’ consistently support aggressive state policies. Here are a few examples, excerpted from a longer list we compiled in a post from last year.

GOP voters’ attention to the border and their positive reactions to specific, punitive policies continue to be among the most stable features of Texas public opinion, regardless of the party of the presidential administration or the overall flow of migrants at the southern border at any particular point in time.

Gov. Abbott has burnished his political brand by tapping into Republican sentiment on border security issues with policies that have repeatedly broken historical precedents. The most  provocative have included the state-funded busing of migrants to large cities and states governed by Democrats and, more recently, direct conflicts with federal agencies and personnel over access to the border and enforcement of new state laws criminalizing illegal entry that have, understandably, garnered a lot of media attention. But the most striking policy in the domain of state government is the legislature’s acquiescence to the massive and steep increase in state spending on border security over the last few legislative sessions. The sustained spending spree and the administration of large tranches of legislative appropriations to the Governor’s office are hugely consequential in the trajectory of state politics and government, keeping Abbott strongly associated with the issue while contributing to the strengthening of the governor’s office and the executive branch in the state’s political system.

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CategoryDemocratIndependentRepublican
Too much50%23%8%
About the right amount20%17%24%
Too little16%36%61%
Don't know/No opinion14%25%7%

Abbott has used these resources and the added institutional leverage to jam up national immigration politics and attract national media attention. The most recent batch of immigration laws pushed through the legislature has, as widely expected, once again landed Texas in federal court. Talk of Abbott as a presidential candidate over the last couple of years has proven to be massively overblown, more indicative of the gullibility of the parochial political eco-system in Austin and the political press than of his national electoral potential. 

That said, Abbott has effectively inserted himself in the national politics of immigration with his busing policies and, more generally, has persistently exploited the intractable problems along Texas’s international border to raise his political profile. He started 2024 with a boldface mention in the national Punchbowl News AM newsletter that no doubt pleased the governor and his staff: “Abbott has dramatically shifted [sic] the immigration debate by dispatching buses carrying tens of thousands of asylum seekers caught crossing the U.S.-Mexico border to cities across the country.” (A similar reference in Politico Playbook followed the next day as dozens of Congressional Republicans headed to the Texas-Mexico border for a CODEL to decry the Biden administration’s failures and rally support for the House’s efforts to resume Trump-era policies at the federal level.)

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CategoryDemocratIndependentRepublican
Strongly support6%35%62%
Somewhat support13%15%15%
Somewhat oppose14%9%6%
Strongly oppose55%25%11%
Don't know/No opinion12%16%5%

The governor’s political position aside, the legislature responded decisively in 2023 with both concrete and symbolic legislation, demonstrating their commitment to the deep interest and draconian impulses related to the border and immigration security evident among their seemingly perpetually alarmed partisans. In strictly political terms, these actions can be expected to provide some degree of reliable campaign fodder, particularly given evidence in polling data of the decidedly mixed expectations about their efforts in other areas driven primarily by efforts to appeal to active factions within the Texas GOP.

3. GOP legislative incumbents face a primary electorate supportive of many of the problems the 88th legislature attempted to take on, but not so optimistic that the actions taken will actually address the biggest of these issues.

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CategoryDemocratIndependentRepublican
Reduced property taxes enough to make a difference to most Texans24%18%35%
Improved security along the Texas-Mexico border21%16%32%
Improved the safety of Texas’ public schools19%15%32%
Increased the reliability of the state’s electric grid19%12%27%
Increased the reliability of the state’s water supply19%12%26%

We explore this data and its implications in a recent post. In a nutshell, public opinion data in the six UT/TxP polls conducted in 2023 found that (1) a large majority of Republicans supported legislation on hot-button social issues such as gender identity; but that (2) there was also substantial, bi-partisan support for pragmatic legislative action in much less culturally divisive domains like increasing teacher pay and per pupil funding for public schools that the legislature ultimately failed to address amidst the GOP infighting discussed above; and, relatedly or not, (3) that those same voters, both Democrats and Republicans, hold very low expectations that the actions taken by the legislature will effectively address widely-recognized problems such as the reliability of the electric grid, property tax reduction, school safety, and border security. See the graphic above, and the longer post for more detail and more discussion.

4. Despite the grumbling among some GOP insiders and the continued disapproval of Democrats, Gov. Greg Abbott’s job approval numbers have remained largely strong and steady with his base.

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PollApproveDisapproveNeither/Don't Know
November 201570%8%23%
February 201669%8%23%
June 201673%7%21%
October 201675%5%21%
February 201780%5%15%
June 201783%8%10%
October 201779%5%14%
February 201881%5%14%
June 201880%7%14%
October 201889%4%8%
February 201983%6%10%
June 201984%4%12%
October 201979%6%15%
February 202084%8%12%
April 202088%6%7%
June 202083%7%9%
October 202081%13%7%
February 202179%10%11%
March 202179%13%8%
April 202177%13%10%
June 202177%12%11%
August 202173%18%9%
October 202179%15%6%
February 202274%14%12%
April 202280%10%11%
June 202278%11%12%
August 202280%12%8%
October 202286%8%6%
December 202287%6%8%
February 202383%7%10%
April 202379%9%12%
June 202381%10%8%
August 202381%11%8%
October 202379%10%11%
December 202378%10%12%
February 202483%8%10%

While Republican legislators dragged through four special sessions and his critics among the commentariat may be found griping (usually off the record) about how the governor handled his job during the session, his job approval numbers were consistently strong throughout the year, especially among his Republican base.

Abbott ended 2023 in a comfortable if not stellar position for a governor in a state that is trending competitive, with 48% approving of his job performance and 41% disapproving in the December 2022 UT/TXP Poll. Among those voters, 78% of both Republicans and self-identified conservatives approved of his job performance, with 88% of the most conservative voters approving (including a majority, 54%, strongly approving). And as good as those numbers sound, they were actually low points for Abbott in 2023. In a year of infighting and at times, a seeming inability to get along and govern in the legislature, no fewer than 78% of Republican voters approved of Abbott’s performance throughout last year — a fact he is no doubt heavily leaning on as he wades into more GOP primaries with the goal of unseating incumbents who opposed his push for vouchers.

5. Donald Trump’s de facto role as the dominant Republican in national politics continues to hover over Texas politics, as Trump marches toward winning the GOP presidential nomination for a third time.

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categoryFavorableUnfavorableNeither/Don't know
Nov. 201554%31%12%
Feb. 201647%41%10%
June 201653%32%13%
Oct. 201660%30%10%
Feb. 201781%12%6%
Oct. 202085%12%4%
Feb. 202185%9%7%
June 202186%8%5%
Oct. 202182%12%6%
Feb. 202280%13%7%
Apr. 202279%10%10%
June 202276%12%11%
Aug. 202276%14%9%
Oct. 202282%9%9%
Dec. 202275%17%9%
Feb. 202379%12%10%
Apr. 202378%16%6%
June 202376%16%8%
Aug. 202379%15%7%
Dec. 202380%13%8%
Feb. 202483%12%5%

No fewer than three-quarters of Republicans have expressed a favorable view of Donald Trump in the 16 times the question was asked since the beginning of 2017. In the most recent poll, 80% said that they had a favorable view of the former president. He remains a divisive figure in Texas, as elsewhere, with 46% of Texas voters having a favorable, and 45% having an unfavorable, opinion of the former president in December polling. But in a state in which government has been controlled by Republican elected officials for more than two decades, the reflexive obeisance of most Republicans to Trump and his priorities influenced lawmaking in 2023 (e.g. border security), and will shape GOP primaries where he will be seeking the Republican nomination at the top of the ballot.

It’s no surprise to find Trump dominating the GOP primary field in Texas at levels similar to his dominance of the field nationally. As of December, 65% of potential Republican primary voters said that they would be voting for Trump in the 2024 primary election, trouncing his nearest opponent, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, who received the support of only 12% of voters.

While Trump’s legal problems remained front and center for most voters in the state throughout 2023, recently coming to a boil as the former president was ordered removed from the Colorado primary ballot for his role in inciting the January 6, 2021 insurrection, October 2023 polling found 63% of Republicans disagreeing with the proposition that protesters who entered the U.S. Capitol on January 6 were trying to overturn the election. December polling found an almost identical 62% saying that Joe Biden did not legitimately win the 2020 presidential election, a share that has fluctuated little over the last two years.

Trump’s presence has hovered over politics in the state since he narrowly lost Texas in the 2016 primary to Senator Ted Cruz, then went on to defeat Cruz for the nomination and win the presidency, with Cruz’s support. Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and his political team have maintained a close alliance with Trump, who has been drawn into state GOP politics to make endorsements and publicly criticize Speaker Dade Phelan. Trump also weighed in with support for Attorney General Ken Paxton, who attended the January 6 “Stop the Steal” rally after participating in legal efforts to stop the certification of the 2020 election. Trump used his social media platform, Truth Social, to refer to “The RINO Speaker of the House, Dade Phelan” in defense of Paxton shortly before his impeachment by the House.

6. Meanwhile, the power of negative partisanship notwithstanding, President Joe Biden’s job approval numbers continue to uncover faint praise from his Democratic base.

December 2023 polling found President Biden deeply underwater in Texas, with only 38% approving of his job performance compared to 54% disapproving. While Biden started 2023 with overall approval ratings hovering just above 40%, the end of 2023 saw four consecutive surveys (in June, August, October, and December) capping Biden’s approval numbers at 38%.

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categoryApproveDisapproveNeither/Don't know
February 202145%44%11%
March 202144%43%12%
April 202144%46%11%
June 202143%47%10%
August 202140%51%9%
October 202135%55%11%
February 202236%52%11%
April 202237%54%9%
June 202235%55%11%
August 202240%52%9%
October 202239%52%10%
December 202242%50%8%
February 202341%50%10%
April 202340%49%11%
June 202338%50%12%
August 202338%52%9%
October 202337%53%11%
December 202338%54%8%
February 202442%50%8%

While overwhelming Republican disapproval should come as no surprise (85% disapprove of Biden’s job performance, including 76% who disapprove strongly), Biden’s job approval numbers among Democratic voters might pose a problem for Democratic candidates in Texas who will be running in his wake. Nearly three-quarters of Democrats (74%) said that they approved of Biden’s job performance in January, but this actually represented the lowest total approval recorded among Democrats in 17 polls conducted since he assumed office in February 2021. Even among those Democrats who approve, there’s a nearly even split between those who approve strongly (40%) and those who only approve somewhat (34%). And the 16% of Democrats who registered their disapproval represented the highest measure of disapproval among this group over the same time period.

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categoryApproveDisapproveNeither/Don't know
February 202189%2%9%
March 202187%3%10%
April 202188%2%11%
June 202188%3%9%
August 202174%6%10%
October 202175%11%14%
February 202276%9%16%
April 202279%13%8%
June 202274%13%13%
August 202279%11%11%
October 202278%10%11%
December 202281%11%7%
February 202382%9%10%
April 202380%9%12%
June 202375%9%17%
August 202375%11%13%
October 202375%14%11%
December 202374%16%12%
February 202484%10%7%

A few important caveats are worth mentioning. While Biden’s numbers among Democrats do show some signs of softening, when compared to favorability ratings, views of Trump among Republicans were not significantly different, with 80% of Republicans holding a favorable view of Trump and 13% holding an unfavorable view. And independent voters, once a source of padding for Republican statewide candidates express similarly negative views of both, with a slight advantage for Trump (Biden: 30% favorable, 59% unfavorable; Trump: 36% favorable, 52% unfavorable.)

7. Just below the presidential race on the general election ballot, U.S. Senator Ted Cruz’s base of partisan support remains secure.

As much as Democrats, and many in the national press, almost seem to revel in their distaste for Texas Senator Ted Cruz, there’s rarely much acknowledgment of his popularity among Texas Republicans, even after a notable decline after his now-infamous trip to Cancun during the 2021 grid collapse. Among Republican voters in December polling, 75% approved of his job performance (42% strongly), while 75% also said that they hold a favorable impression of him (43% very favorable).

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CategoryDemocratIndependentRepublican
Approve strongly4%11%42%
Approve somewhat12%17%33%
Neither approve nor disapprove7%18%12%
Disapprove somewhat5%10%5%
Disapprove strongly70%36%6%
Don't know2%8%2%

The longer term trend shows some cooling of Republican support from the high point 87% shortly before the 2018 general election. While his approval ratings have been less stellar after they dropped to 70% shortly after the Cancun trip, trend data suggests little likelihood that partisans won’t rally around him. 

This doesn’t mean that Cruz isn’t an animating factor for Texas Democrats, who respond to Cruz with similar animosity as they do to Trump, with 78% holding an unfavorable view of the former, and 82% holding an unfavorable view of the latter. But Cruz shouldn’t have any problem mobilizing Texas Republicans with Donald Trump at the top of the ticket, leaving real questions about competitiveness in Texas in 2024 in the hands of Democratic candidates seeking to mobilize their voters against these twin forces in a presidential election year likely to bring more Democratic voters into the electorate — and, importantly, how independents split their votes while holding increasingly negative views of just about everyone.

8. The open question of the role of abortion in 2024.

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CategoryDemocratIndependentRepublican
The woman is married and does not want any more children.11%33%58%
The woman is not married and does not want to marry.11%33%57%
The family has very low income and cannot afford any more children.10%30%56%
There is a strong chance of a serious birth defect.3%13%27%
The woman became pregnant as a result of incest.3%11%22%
The woman became pregnant as a result of rape.2%11%19%
The woman’s health is seriously endangered.2%9%13%

While Democrats have found success in other states where abortion measures have been on the ballot, such as California and Vermont, but also Michigan, Kentucky, Kansas, Ohio, and Montana, abortion isn’t on the ballot in Texas in 2024, leaving voters to judge Republican and Democratic candidates rather than casting votes for or against abortion rights directly. 

Polling suggests that abortion remains an issue that should be advantageous to Democrats, but which they lack the political leverage to exploit directly. The outright ban on legal abortion in Texas that emerged from legislation passed in the 2021 session, the U.S. Supreme Court’s overturning of Roe v. Wade, and the zealous maintenance of these restrictions by the Attorney General and the Texas court system have created an environment at odds not only with Democrats, but with most Republicans. At the most basic level, few Republicans support the near complete ban on abortion that is now the law of the land in Texas. A mere 13% of Republicans say they support a complete ban on abortion when the woman’s health is in danger, 19% if the woman became pregnant as a result of rape, 22% if the preganancy is a result of incest, and 27% if there is a strong chance of a serious birth defect.

And while the legislature and most elected Republicans with the luxury to avoid talking about an issue in which they’ve painted themselves into a corner remained mum throughout much of 2023, local governments in Texas have been looking to put their pro-life stamp on the state’s abortion landscape with laws intended to curb travel for abortions to state’s where it is legal. But even here, public opinion, even Republican opinion, is against them. Asked whether they approve or disapprove of laws designed to prevent women from accessing abortions in state’s where it is legal in April 2023 polling, only 28% of Republicans said they approved compared to 36% who disapproved and 36% who were unwilling to offer an opinion either way. Overall, only 25% of voters said that they support abortion travel bans, compared to 51% opposed (40% strongly).

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CategoryDemocratIndependentRepublican
Approve strongly10%8%18%
Approve somewhat8%5%10%
Neither approve nor disapprove5%20%24%
Disapprove somewhat6%5%16%
Disapprove strongly67%46%20%
Don't know/No opinion4%16%12%

Texas Republicans have taken to this new landscape in a variety of ways, mostly avoidance, but also, as public instances of life threatening scenarios continue to come up, taking uncomfortable and/or contradictory positions – then doing their best to change the subject. They are likely to be aided in their efforts at avoidance by a very crowded issue environment in 2024 that seems likely to include issues that Republicans candidates and voters are more likely to focus on than abortion, most notably the border, but also the economy and the various imputed depredations of the Biden administration.

While pro-choice Democrats have pointed to states in which voters have turned out to support abortion rights as evidence of the issue’s purchase in the electorate, the opportunity for such a move in Texas is functionally non-existent. This leaves it up to underpowered interest groups and Democratic candidates to attempt to raise the profile of the issue in an electoral environment in which Republicans have the incentive and the capability to prevent this.

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categoryTotal
Approve strongly19%
Approve somewhat19%
Neither approve nor disapprove12%
Disapprove somewhat7%
Disapprove strongly38%
Don't know5%

9. The strange case of views of the economy.

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CategoryDemocratIndependentRepublican
A lot better off14%1%2%
Somewhat better off33%21%11%
About the same26%23%16%
Somewhat worse off14%25%31%
A lot worse off9%26%41%
Don't know4%5%0%

Views of the national economy, especially as measured in political surveys, tend to be reflective of the partisanship of the respondent and the party holding the White House, with partisans of the President’s party consistently registering more positive views of the national economy than out party voters — a pattern that switches when the presidency changes parties. We see this in Texas, where 47% of Democrats in December polling said that the national economy had improved over the last year, compared to only 13% of Republicans.

Somewhat strangely, this pattern doesn’t hold for views of the state economy, where Republicans have controlled state government for the better part of two decades. Republican campaigns from the governor on down the ballot rely on claiming credit for  their economic stewardship or, at least, warning of the dire consequences to Texas’ economy should Democrats take charge.

But when we look at views of the Texas economy, it’s actually Republican voters who express the most negativity. In that same December survey, 20% of voters said that Texas’ economy had improved over the last year, compared to 36% who said it had gotten worse. Not surprisingly, Democrats expressed a negative reaction to Texas’ economy, with 23% saying that the state’s economy had improved and 32% saying it had deteriorated. Among Republican voters, 21% said the state economy had improved while 38% said it had deteriorated. In fact, in half of the six surveys conducted in 2023, at least 40% of Republicans said that the state’s economy had gotten worse compared to the previous year.

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CategoryDemocratIndependentRepublican
A lot better off3%0%5%
Somewhat better off20%15%16%
About the same38%40%39%
Somewhat worse off22%31%26%
A lot worse off10%11%12%
Don't know8%3%3%

Why exactly Republican voters are so sour about the state economy given the role that partisanship tends to play in economic evaluations is an open question. One possibility is that their actual economic outcomes are lagging. Asked about how they’re personally doing economically in the same December poll, Democrats were slightly more likely to say that they are doing better than to say they are doing worse compared to last year (31% to 25%), but Republicans were significantly more likely to say that they’re worse off compared to last year (52%, compared to only 18% who say that they’re doing better). And the 18% who said they were doing better actually represented the highest rating among Republicans since at least August of 2021, while a majority of Republicans have said that they’re doing worse economically in each of the 11 surveys conducted between April of 2022 and December of 2023.

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CategoryDemocratIndependentRepublican
A lot better off5%1%3%
Somewhat better off26%15%15%
About the same41%36%30%
Somewhat worse off17%27%33%
A lot worse off8%21%19%
Don't know2%1%1%

Another likely factor in Republicans' negative evaluations of the state economy is that the relentless attack on Biden’s stewardship amidst a period of rising prices and inflation has bled into Republicans’ evaluation of the state economy (which is, after all, part of the national economy). When asked to evaluate Abbott’s and Biden’s respective handling of the economy at various points during the Biden presidency, which provides voters the opportunity to make more clear partisan distinctions while implying distinct assessments of the national and state economies, Republicans have been much more approving of Abbott than Biden, with approval levels in line with their overall approval of Abbott. So this may just be a matter of voters not negotiating the somewhat abstract distinction between the state and national economies.

At the same time, if Republican incumbents plan on using their economic stewardship of the state as part of their overall communications strategy in 2024, it’s unlikely (at this point in time) to resonate among voters, even their own.

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