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Texas voters are feeling safer about being out in public, and better about getting COVID-19 vaccines, but a majority of the state’s voters still consider the coronavirus a “significant crisis,” according to a new University of Texas/Texas Tribune Poll.
In the first UT/TT Poll of the pandemic, conducted a year ago, 63% of Texans said they were “only leaving my residence when I absolutely have to.” That has fallen to 21%; in the current poll, 33% said they were “living normally, coming and going as usual,” and another 44% said they are still leaving home, “but being careful when I do.” The majority of Democrats, 55%, were in that last group, while 55% of Republicans said they are living normally.
“Democrats are still living as if it's April of last year, but Republicans are pretty much back to normal,” said Joshua Blank, research director for the Texas Politics Project at the University of Texas at Austin.
Those Texas voters haven’t thrown caution to the wind, however: 74% said they’re staying away from large groups, 64% are “avoiding other people as much as possible,” and 80% are wearing masks when in close contact with people outside their households.
Presented with a list of specific activities, more than half of Texas voters said they feel safe buying groceries, getting haircuts, working, staying in hotels, eating in restaurants, sending the kids to school, going to the mall, attending church, flying on planes, and attending outdoor concerts and sporting events.
Other activities still don’t have majority support when it comes to perceptions of safety, including going to the movies, the gym, indoor sporting events or concerts and going to bars and clubs.
“There are limits to what people are willing to do, and a reluctance to say this thing is over. People are more willing to do everything, but the overall order of these activities remains the same,” said Daron Shaw, co-director of the poll and a government professor at UT-Austin.
Republican voters consider all of those activities safe; bars and clubs were the lowest, with only 63% saying they consider those places safe when it comes to COVID-19. Democrats are much more wary, with majorities calling groceries, haircuts, hotels and work safe, and the other listed activities considered unsafe by a majority. Only 11% of Democrats said they’d go to an indoor concert or sporting event, or a bar or club.
“Everybody has moved to a less cautious state, but Democrats remain more cautious than Republicans,” said James Henson, co-director of the poll and head of the Texas Politics Project at UT-Austin.
Two-thirds of Texas voters said vaccines against the coronavirus are safe, while 18% said they’re unsafe and 16% were unsure. Democrats (86%) were more likely than Republicans (53%) to hold that view. Likewise, 66% said the coronavirus vaccines are effective, including 86% of Democrats and 55% of Republicans.
Asked whether they’ll get vaccinated when they can, 64% either said yes or that they’ve already been vaccinated, 22% said they won’t get a shot and 14% were unsure. Again, there was a partisan split behind those results, with 84% of Democrats saying they would get vaccinated or already have been, 51% of Republicans and 51% of independent voters saying the same.
In a June 2020 UT/TT Poll — before vaccines had been developed — 59% of Texas voters said they would get the shots if they became available, 21% said no and the rest were undecided. In October’s poll, 42% planned to get vaccinations, and 51% said in February of this year that they would either get the vaccination or already received it. Vaccine hesitancy has dropped accordingly, from 57% saying they were not going to get shots or were undecided in October, to 48% in February, to 36% in the most recent poll.
Texans are split on proposals for “vaccine passports,” where people would have to show proof they’d been vaccinated to gain entry to large-group events or activities. Among all voters, 41% like that idea and 42% do not. Among Democrats, 72% support using vaccine credentials; among Republicans, 72% oppose it. Voters from urban areas (51%) favor the passports, an opinion shared by 38% of suburban voters and 30% of rural Texans.
A narrow majority (52%) call COVID-19 “a significant crisis” — a percentage in line with results of the October and February polls. But it marks a change from the early days of the pandemic a year ago; in an April 2020 UT/TT Poll, 66% of Texas voters said they considered the coronavirus “a significant crisis,” and another 28% said it was “a major problem but not a crisis.”
A year ago, 83% of Texas voters said they were concerned about the spread of coronavirus in their communities — a number that has fallen to 60%. The percentage of Texans who are “extremely” or “very” concerned has fallen to 36% from 54% a year ago.
Concern about “you or someone you know” getting infected is high, but not where it was a year ago. In the current survey, 61% say they’re concerned about infection, including 34% who are extremely or very concerned. That’s down from 80% who were concerned a year ago, including 54% who were extremely or very concerned.
When it comes to government response to the pandemic, Texans hold the performance of their local governments above either state or federal governments. More than half (53%) approve of how their local officials have handled things, while 45% approve of the state’s work and 47% approve of the federal government’s response.
The good marks for local government, unlike those for state and federal governments, come from both parties. Among Democrats, 56% approve of local handling of the coronavirus, and 54% of Republicans feel the same way. The federal government, with a Democrat in the White House, gets 76% approval from Democrats and 58% disapproval from Republicans. And the state, with a Republican in the Governor’s Mansion, gets approval from 72% of Republicans and disapproval from 71% of Democrats.
Almost half of Texas voters (49%) approve of President Joe Biden’s handling of the coronavirus, while 35% disapprove. For Gov. Greg Abbott, 43% approve of his work and 48% disapprove; a year ago, 56% thought the governor was doing a good job with the coronavirus.
The University of Texas/Texas Tribune internet survey of 1,200 registered voters was conducted from April 16-22 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.