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University of Texas/Texas Tribune Polls

Analysis: 5 takeaways from the UT/TT Poll

After four days, seven stories, piles of graphics and one podcast about the latest University of Texas/Texas Tribune Poll, a handful of things stuck out.

The Texas Capitol at sunset on May 23, 2017.

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After four days, seven stories, piles of graphics and one podcast about the latest University of Texas/Texas Tribune Poll, a handful of things stuck out.

1. The president is popular with Texas Republicans. He’s so popular, they’ve gone soft on Russia.

Overall, Donald Trump’s numbers in Texas don’t look so hot: 50 percent of voters disapprove of the job he’s doing, 53 percent said he doesn’t have the temperament to be president, 55 percent said he is dishonest and untrustworthy and 47 percent said he’s not competent.

Texas Democrats might never be happy with Trump, and they’re killing his overall numbers. But Republicans remain solidly behind him: 80 percent job approval, 68 percent like his temperament, 66 percent said he’s honest and trustworthy and 80 percent said he is competent to be president.

Here’s an example of Texas Republican voters’ fealty to the president. Only 11 percent of Texas voters have a favorable opinion of Russia, the country at the center of investigations about election interference and improper communications with Trump confederates, while 56 percent have unfavorable opinions. Among Democrats, the favorable/unfavorable numbers on Russia are 5 percent/71 percent. Among Republicans, the split is less stark: 15 percent/45 percent. The remaining voters — 24 percent of Democrats and 40 percent of Republicans — registered neutral or no opinions of the country at the center of what Ronald Reagan once called “The Evil Empire.”

2. There are definitely (at least) two distinct Republican factions operating in Texas.

And you can’t understand what’s going on in politics and government unless you’re paying attention to small, active groups in the electorate; the “all voters” answers are often wrong.

A narrow majority of Texas voters — 52 percent — support ensuring that police officers can check a person’s immigration status during a legal stop. Ask Democratic voters, however, and 75 percent oppose the idea. Among Republicans, 86 percent support it. That tells you a lot about the party line split in evidence when the Texas House voted on that issue during the regular session. That’s driven, in part, by Tea Party Republicans, 95 percent of whom support that position.

Asked about state spending on education, 47 percent of all Texas voters said the state doesn’t spend enough. Among Tea Party Republicans, only 19 percent said spending was too low, while 34 percent of non-Tea Party Republicans — a plurality of that group — said so. A plurality of Tea Party voters said state spending on public education is about right.

Vouchers, where public money is used to pay for private education, is opposed by 47 percent of voters, but the two GOP groups favor it, either moderately or strongly: 55 percent of non-Tea Party Republicans and 69 percent of Tea Party Republicans favor vouchers.

The conservatives were thwarted on that last issue but prevailed on the other two.

3. Talk is cheap but can move the needle.

Lots of Texans aren’t paying attention to the people in state government who clamor constantly for attention. That said, talking about an issue can increase its importance in the eyes of voters. Look at bathrooms and the Tea Party. Asked about the importance of restricting access to public restrooms for transgender people, 54 percent of non-Tea Party Republican voters rated it important. Among Tea Party Republicans, 70 percent rated it important.

Now look at their movement from a UT/TT Poll in February to the latest one. The persistent conversation and debate over bathroom bills over the course of the regular session increased the number of Tea Party Republicans rating it “important” by 31 percentage points, and by 13 percent among non-Tea Party Republicans. 

Maybe that same strategy will help Gov. Greg Abbott with his proposal for a convention of states to amend the U.S. Constitution. Right now, he’s got some selling to do: 54 percent of Texas voters — and 60 percent of Republicans — think that document has held up well “and is in little need of change.”

4. The polls sometimes tell you what’s what. Sometimes there’s more going on.

Voters hate property taxes, and that’s why politicians hate property taxes. It’s not that complicated.

Except when it is: Texas lawmakers have dithered for years over a ban on texting while driving — an issue bipartisan enough to earn co-sponsorship from conservative Republican Rep. Tom Craddick, a former House speaker from Midland, and liberal Democratic Sen. Judith Zaffirini of Laredo. They even got it to Rick Perry’s desk when he was governor. He vetoed it, calling the law “a government effort to micromanage the behavior of adults.” Gov. Greg Abbott signed it into law this year, a decade after Craddick and Zaffirini started working on it. After all the drama, you might expect to see poll numbers that would make officeholders nervous, right? Nope: 86 percent of voters favor a ban and only one in 10 oppose it. From a voters’ point of view, this one was a layup.

Property taxes are still on the stove — one of 20 issues Abbott wants lawmakers to consider in a special session starting July 18. In the regular session, lawmakers were last seen debating whether to require automatic rollback elections when local governments raise taxes more than a certain amount — a fight that could come down to whether the elections are automatic and at what rate they should be triggered. The details matter, but voters are overwhelmingly behind the idea: 77 percent said they support limits on local government property tax increases — 48 percent of them “strongly.”

5. If it’s true that people vote their wallets, Texas voters aren’t giving officeholders a lot to worry about.

In the latest UT/TT Poll, 72 percent of voters said the national economy is better than or about the same as it was a year ago. Only 25 percent said it’s worse. Only 21 percent said the state economy is worse than a year ago, while 73 percent said it is about the same or better. And 77 percent said their own family was doing about the same or better than they were last year, while 20 percent said things are worse.

Details, details: The University of Texas/Texas Tribune internet survey of 1,200 registered voters was conducted from June 2 to June 11 and has an overall margin of error of +/- 2.83 percentage points. Numbers in charts might not add up to 100 percent because of rounding.

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.

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