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As early voting in the party primaries began this week, you might think most voters were focused on power grid failures, which books and lessons should be tossed from or kept in public schools, who ought to wear masks and where and when they should wear them.
New polling from the University of Texas at Austin finds the state’s voters in familiar frames of mind, with Republicans fretting about border security and immigration, Democrats about COVID-19 and political leadership/corruption and the two major parties’ voters in complete disagreement about Joe Biden and Donald Trump.
At least the voters are consistent.
Texans have opinions about the people on the ballot and the hot-button issues. It’s just that many of the topics those candidates want to talk about are not what voters say is most important.
Democratic candidates pushing last year’s failure of the electric grid in Texas have some work to do: Only 5% of Democratic voters listed that as the most important problem facing the state. Overall, 3% of all voters put that at the top of their lists. Political corruption/leadership (18%) and COVID-19 (16%) were Democratic voters’ first two choices.
But the big issues for Republican candidates at the top of the statewide ballot — immigration and border security — still resonate with Texans, with a combined total of 31% of all voters. That includes 58% of Republican voters, the group the GOP’s candidates are courting right now.
Voters do have opinions about the things the candidates are talking about, even if those aren’t making the “most important issues” lists.
Requiring people to wear masks in indoor public places has the support of 62% of all voters. It’s partisan: 95% of Democrats support mask requirements and 65% of Republicans oppose them. And 61% of all voters support requiring students and staff to wear masks on campus, including 91% of Democrats and 66% of Republicans.
Republicans (64%) are more confident than Democrats (46%) that the Legislature’s new laws will prevent the kinds of utility disruptions that hit the state during the 2021 winter.
Most Texans (62%) oppose efforts to remove books from school libraries. They are split over whether parents have enough influence over what their children are taught. Fifty percent oppose limiting use of teaching materials that “emphasize racism in the history of the United States.”
A 53% majority opposes automatically banning all abortions in Texas if the U.S. Supreme Court overturns Roe v. Wade, and 43% would make current abortion law in Texas less strict. But 23% would leave current law — which outlaws the procedure after a fetal pulse is detected, usually at about six weeks into a pregnancy — in place. And another 23% would make the law stricter.
Former President Trump remains one of the most polarizing figures in Texas politics, rivaled only by Biden, his successor. Among Republicans, 81% have a favorable opinion of Trump; 78% of Democrats have an unfavorable opinion. And while 76% of Democrats say Biden is doing a good job, 91% of Republicans disapprove of his work.
Two-thirds of Texas voters said the country is on the wrong track. Four years ago, the last time the state’s top offices were on the ballot, only 50% said the country was on the wrong track. There is a Democrat in the White House now; it was a Republican four years ago. And four years before that, when Barack Obama was president, a February 2014 University of Texas/Texas Tribune poll found 63% of Texans thought the country was on the wrong track.
More than half expect to see more political violence in the U.S. in the future (54%). Most (53%) think Biden “legitimately won the 2020 presidential election,” but the winners were more likely to believe that than the losers: 91% of Democrats called it legit, while 67% of Republicans don’t think he won legitimately.
Overall, 51% said the protesters in the U.S. Capitol in January 2021 “were attempting to overturn the results of the 2020 election.” That group included 82% of Democrats and 25% of Republicans; 8% of Democrats disagreed, along with 62% of Republicans.
Finally, as the state prepared itself for early voting (the poll was conducted Jan. 28-Feb. 7), Texans’ view of U.S. democracy was bleak.
Fifty-five percent of Texas voters said democracy in the U.S. is working somewhat, very or extremely poorly; 36% said it’s working well. Just under half said democracy in Texas is working well, but 41% said it’s working poorly.
Those numbers have a lot to do with who won and who lost in 2020.
Democrats and Republicans voted in the same elections in 2020, but Democrats, who won the national elections, were more likely to say the U.S. democracy is working, and Republicans, who won the state elections, were more likely to say democracy is working in Texas.
Another test of their faith started this week.