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Texas voters writ large appear conflicted on how the Legislature and its leaders handled the impeachment of Attorney General Ken Paxton, according to a new poll. But Republican voters give clearly higher marks to the state Senate than the House.
The Texas House impeached Paxton in May, and the Senate acquitted him last month — a verdict that continues to roil Texas politics.
The survey from the University of Texas at Austin, conducted Oct. 5-17, asked voters how they approved of the way five different entities handled the impeachment and trial: the House, House Speaker Dade Phelan, the Senate, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and Gov. Greg Abbott.
Thirty-two percent of voters approved of the House’s handling of the impeachment, while 29% disapproved and the rest were unsure or had no opinion. That split was similar for the Senate, 33% to 31%.
Narrowed down to GOP voters, however, there was a starker difference. Republicans gave the House a 36% approval rating to a 22% disapproval rating, while they gave the Senate a 32-point net approval rating — 46% to 14%.
There was a similar contrast between how Republicans graded the performance of the chambers’ leaders. GOP voters were almost evenly split on how Phelan handled the impeachment — 25% approved and 26% disapproved — while Patrick got a better score, with 44% approving and 12% disapproving.
As for Abbott, Republicans approved of his performance during the process, 52% to 10%. The governor had no formal role other than appointing two interim attorneys general, and he avoided expressing any personal opinions about the allegations against Paxton.
Paxton saw his overall approval rating improve a little compared to UT's August survey. He remained underwater with all voters in the latest poll, with 33% approving and 42% disapproving. Among Republicans, 50% approved and 20% disapproved.
The numbers for the two legislative leaders are especially relevant given the intraparty warfare that has since broken out.
Patrick ended the trial with a speech that blasted the House for allegedly cutting corners on the impeachment process. Phelan responded by accusing Patrick of being biased all along after taking $3 million in campaign funding from a pro-Paxton group in June. That group, Defend Texas Liberty PAC, has since become embroiled in controversy after The Texas Tribune reported it hosted prominent white supremacist Nick Fuentes. Amid pressure from Phelan and his allies, Patrick announced Monday that his campaign was purchasing $3 million in bonds for Israel.
Other poll results indicate Republican opposition to the impeachment has risen in recent months. When the pollsters first asked in June whether the House was justified in impeaching Paxton, GOP voters were almost equally split, with 31% saying yes and 30% saying no. But in the latest poll, that split was 26% to 43%.
When the pollsters first asked in August if Paxton took actions that justify his removal from office, 24% of Republicans agreed and 32% disagreed. That split widened to 27% to 44% in the most recent survey.
The poll respondents were well aware of the Paxton story. Seventy-nine percent of all voters said they had heard “some” or “a lot” in the news about the impeachment trial, while the figure was 80% among Republicans.
The poll also covered an issue that is at the top of the agenda for state lawmakers in the current special session: school vouchers. Abbott has been pushing all year for lawmakers to create a program that would allow parents to use taxpayer dollars to subsidize private school costs. The idea has long encountered opposition in the House, where Democrats and rural Republicans have formed a coalition to block it.
Echoing previous polls, the latest survey found that Abbott’s push is popular among voters but not a high priority when it comes to other education issues lawmakers are considering.
Asked if they support “establishing a voucher, educational savings account (ESA), or other ‘school choice’ program,” voters registered 51% support and 30% opposition. Support was higher among GOP voters, with 66% favoring the proposal and 16% opposing it.
One of the challenges for Abbott right now is that he has ordered lawmakers to pass education savings accounts, but a bloc of GOP House members will not consider it unless the program can be grouped with other education proposals like teacher pay raises.
To that end, the poll found that voters see vouchers as a lower education priority than other items that were offered, including school safety, teacher pay and retention, curriculum content, “parental rights” and public school funding. (Abbott has used “parental rights” as a broader rallying cry for his voucher push.)
The 2024 elections
The poll also asked voters about some of the major upcoming elections in Texas.
In the March primary, Donald Trump has an overwhelming lead for the GOP nomination for president. Sixty-two percent of voters said they were supporting him, followed by 13% for Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and 7% for Nikki Haley, the former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations. Every other candidate was at 3% or below.
Trump would defeat President Joe Biden 45% to 37% in November, according to the poll. Thirteen percent of respondents said they would support someone else, and 5% said they have not thought about it enough to have an opinion.
In the Democratic primary for U.S. Senate, U.S. Rep. Colin Allred of Dallas leads state Sen. Roland Gutierrez of San Antonio 21% to 10%, with every other candidate in the low single digits. However, a near-majority of voters is not yet tuning in, with 46% saying they either do not know or have not thought about it enough to have an opinion.
The survey included 1,200 registered voters in Texas who were interviewed using an online survey panel. The margin of error was plus-or-minus 2.83 percentage 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.