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UT Tyler Poll Reveals Border Security, Education Among Top Policy Concerns

March 14, 2023


The latest poll by The University of Texas at Tyler revealed that border security, gun control and education were currently the most important policy concerns on the minds of Texas voters.

UT Tyler’s poll began on Feb. 20, days after Gov. Greg Abbott’s State of the State address to announce legislative priorities for 2023. The survey ended on Tuesday, Feb. 28, with 1,190 total interviews of registered voters in Texas that were completed online or by phone.

“Border security, gun control and education were all identified as the most important policy concern more often than they were in October. Inflation and reproductive rights continue to be top five issues, but they were mentioned less often,” said Dr. Mark Owens, associate professor of political science and director of the UT Tyler Center for Opinion Research. “The three issues gaining attention were all listed as emergency items for Gov. Abbott. Voters also seem mixed on whether Texas Republicans are best to move forward on these issues.”

Voters believe Republicans are best suited to handle border security (R +37%), which is the most frequently listed policy of importance. However, voters are split on who will promote school safety the best and think Texas Democrats should have more say in improving education in the state (D +4%). New policy agendas are emerging, but 54% of voters believe Texas is on the wrong track, Owens added.

Cultural Issues
The campaign season last year kept the Supreme Court’s opinions in Dobbs in the news the rest of the year. Respondents to our survey were informed about the decision with 64% saying they heard a lot about the Supreme Court’s ruling. Public attitudes about overturning Roe v. Wade have largely stayed the same since the decision, but we found 44% of registered voters are upset about the Dobbs decision. Texas’s abortion ban does not allow the same exceptions available in other states and voters favor offering exceptions in specific circumstances. If the pregnancy is a result of rape or incest, 81% of respondents support allowing women to have access to an abortion. A plurality of voters would support this exception in the first trimester only (38%) with support declining as the pregnancy comes closer to term. Voters also clearly favor protecting a woman’s life anytime during the pregnancy with 43% saying an abortion should be legal through the third trimester only if the pregnancy puts the woman’s life at risk.

“Reactions to the abortion and exceptions reflect cultural influences, as 39% said religion is very or extremely important to shape their views,” Owens said. “The electorate also has clear divisions in its reaction to change in society. Fifty-four percent of respondents to our survey feel strongly that there are only two genders. Other respondents are evenly split between not feeling strongly about gender identity and believing there is a range of gender identities.”

This session, both Gov. Abbott and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick announced that giving families financial relief if parents preferred to send their children to a private school would be priorities. This is the clearest policy alternative between Democrats and Republicans and is being used to reduce the presumption that Democrats are better at education policy, according to Owens.

“We have tracked attitudes on this question for three surveys with simple experiment. Half of the respondents received a question that expressly identified school choice as the option to use state funding to send their children to private schools,” Owens said. “They supported the policy 60% of the time, which is in line with polling from August, September and October. The real change in attitudes this month is that respondents who received the same description, but school choice was not mentioned, show significantly more support than our prior surveys. Also, the positive bias associated with framing the issue as school choice, like Lt. Gov. Patrick has, is smaller in this study than any we have done before.”

A challenge for this policy will be how it is framed in the public discourse. Support for school choice is 6% lower among the 52% of registered voters in Texas who strongly agree that it is critical that there be a clear separation of church and state, Owens added.

Border Security
Border security has been a priority for Gov. Abbott since 2021, and it is again this year. More voters in Texas approve of how Gov. Abbott is handling immigration at the Texas-Mexico border (48%) than President Biden (27%). The plurality support for using state funds to build a barrier at the border has remained unchanged since September 2021. Similarly attitudes about busing migrants to other parts of the county and deploying the Texas National Guard to patrol the border continue to receive majority support.

Gun Control
In the State of the State address, Gov. Abbott showed support for Senate Bill 23 to set a mandatory minimum sentence of 10 years if a crime is committed with an illegal firearm. Voters in our survey favored this proposal with 59% saying they favored the policy a great deal or a moderate amount.

Support for the policy was slightly higher among Democratic voters than Republican voters. The policy is still new, but there is consistent public demand for legislative action as 67% of Texans remain concerned about the risk of gun violence in their community. Our polling also shows that this new proposal is not as popular as raising the age a person can purchase a semi-automatic assault-style weapon to 21 years old, something Gov. Abbott opposes, Owens added.

Budget Surplus
Gov. Abbott’s first emergency priority was a $15 billion to cut property taxes. The respondents to the survey were split on this question, with 47% wishing the legislature would use the surplus to increase spending on education and health care. Another 9% had no opinion of what the legislature should do either way. Republican voters (56%) were the only group with majority support to return money to citizens through tax cuts. Returning money to taxpayers is a hot topic, since inflation continues to be the second most mentioned important policy facing Texas today.

Higher Education
Half of registered voters believe colleges and universities have a positive effect on the country. The widest range in support exists along partisan lines, 73% of Democrats believe colleges have a positive effect and only 33% of Republicans believe colleges are positive influences. Along those same lines, only 43% of Republican voters believe college is a smart investment.

“The same percentage of adults without a child at home also think college is more of a gamble,” Owens said. “We also see parents with children at home are still backing colleges and universities with 53% of parents thinking college is a smart investment, and 60% of parents saying colleges have a positive impact on communities.”

Evaluation of Leaders
• Former President Donald Trump’s favorability has dropped three points since October with Texas voters (43 favorable, 52 unfavorable). This month, 7% fewer Republicans and 8% fewer Independents had a very favorable opinion of the Trump.
• After the State of the State, more Texans approve of Gov. Abbott’s job performance (50%) than disapprove (46%). Voters showed even higher approval when asked about how the governor handles the economy (53%). As the legislature focuses on the surplus and other policy topics, voter assessments of how Gov. Abbott handles border security and immigration have become more neutral.
• 42% of voters think their state senator deserves to be reelected (+9%), however, only 29% think most state senators deserve to the reelected (-11%). The mirrored attitudes are almost identical when voters think about their member of Congress. Forty-five percent say their representative should be reelected, but only 29% say most members of Congress should be reelected.

Reaction to the 2022 Election
Most voters say the Election Integrity Law (SB 2) did not have any effect on how easy it was to vote in the election. Democratic voters did not think the law made it easier to vote, but only five percent more voters said it was harder to cast a ballot than those who said it did not matter. Also, after challenged elections and a new bill in the Senate to make voter fraud a felony, a most voters are confident the 2022 midterm election was fair and accurate (71% overall, and 60% among Republicans).

With a mission to improve educational and health care outcomes for East Texas and beyond, UT Tyler offers more than 80 undergraduate and graduate programs to 10,000 students. UT Tyler recently merged with The University of Texas Health Science Center at Tyler (now known as UT Tyler Health Science Center). Through its alignment with UT Tyler Health Science Center (HSC) and UT Health East Texas, UT Tyler has unified these entities to serve Texas with quality education, cutting-edge research and excellent patient care. Classified by Carnegie as a doctoral research institution and by U.S. News & World Report as a national university, UT Tyler has campuses in Tyler, Longview, Palestine and Houston.

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