Texas voters remain split on the permissibility of abortion but favor banning the procedure after 20 weeks of a pregnancy, according to the latest University of Texas/Texas Tribune Poll.
The survey also found a divergence of opinion about public schools: Voters with school-age children give schools much better ratings than all voters as a group.
The divide on abortion — evident in past UT/TT polls — persists. Forty-six percent of Texas voters say it should never be permitted or permitted only in cases involving incest, rape or when the woman's life is in danger. On the other hand, 49 percent say it should be allowed after the need for an abortion has been clearly established, or that the choice should be completely left to the woman. Within those numbers, 16 percent said abortion should never be allowed, and 36 percent said that a woman should always be able to get an abortion as a matter of personal choice.
Laws restricting abortion should be stricter, according to 38 percent of the respondents, while 26 percent said the laws should be less strict and 21 percent said they should be left as they are now.
“What you see is what you would expect in a relatively red state,” said poll co-director Daron Shaw, a professor of government at the University of Texas at Austin. “It’s a slight pro-life lean. It’s probably pushed a little bit because of the question about late-term abortions.”
The poll split a question about abortions after 20 weeks — an effort to see whether talking in the context of fetal pain changed the responses of Texas voters. It didn’t: 62 percent said they would support “prohibiting abortions after 20 weeks based on the argument that a fetus can feel pain at that point,” and that same percentage said they support “prohibiting abortions after 20 weeks.” Nearly half — 49 percent in the first question and 47 percent in the second — said they would strongly support those prohibitions.
“In terms of substantive policy, most of this is not particularly right-wing,” Shaw said. “Maybe the abortion stuff. These are abortion positions that are actually not strongly opposed — there is a 2-to-1 preference for that.”
It’s a strongly partisan issue, however, with 85 percent of Republicans in favor of the ban and nearly half of the Democrats against it. Fewer than 10 percent of Republicans oppose the 20-week ban; fewer than two in five Democrats support it.
When asked about the public schools, 45 percent of voters give K-12 education ratings of excellent or good. Voters with children currently enrolled in school were much more positive, with 82 percent giving their own children's schools excellent or good ratings. About the same numbers — 14 percent of all voters and 13 percent of those with kids in school — gave public education (or their own children's schools) a “terrible” rating.
“It’s not unlike what you see with other institutions, like with Congress,” said Jim Henson, who runs the Texas Politics Project at UT-Austin and co-directs the UT/TT Poll. “In the way that voters tend to like their members of Congress and elect them over and over again and then turn around and say they disapprove of Congress, people tend to see flaws in the education system overall, but they know their teachers, they like them, they’re taking care of their kids.”
Many candidates in 2012 heard from voters about tests required for high school graduation, and lawmakers decided to cut the number of those exams to five from 15. That move has the support of 60 percent of voters, including strong support from 35 percent. Nearly a third of voters opposed cutting the number high-stakes tests.
During the regular session of the Legislature, lawmakers tinkered with high school curriculum and graduation requirements to take professional training for non-college-bound students into account. Nearly half of Texas voters said schools should set requirements to encourage all students to go to college, while 38 percent said the schools shouldn’t do that.
“That 38 percent are the people who think that public education isn’t geared strictly to get people into college, that there are other paths and that the schools ought to facilitate that,” Shaw said.
Two years ago the Legislature cut $5.4 billion in public education funding, and this year it restored more than half of that. That was the right solution for about 17 percent of voters, while 11 percent said the cuts should have been left in place and 8 percent said more cuts were needed. Another 19 percent would have restored all of the money cut in 2011, and 23 percent said the Legislature should have restored those cuts and increased spending from there.
“This is a consistent finding, even in a red state — there is an appetite for spending the public good and a particular appetite for spending on public education,” Shaw said. “Even when debt and taxes and those things are on the table, they’re still willing to put money into education.”
With most of the state in the midst of a record-setting drought, lawmakers put together a $2 billion water plan that will be presented to voters in November as a constitutional amendment. That money would come from the state’s Rainy Day Fund, an idea supported by 68 percent of the voters, and opposed by only 20 percent.
“This is one of the areas where we were eager to see if the flare-up of fiscal conservatives to funding the water from the Rainy Day Fund was going to register in public opinion,” Henson said. “There’s no evidence of that. That could have implications going into a fall constitutional amendment election.
“As it stands now, you have an uphill battle to beat the amendment,” he said.
The University of Texas/Texas Tribune internet survey of 1,200 voters was conducted May 31-June 9, 2013, and has a margin of error of +/- 2.83 percentage points. Numbers in the charts might not add up to 100 percent, because of rounding.
This is the fourth of five stories on the latest University of Texas/Texas Tribune Poll. Monday: head-to-head races for president, governor and lieutenant governor. Tuesday: what voters think of top political figures and institutions. Wednesday: voters’ take on the most important issues and the economic climate. Tomorrow: immigration and other policy questions.