Poll Shows Voters Watching Economy, Border

The economy, unemployment and jobs are the most important issues facing the country, while immigration and border security top the list of the biggest problems facing the state, according to the latest University of Texas/Texas Tribune poll.

The fourth and fifth items on the national list are federal spending and the national debt; all told, financial issues accounted for 52 percent of the poll’s responses. By comparison, the next most-cited issues, political corruption and leadership, were selected by only 22 percent of respondents.

On the state list, 40 percent put either immigration or border security at the top. (Only 8 put those issues at the top of the national list.) The economy, unemployment and jobs topped the lists of just 26 percent of respondents.

"Obviously, the economy dominates the national issue agenda," says Daron Shaw, a government professor at UT who oversees the UT/TT poll with his colleague Jim Henson. "But it is interesting how prominent immigration continues to be with respect to voters' views of the state. Perhaps even more interesting is how the issue has divided Republican officials and consultants; the fear of long-term Hispanic backlash is pitted against the substantial lure of Anglo majorities favoring a harder-line on immigration policy."

While voters are obviously concerned about the federal budget, the state’s budget problems haven't really registered: Only 3 percent of respondents listed state government spending as a big issue, and only 3 percent listed the state budget shortfall as an issue. Education, a perennial hot button, topped the list of only 5 percent of respondents.

"The issue set being pushed forward in race after race — mainly the anemic economy, government spending and deficits and the perceived lack of results from President Obama and the national Democratic party as they attempt to solve these problems — is helping the Republican ticket in Texas," Henson says. "One can think of an alternate set of issues that might help Texas Democrats: the looming state budget crisis, the consequences of long-term incumbency for good governance of the state, Texas’ continuing position near the bottom of the list of most social indicators, an inequitable tax structure, persistent problems in public education. But Democrats have failed to change the subject to a discussion of these issues, and they are not showing up in our survey when we ask people about the most important problems facing the state.”

As you might expect from a poll that shows plurality approval for Gov. Rick Perry and majority disapproval for Barack Obama, respondents view government in Washington, D.C., a great deal more negatively than they do government in Austin.

Only 25 percent say the country is moving in the right direction, while 64 percent say it’s on the wrong track. Forty-five percent say Texas is headed in the right direction, while 37 percent say the state is on the wrong track.

Asked specifically about the economy, 22 percent say the country is better off than it was a year ago, and 56 percent say it's worse; 40 percent say the state is better off, and 40 percent say it’s worse.

How are respondents doing personally? They’re mostly glum: 19 percent say they're better off than they were a year ago, 38 percent say they're in about the same place and 41 percent say they're worse off.

The Tea Party remains strong in Texas: 20 percent of respondents say it would be their party if it was organized, as the Republicans and the Democrats are. That number, as in past surveys, appears to come straight out of the GOP's ranks. With an organized Tea Party, it's 18 percent Republican, 20 percent Tea, 33 percent Democrat and 28 percent undecided or committed to something else.

"While the Tea Party movement has particular resonance in Texas, as a practical matter its impact was felt most dramatically in the March primary elections," Shaw says. "Still, it's remarkable how quickly the movement has become a galvanizing force within the Republican party. If Republican turnout is unusually high this year, the Tea Party is clearly the reason."

The voters who identify with the Tea Party overwhelmingly favor Republicans in statewide races, with more than 80 percent of them in each race favoring the Republican over the Democrat. In the governor's race, 84 percent of the Tea Partiers favor Perry, 5 percent are for Democrat Bill White, 8 percent go with Libertarian Kathie Glass and 2 percent back Deb Shafto of the Green Party.

"For the second or third poll in a row, the results confirm the fact that the Tea Party is primarily a Republican phenomenon, and one with interesting internal contradictions," Henson says. "Chief among them is the fact that Tea Party acolytes are enemies of the status quo, and yet the vast majority of them plan to vote for the longest-serving governor in the Texas history."

Incumbents across the board have some hills to climb. Given the choice, 29 percent of respondents say they would choose a candidate who's been in Congress, but 71 percent say they'd prefer a candidate who's never been in Congress. Asked if most members of Congress deserve re-election, 18 percent said yes, 71 percent said no and 10 percent were unsure — but 37 percent say their own member of Congress deserves another term, and 48 percent would like a change.

On a set of general quiz-like questions, results were mixed. Most respondents — 76 percent — know that U.S. Supreme Court justices serve life terms. More than half correctly identify Timothy Geithner as the U.S. Secretary of the Treasury. But not nearly as many are sure who the speaker of the Texas House is: 36 percent say they don't know, 31 percent correctly choose Joe Straus, 20 percent pick David Dewhurst, 11 percent chose Kay Bailey Hutchison and 3 percent say it's Rick Perry.

This is the fifth University of Texas/Texas Tribune poll (the others are here, here, here and here). The survey of 797 voters was taken Oct. 12-18 and has a margin of error of +/- 3.47 percent.

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