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University of Texas/Texas Tribune Polls

Analysis: In step with Texas voters on some things, and out of step on some others

If you study a poll and then look at what the Texas Legislature is doing, you'll see a lot of harmony between lawmakers and their voters. But not always. You might also wonder where the representatives in Austin get some of their ideas.

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It’s clear that Texas leaders have either been looking at polls or have some other way to get a good sense of what their voters want.

On lots of issues — school finance, property taxes and teacher pay raises — they’re in sync with the people of Texas. It’s there in the details of the latest University of Texas/Texas Tribune Poll, which serves on many issues as a demonstration of representative lawmakers actually representing the residents of the state.

But not all of them. On some issues — like “red flag” laws, vaccinations and sick leave — voters are going one way and the Texas Legislature seems to be going another.

For instance, without the aid of a list of things lawmakers are working on, voters put immigration and border security atop their ranking of most important problems. Education was second, though, and property taxes were third.

So the UT/TT Poll had another question, asking voters to rank six items that were actually on the Legislature’s list of things to do. Immigration and border security isn’t one of those; lawmakers have $800 million in the budget for border security and passed a strict “sanctuary cities” ban in 2017. The governor, lieutenant governor and speaker have different plates on the menu this time, topped by school finance, property taxes and teacher pay raises.

That matches the voters’ order of business: 23 percent picked property taxes, 21 percent picked public school funding and 13 percent chose teacher pay. All told, 54 percent of voters had one of those three items in their top spot.

They matched up pretty well with lawmakers when asked about the three biggest problems in public education, too: low teacher pay, “not enough funding for the public school system as a whole,” and “unequal resources among schools and school districts” were the top choices, overall.

They even agree on some things they can all hate together. Ask a Texas lawmaker whether a personal income tax is a good idea, and you might get laughed at. Voters might do the same thing: 71 percent said the state should not consider creation of an income tax if money is needed to raise money for schools. They’d much rather — this is a true story — legalize pot and tax it. A solid 60 percent said so.

And although local governments think it’s a terrible idea, voters like the idea of requiring voter approval before local property tax revenue can grow more than a set amount — voters are with state leaders on that proposition. Not only do 72 percent like it, it’s popular with Republicans (84 percent), Democrats (62 percent) and independents (66 percent).

It’s fair to say that those voters aren’t necessarily clear on what that means, though — 52 percent believe that the slow-growth legislation would actually cut their current property taxes. It won’t, at least in its current form.

But it’s not all peace and harmony between the elected and those who elected them.

Red flag laws — where courts have the power to take guns away from people deemed a danger to themselves or others — are more popular with Texas voters than with state leaders. After shootings last year at Santa Fe High School and Sutherland Springs Baptist, Gov. Greg Abbott held a series of roundtables to talk about how the state should respond to and try to prevent future shootings. They talked about everything from mental health to armed educators to stricter gun laws to metal detectors at schools.

Red flag laws were part of the discussion, too, but there’s no evident consensus of state leaders to pass them. There might be if the state’s voters were in charge, however: 72 percent would support giving judges that power, including 88 percent of Democrats, 60 percent of Republicans and 65 percent of independents.

Sometimes, it pays to pay attention to minority viewpoints. Take vaccinations: 78 percent of Texans believe government should require parents to vaccinate their kids against diseases like measles and mumps and whooping cough. That majority includes majorities of each subgroup. But the minority votes are big enough to raise an eyebrow: 14 percent of all voters — including 6 percent of Democrats, 18 percent of Republicans and 23 percent of independents — don’t think vaccines should be required. Some of those people are represented in the Legislature, too.

Several Texas cities have passed local laws requiring businesses to offer paid sick leave to their employees. Texas leaders have said they want to strike down those requirements. And on this one, they can say they don’t care what the polls say. Here’s what the polls say: 71 percent of voters think paid sick leave should be required, including majorities of Democrats, Republicans and independents.

Maybe they didn’t take a poll on that one.

Disclosure: The University of Texas at Austin has been a financial supporter of The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan news organization that is funded in part by donations from members, foundations and corporate sponsors. Financial supporters play no role in the Tribune's journalism. Find a complete list of them here.

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