3 takeaways from Bexar Facts polling in 2020

From spotlighting a drop in coronavirus concern to a boost in approval ratings of local politicians

Visitors, some wearing masks to protect against the spread of COVID-19, ride a river barge along the River Walk, Tuesday, July 7, 2020, in San Antonio. (AP Photo/Eric Gay) (Eric Gay, Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.)

SAN ANTONIOThis was a year unlike any other. Find more stories wrapping up 2020 here.

What a year to start public polling.

In 2020, KSAT partnered with Bexar Facts and the San Antonio Report for a quarterly nonpartisan poll, which gauged the opinions of registered Bexar County voters on a wide variety of topics. And in a year that saw a devastating pandemic, a highly contentious election and a widespread discussion and protests on policing and race inequities, there was no shortage of issues to explore.

Throughout the year, we’ve reported on the findings of the Bexar Facts-KSAT-San Antonio Report poll, but here are three of the biggest takeaways on the issues that drive our community.

Drop in coronavirus concerns preceded summer surge

A few months into the COVID-19 pandemic, fatigue began to set in.

In a poll taken in April, 76% of respondents viewed the spread of COVID-19 as a very or extremely serious problem. But in June, that number dropped to 66%.

Around that same time, San Antonio had become a COVID-19 hotspot, sparking a summer surge that lasted into August.

“We have what I refer to as ‘COVID virus fatigue’ with regard to our social interactions,” UT Health San Antonio’s president William L. Henrich said in June. “We’ve let our guard down. We must counter this by wearing masks and returning to what thwarted the virus in the first place.”

Though the COVID-19 spike was eventually contained by the fall, San Antonio finds itself amid another surge in December with increased active cases and increased hospitalizations.

Multiple vaccines have been approved before the end of the year, but public health experts expect the general public will not be able to get vaccinated until the spring.

Pandemic’s effect on political approval ratings

San Antonio’s leaders have remained highly visible throughout the coronavirus pandemic, which may have helped their approval ratings.

Both San Antonio Mayor Ron Nirenberg and Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff saw an increase in their approval ratings since the onset of the pandemic. Though those numbers slightly dropped after the most recent poll taken in September, they still remained higher than the approval ratings they had pre-pandemic.

But not every politician fared well with the voters amid the pandemic. Public support for Texas Gov. Greg Abbott fell significantly among Bexar County voters.

In April, Abbott had enjoyed 70% approval from poll respondents voters, with only 27% of them giving the governor an unfavorable rating. By September, Abbott saw his approval rating go down to 45%, with his disapproval rating going up to 50%.

The polling showed Abbott’s approval rating saw a 30% drop in support from Democrats, a 28% drop in support from independents and a 13% drop in support from Republicans.

“Abbott’s Bexar County numbers reflect a trend we have seen around the country – which is a rallying of bipartisan support in the immediate wake of the pandemic, and then a steady return to partisan polarization over the course of the summer,” said Dave Metz, founder of FM3 Research, which conducted the poll. “Abbott has lost the most ground with Democrats and independents over the last few months, and his job approval rating now (45%) mirrors the share of the vote he got in Bexar County in 2018.”

Abbott has been admonished by some on both the left and right for either opening up too soon or being too harsh in the restrictions he issued over the spring and summer.

Voters oppose “defunding” SAPD, but support reallocating funds and police reform

The death of George Floyd helped sparked protests nationwide and revived a discussion on policing and racial inequities, with debates on policy still continuing today.

Bexar Facts polling showed that the opinion of voters depended on how the question was asked.

During the poll taken in September, voters who were asked if they supported defunding San Antonio police rejected the idea by a margin of 76%-20%. But when they were asked if funds going to San Antonio police should be reallocated to fund other programs, like mental health and substance abuse treatment, 51% of respondents approved of the idea, while 47% disagreed.

Voters also agree on the need for police reform.

In the summer poll, the majority of voters supported eight general police reform proposals, including requiring officers to wear body cameras at all times, hiring more officers of color, requiring officers to live in the community that they police, creating citizen review boards to supervise departments, increasing de-escalation training for officers, requiring officers to submit records each time they use force or threaten to use force, requiring verbal commands before firing on a civilian and requiring officers to exhaust all alternatives before opening fire.

Some of the reforms polled exist in some form in the San Antonio Police Department’s current contract with the city, but activists had said several of them, such as de-escalation training, need to be improved.

While voters support reform efforts, they also support law enforcement agencies and their leaders.

The majority of voters said they feel safe when they see police in their neighborhood. Of those polled in September, 70% approved of San Antonio Police Chief William McManus and 60% approved of Bexar County Sheriff Javier Salazar.

And though 65% of poll participants agreed that police unions can prevent holding police officers accountable for misconduct, 55% of them approved of the San Antonio Police Officers Association.

As the battle for reform stands, activists are trying to repeal laws that help hinder police accountability, while the city will begin to negotiate its new collective bargaining agreement with the San Antonio Police Officers Association in 2021.