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A majority of Texas voters support requiring masks at schools and indoor public places and allowing businesses to require their employees to be vaccinated, according to a new University of Texas/Texas Tribune poll.
This comes as Gov. Greg Abbott has banned vaccine requirements by all Texas entities, including private businesses and health care facilities, and mask mandates by local government and state agencies.
A survey of 1,200 registered voters in Texas showed that 57% of voters support mask requirements in indoor public spaces based on local conditions, while 58% support mask requirements for students and staff in public schools. Forty percent oppose the requirements at indoor public places and 39% oppose the requirements at schools.
Fifty-four percent of Texas voters also support allowing businesses to require employees to provide proof of vaccination or submit to frequent COVID-19 tests, compared to 43% who are opposed. Meanwhile, a slight plurality is opposed to the same requirements for customers: 47% support them, while 49% are against.
Similarly, 54% of voters support and 43% oppose allowing public schools to require staff to either provide proof of vaccination or submit to frequent testing. Texas voters are nearly split on requiring students to adhere to the same measures: 49% oppose the idea and 48% support it.
Texans also leaned in favor of requiring vaccinations for admission to large events or activities, with polls showing that 47% of voters favor the vaccine passports while 43% oppose them.
Voters were fairly evenly split on whether they supported allowing government entities to require vaccines or COVID-19 tests for employees. Just 50% supported the requirements while 46% opposed.
Overall, there is a wide partisan divide on the issue of mandates. While Democrats surveyed overwhelmingly support them, there is still significant opposition among Republicans.
"As a whole, the state looks more in favor of mitigation efforts than the policy, but amongst the majority party there's really not much appetite for many of these mitigation efforts," said Joshua Blank, research director at the Texas Politics Project.
The governor is fighting multiple legal battles with local and federal officials over mask and vaccine mandates, including a federal challenge from the U.S. Department of Justice.
Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton has filed a pair of lawsuits against the Biden administration’s COVID-19 vaccination requirements, including a challenge to the President’s executive order requiring all federal contractors be vaccinated by December.
The poll also shows Texans are increasingly "living normally," as fewer continue to characterize the pandemic as a “significant crisis.”
The survey showed that 42% of respondents and their families are returning to normal life and “coming and going as usual” and only 14% of Texans say that they are extremely concerned about the transmission of COVID-19 in their community.
Three out of four Democrats polled characterized the pandemic as a “significant crisis” compared to just 15% of Republicans — the lowest numbers since the start of the pandemic.
Polls show that personal COVID-19 mitigation measures and perception of the virus consistently varies among Democrats and Republicans.
"People are continuing to sort of live with COVID in some ways and so what you're seeing is less concern about the transmission because the behaviors of Texans are in a lot of ways moderated to their own views around the threat that they feel that they face," said Blank.
This data comes as an increase in cases and hospitalizations this year from the delta variant have slowed and an estimated 70,000 Texans have died of COVID-19 since the beginning of the pandemic.
Polls show that 23% of Texas voters reported that their eligible children have already received a vaccination. In comparison, 29% of voters said they plan to vaccinate the children living in their household as soon as possible, while 8% are unsure.
Children ages 5 to 11 became eligible for the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine last week. Adolescent children ages 12 to 17 have been eligible for vaccination since May.
Three-quarters of respondents who say they plan to or have already vaccinated children are Democrats. Nearly half of Republicans say they will not vaccinate their kids.
According to the survey, 73% of Texas voters have been vaccinated or plan to be, while 20% of Texans reported they have no plans to get vaccinated.
Jim Henson, director of the Texas Politics Project, says this is a consistent trend when compared to the Tribune’s previous COVID-19 polls.
"It doesn’t seem like they're likely to change their mind anytime soon, barring, you know, unforeseen circumstances like another variant or something that changes the dynamic of this," said Henson.
Polling also consistently finds that Democrats are more likely to get vaccinated, with 94% reporting they've gotten vaccinated or plan to, compared with 59% of Republican voters.
So far, over 53% of Texans are fully vaccinated according to the Texas Department of State Health Services.
The survey of registered voters found Texans are continuing to take preventive measures against the virus.
Overall, 64% of Texas voters said they stay away from large groups, while 60% report wearing a mask when in close contact with people outside their households.
Polls show Democrats are almost three times as likely as Republicans to mask up in public and 87% of Democrats report staying away from large groups compared to 46% of Republicans.
The data also shows how people of color are also more likely to be taking personal protection measures, with 86% of Black voters and 74% of Hispanic voters still wearing their masks around people outside their households, compared with 49% of white Texans.
Voters who have been vaccinated are more likely to use mitigation measures like masking, with almost 80% of vaccinated Texan voters masking up in public, compared to only 38% of unvaccinated Texans.
Approval of government handling of pandemic
While local governments have the highest approval rating from Texas voters for their handling of COVID-19, approval of the federal government’s actions related to the virus is declining among both Democrats and Republicans.
Despite a slight uptick of approval at the beginning of President Joe Biden's term, views of the federal government have turned consistently negative as the pandemic stretches on.
Current polls show just 37% of voters surveyed approve of the federal government's handling of COVID-19 pandemic — a notable 6-point drop from August 2021 polls.
"Biden and the federal government ratings continue to erode pretty powerfully as we go into an election year," said Henson. "Even if you just look at the trajectory from February 2021 to now, that's not all Republicans, and some of it is Republicans, but it's also a drop among Democrats."
Meanwhile, almost half of Texas voters (46%) approve of the state government's handling of the COVID-19 pandemic, with three-fourths of Republicans approving.
The survey of 1,200 registered voters was conducted online from Oct. 22-31. The margin of error was +/- 2.83 points.
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.