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Texas voters have settled into pandemic life, but their attitudes about what’s risky and what’s not have changed considerably when it comes to sending kids to school, according to the latest University of Texas/Texas Tribune Poll.
A majority (55%) consider it safe to “send your child to school,” up from 45% in the October 2020 UT/TT Poll and 35% in the June survey.
That’s one of a half-dozen activities the majority of Texas registered voters consider safe: going grocery shopping (78%), getting haircuts (66%), going to work (65%), staying in a hotel (62%) and eating at a restaurant (55%).
“You’re not seeing people feeling safer doing things,” said Joshua Blank, research director for the Texas Politics Project at the University of Texas at Austin. “The only change is sending kids to schools. The story is still the same.”
A number of other activities were considered unsafe by a majority of voters, like attending church (48%), going to a shopping mall (48%), flying on a plane (40%), attending an outdoor concert or sporting event (40%), going to a movie (38%), going to a health club or gym (37%), going to a bar or club (30%) or attending an indoor concert or sporting event (29%).
Republican voters are more willing than Democrats to risk getting out and about. A majority of Republican voters said they feel safe doing any of those things — with the exception of attending indoor concerts and sporting events; only 48% would do that.
A majority of Democrats were unwilling to do anything on the list other than grocery shopping (66%), though almost half would venture out for a haircut.
Some of the differences were huge. While 77% of Republicans consider it safe to send kids to school, only 31% of Democrats do, a 46 percentage-point gap. Attending church feels safe to 75% of Republicans and only 17% of Democrats. The people you see going to restaurants, shopping at the mall, at the movies, in a gym or in a bar are — if their comfort during a pandemic is the guide — more likely to be Republicans than Democrats.
“Half of the public is willing to do things with some assurance, 30% will do anything, and there are a few Republicans who want to do everything and a few Democrats who don’t want to do anything at all,” said Daron Shaw, co-director of the poll and a government professor at UT-Austin.
Overall, voters are doing things about the same way they were doing them when surveyed in October: 24% are living normally and coming and going as usual, compared to 27% then; 42% said they’re leaving home but taking care when they do, up slightly from 40% in October; and 31% said they’re only leaving home when they must, compared to 32% in October.
The risk tolerances of Democrats and Republicans are in evidence in those numbers. Only 6% of Democrats are coming and going as usual, while 49% said they’re only leaving home when they have to. Only 18% of Republicans are hovering close to home, while 40% said they’re living normally.
There is more accord when it comes to precautions. Most voters — 82% — are staying away from large groups. That practice is shared by 97% of Democrats and 70% of Republicans. And 72% of them are avoiding other people as much as possible, a group that includes 94% of Democrats and 56% of Republicans.
Gov. Greg Abbott signaled this week that he might soon lift his mask mandate and other pandemic restrictions. In the meantime, 88% of Texas voters said they’re wearing masks when in close contact with people outside of their households. That group includes 98% of Democrats and 81% of Republicans.
The University of Texas/Texas Tribune internet survey of 1,200 registered voters was conducted from Feb. 12-18 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.