A slight majority of Texans want transgender people to choose restrooms based on their birth gender and not their gender identity, according to the latest University of Texas/Texas Tribune Poll.
The overall preferences were about the same when voters were asked about public school locker rooms and restrooms: 53 percent of voters said transgender people should use the facilities that match their birth gender.
Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, a Republican, has made it widely known that regulating transgender people’s use of public facilities will be one of his legislative priorities. As a matter of politics, he’s on solid ground. Self-identified Republican voters — by a 76 percent to 14 percent margin — said transgender people should use the restrooms that match their birth gender. The Republican numbers were even stronger — 80-10 — on the use of facilities in public schools.
Democratic voters went the other way, with 50 percent saying gender identity should be the standard in public restrooms and 51 percent saying that should be the standard in public schools.
“Republican leaders who are hitting this issue hard are doing things that are resonating with their base and their party,” said Jim Henson, co-director of the poll and head of the Texas Politics Project at the University of Texas at Austin. Given the results, he said, “it’s not surprising that elements of the Republican leadership have staked this out and are sticking to it.”
Gov. Greg Abbott is pushing for a “convention of states” that would consider nine amendments to the U.S. Constitution, generally limiting the power of the federal government and asserting the power of the states.
Abbott has some selling to do if he’s counting on public opinion. Voters were asked whether “the Constitution has held up well as the basis for our government and laws and is in little need of change, or would you say that we should hold a new constitutional convention to update the Constitution?” Most — 59 percent — said the Constitution has held up well; only 25 percent said the states should hold a new convention.
Democrats were less defensive about changes than Republicans: Where 51 percent of Democrats said the Constitution has held up well and should be left alone, 67 percent of Republicans took that position. And where 30 percent of Democrats were open to the convention, only 19 percent of Republicans chose that option.
“There doesn’t seem to be a ready audience for this, but if there is one, it’s more populated by Democrats than by Republicans,” Henson said.
Two issues that have attracted a lot of attention in the state Capitol are getting less notice from voters. State leaders have told the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services to immediately come up with plans to speed placements of foster children and to intervene in cases where children under the state’s protection are in danger. That agency, in turn, has told legislators it needs 550 additional employees and $53.3 million to pay for them. Lawmakers have pushed back on that request, but fixing the system remains a top priority.
In spite of the Austin focus, only 45 percent of voters say they have heard “some” or “a lot” about the troubles at the agency. Another 30 percent chose “not very much” when asked how much news they’ve heard. Among those who’ve heard even a smidgen of news, 20 percent said they have a favorable opinion of the agency and 36 percent said they have an unfavorable opinion. The remaining 43 percent said they don’t have an opinion.
Similarly, 31 percent of Texas voters said they have heard “nothing at all” about the legal problems of Attorney General Ken Paxton. The state’s top lawyer faces state criminal charges and federal civil fraud charges arising from his private business as an attorney who also advised clients on investments in securities. Those allegations first came to public attention during the Republican primaries in 2014, when Paxton was first running for attorney general, and have episodically appeared in the news ever since.
Only 15 percent of voters said they have heard a lot about Paxton’s legal fight, 30 percent said they have heard “some” and 24 percent said they have not heard very much.
“Maybe it’s because it’s a slow drip,” said poll co-director Daron Shaw, regarding how the news of Paxton’s troubles has come to light. “There’s a year of Cruz and Trump and Hillary, and people have a lot of other distractions.”
Shaw, a government professor at UT-Austin, said voters often learn more about this kind of news in the heat of battle, when candidates are trying to get elected. Paxton is up for re-election in 2018. “Perhaps what it would take is an active political campaign,” he said. “It might take a Republican in the primary or a Democrat in the general to make this known to the public.”
On a question testing political knowledge in the same poll, 42 percent of the voters, when asked for the name of the state’s current comptroller, selected Attorney General Paxton. Only 26 percent correctly chose Glenn Hegar.
The University of Texas/Texas Tribune internet survey of 1,200 registered voters was conducted from Oct. 14 to Oct. 23 and has an overall margin of error of +/- 2.83 percentage points. Among likely voters — those who said either that they are certain to vote or that they have voted in “every” recent election — the margin of error is +/- 3.16 percentage points (n=959). Numbers in charts might not add up to 100 percent because of rounding.
This is one of several stories on the latest University of Texas/Texas Tribune Poll. Last week: The race for president; what sort of voter fraud Texas voters fear in November’s election; and what Texas voters think about various state and federal officeholders and institutions. Also today: The mood of the state.
Disclosure: The University of Texas at Austin has been a financial supporter of The Texas Tribune. A complete list of Tribune donors and sponsors can be viewed here.