Most white Texas voters believe the deaths of Black people in police custody aren’t a systemic problem
Texas voters support the police and don't want to cut their budgets. But they disagree on the reasons behind the deaths of Black people in encounters with law enforcement, according to the latest University of Texas/Texas Tribune Poll.
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Most Texas voters have a favorable opinion of police, feel safe where they live and don’t think police budgets should be cut, according to the latest University of Texas/Texas Tribune Poll. Public opinion is split, however, on a crucial question about police behavior: whether the deaths of Black people in encounters with police are isolated incidents or a sign of broader problems.
Overall, 45% of Texas voters said those deaths are a sign of broader problems, an opinion shared by 72% of Black voters, 53% of Hispanic voters and 36% of white voters.
The same percentage of voters — 45% — believes those deaths are isolated incidents. That view is shared by 16% of Black voters, 34% of Hispanic voters and 56% of white voters.
Among Republican voters, 78% said the deaths are isolated incidents; Democrats, 83% said the deaths are a sign of broader problems.
Texas voters have mixed views about the state’s increasing racial and ethnic diversity. A plurality of 40% said it should be a cause for optimism, while almost a third — 31% — said rising diversity is a cause for concern. That 9-percentage-point difference is markedly different from what voters were saying a year ago. In a Feb. 2020 UT/TT Poll, 49% were optimistic about the increasing diversity of the state and 28% were concerned — a 21-percentage-point difference.
In the most recent survey, the optimistic view was shared by 59% of Democrats and 25% of Republicans, the concerned opinion by 29% of Democrats and 35% of Republicans.
A significant number of Republicans — 39% — said they either didn’t know or didn’t have an opinion. Similar shares of Black (38%), Hispanic (40%) and white voters (42%) said increasing diversity is a cause for optimism. While 28% of white and Hispanic voters said it’s a cause for concern, 46% of Black voters said so.
A majority of Texas voters (62%) have a favorable opinion of police; only 20% said they have an unfavorable opinion. White voters have a more favorable opinion (70%) than Black voters (37%) and Hispanic voters (63%). Police are viewed negatively by 17% of white voters, 34% of Black voters and 16% of Hispanic voters. Republican voters are overwhelmingly positive about law enforcement: 85% have favorable opinions of police. Among Democrats, 43% view police positively, 33% view them negatively and 22% said they have a neutral view of police.
“There is a duality. Nobody wants to live in a place without police,” said Daron Shaw, co-director of the poll and a government professor at the University of Texas at Austin. “Police are necessary and important in these communities, but that doesn’t mean they’re doing a good job.”
A large majority of Texans (85%) said they feel very or somewhat safe where they live — a feeling that reaches across all of the groups in the poll, including Hispanic (81%), Black (75%) and white voters (91%); Democrats (84%) and Republicans (89%); and men and women (86% each).
And those voters generally don’t agree with calls to cut police spending: 40% would increase police spending a little or a lot, and 76% would either increase spending or leave it about where it is now. Only 17% would cut spending a little or a lot. That last group includes just 4% of Republicans and 29% of Democrats. Only 14% of white voters would cut police budgets, as would 23% of Black voters and 18% of Hispanic voters.
“You can think institutional racism is a problem in police departments without wanting to take their money away,” said Joshua Blank, research director for the Texas Politics Project at UT-Austin.
“The political argument has become warped into a set of positions that no one actually holds,” Blank said, noting that 64% of Democrats would either increase police spending or leave it alone.
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.
ReferenceUT/TT Poll, February 2021, Summary/Methodology
ReferenceUT/TT Poll, February 2021, Crosstabs
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