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About two months after the Texas Legislature approved new voting restrictions into law, roughly a third of the state's voters believe that voting rules here should be stricter, according to a new University of Texas/Texas Tribune Poll.
In that October poll, 34% of voters said those rules should be more strict, while 29% said they should remain unchanged and another 29% said the rules should be less strict. Eight percent said they did not know or did not have an opinion.
Those numbers are similar to what voters said about the issue during an August UT/TT Poll, with 39% saying rules should be more strict, 30% saying they should be left as they are now, 24% saying they wanted less strict rules and 8% saying they did not know or did not have an opinion.
In September, Gov. Greg Abbott signed into law sweeping legislation that further tightens the state’s election laws, such as banning drive-thru voting and ratcheting up voting-by-mail rules. The bill, earmarked a priority by Republicans, passed the Texas Legislature after months of clashes between lawmakers. Most Texas House Democrats fled the state for weeks to break quorum and prevent the proposal from passing.
While Republicans pushed the legislation as an attempt to add much-needed safeguards to the state’s elections system, Democrats and voter advocacy groups characterized it as a proposal that could harm voters of color by creating additional barriers to vote. On Thursday, the U.S. Department of Justice sued Texas over the law, claiming it will "disenfranchise eligible Texas citizens who seek to exercise their right to vote."
The October poll found that the percentage of Democrats who said voting rules should be less strict increased significantly, with 64% of voters taking that position compared to the 51% in August. Meanwhile, the number of Republicans who think the rules should be stricter decreased from 67% in August to 56% in October.
“This is an area where the nationalization of politics really seeped in,” said James Henson, co-director of the poll and head of the Texas Politics Project at the University of Texas at Austin.
The University of Texas/Texas Tribune internet survey of 1,200 registered voters was conducted from Oct. 22-31 and has an overall margin of error of +/- 2.83 percentage points.
Meanwhile, most Texas voters, 53%, said they don’t think the state’s “election system discriminates against racial and ethnic minorities,” while 37% said that it does. Those numbers remained largely the same compared to polls done from October 2017 through August. A majority of white voters and a plurality of Hispanic voters said the system does not discriminate, while a majority of Black voters said it does.
“The idea that a political debate that largely takes place in the Texas Capitol around a bunch of voting laws that are technical and pretty procedural is going to fundamentally change peoples’ outlooks on state-sponsored discrimination is a pretty heavy ask,” said Joshua Blank, research director for the Texas Politics Project. “Ultimately, it doesn't seem like it’s really changed the attitudes on a fundamental level.”
Texas voters also are overall more confident with official election results in Texas than they are with results in the U.S. Thirty-eight percent of voters said Texas official election results were very accurate and another 38% said they were somewhat accurate, while 33% said U.S. results were very accurate and 23% said they were somewhat accurate. There was also a gap between voters who used very inaccurate to characterize Texas results, 3%, and U.S. results, 19%.
Last month, lawmakers passed new political maps for Congress, the state House and Senate and State Board of Education based on new population data from the latest census. Those numbers showed that people of color fueled 95% of the state’s population growth over the past decade, though Republicans drew the maps to tighten their hold on diversifying areas across the state.
Legal challenges are already playing out over those new maps, so the proposed political boundaries could change. In recent months though, the number of voters who said they were following the monthslong redistricting debate increased.
Sixty-six percent of voters said they had heard either a lot or some about this year’s redistricting process in Texas — up from the 49% who said the same in August. Meanwhile, 35% of voters said they had heard either a little or nothing at all about the process, a decrease from the 50% who said the same in August.
The increase was driven largely by Democrats, which had 37% and 36% say they had either heard a lot or some about the redistricting process. Republicans, meanwhile, had 18% and 46% in those same camps. The two parties had about the same percentage of voters — 15% for Democrats and 17% for Republicans — who had heard nothing at all about the process.
“Generally, redistricting is a low salience activity for most people,” Blank said. “But what’s going to make it high salience is the coverage of it and the perceived — or real — partisan advantages and disadvantages that have come out of that process.”
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.