Sharp partisan and racial differences mark Texan voters’ view of police, UT/TT Poll finds
With some political campaigns embracing law enforcement in Texas, the latest University of Texas/Texas Tribune Poll found two things to be true: Most voters don't want to decrease funding for police, and almost all voters feel safe where they live.
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Most Texas voters have favorable views of the police, but those overall numbers are driven by strong support from white voters that offsets the less favorable opinions from Black and Hispanic voters, according to the latest University of Texas/Texas Tribune Poll.
While 58% of registered Texas voters said they have favorable opinions of the police, 24% said they have unfavorable opinions. Among white voters, that’s a 69%-18% divide. But only 33% of Black voters said they have favorable opinions, and 38% have unfavorable opinions. Among Hispanic voters, 43% reported positive views and 33% reported negative ones.
There’s also a partisan divide, which some candidates have employed in their messaging as voters go to the polls. While 84% of Republicans have favorable views of the police, only 30% of Democrats do. Only 8% of Republicans have unfavorable views of police, while 43% of Democrats do.
The differences extend to attitudes about how police treat Black people and about spending on police.
Overall, 48% of Texas voters said the deaths of Black people in encounters with police are signs of broader problems in police treatment of Black people, while 44% said those are “isolated incidents” that don’t reflect broader problems.
Among Black voters, 80% said the deaths signal deeper problems in police treatment of Black people, a view shared by 57% of Hispanic voters and 38% of white voters. A majority of white voters — 55% — said those killings are isolated incidents; 14% of Black voters and 32% of Hispanic voters share that opinion.
Republicans overwhelmingly said the deaths are isolated incidents (76%), while 85% of Democrats said they are signs of broader police problems.
There isn’t much consensus among Texas voters about how recent attention on police treatment of Black people will affect race relations in the country. Only 23% said it that attention will improve relations, and 31% said it will worsen them. Another 31% don’t expect the attention to change the situation.
About one-third of Democrats (34%) said the attention will improve race relations, a point of view shared by 14% of Republicans. And while 16% of Democrats said it would make race relations worse, 42% of Republicans felt that way.
“After being very divided on partisan lines in June, it’s hard not to feel like something has stalled out in that conversation that was very energized in June, July, even into August,” said James Henson, head of the Texas Politics Project at the University of Texas at Austin and co-director of the poll. “But as we’re now nearing the election and the pandemic has set in, people’s attitudes are not as engaged. The dynamism and the change that we were seeing this summer seems to have stalled out.”
Spending on police departments has been at the front of the law enforcement debate, in part because of the way the issue splits Republicans and Democrats into their separate camps. Overall, 42% of Texas voters said police spending should be increased and another 32% would leave it as is. Most Republicans — 63% — would increase spending on police, a view shared by 20% of Democrats. Among Democrats, 35% would leave police spending as is, and 35% said it should be decreased.
The poll also illustrates the shortcomings of rallying politically around law enforcement in Texas: 90% of registered voters said they feel “very” or “somewhat” safe where they live.
“The politics of this are more about rhetoric than the experience of the people. It was unlikely to resonate in any more than an abstract way,” Henson said. “The people who live in the safest areas, as a group, are most likely to want an increase in their police budgets. ... To the extent that you’re going to mobilize a group of voters on an intense threat of crisis or disorder, it seems like kind of a bad bet. That’s also why, I think, it has not sustained itself as a major Trump campaign theme.”
Slightly more Republicans (94%) feel safe than Democrats (86%), but large majorities of every group in the electorate said they feel safe at home.
“When you look at safety and the question of police budgets, you’re looking at something that the polling tells me is 100% manufactured and political,” said Joshua Blank, research director of UT-Austin's Texas Politics Project. “Ultimately, when we ask people if where they live is safe or not, the vast, vast majority of Texans say that it is. However, when you look at police budgets, even though 94% of Republicans say they feel safe where they live, 63% say we should be increasing police budgets.”
The increasing racial and ethnic diversity of Texas is a cause for optimism, according to 44% of the state’s registered voters, and a cause for concern, according to 28%. More than a quarter — 28% — chose neither option. A majority of Democrats in the survey — 55% — called increasing diversity a cause for optimism. Republicans were more divided, with 36% calling it a cause for optimism, 27% calling it a cause for concern and 37% saying they don’t know.
Those partisan differences were wider than those among white, Black and Hispanic voters. Among white voters, 45% said increasing diversity is cause for optimism, compared with 40% of Black voters and 43% of Hispanic voters. It’s cause for concern, according to 27% of white voters, 35% of Black voters and 29% of Hispanic voters.
The University of Texas/Texas Tribune internet survey of 1,200 registered voters was conducted from Sept. 25 to Oct. 4 and has an overall margin of error of +/- 2.83 percentage points. Numbers in charts might not add up to 100% because of rounding.
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.
ReferenceUT/TT Poll, October 2020, Summary/Methodology
ReferenceUT/TT Poll, October 2020, Crosstabs
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