Across three Texas polls between April and October, a growing minority of Texans has become less concerned and less cautious even as COVID-19 daily cases persist at mid-June levels

The last three Texas public opinion polls the Texas Politics Project team worked on contained extensive questioning to understand Texans’ attitudes toward policies addressing the pandemic, their perceptions of its effects and seriousness, and their behaviors in response to policies and perceived threats related to COVID-19. The poll conducted in late September and early October in conjunction with The Texas Tribune enables us to begin looking at changes in attitudes over the duration of the pandemic given the timing of our polls (April, June, and September-October). Below are some first looks at how attitudes have moved since the panemic’s early days, through the beginning of the summer wave that saw it’s peaks in new daily cases of 10,791 on July 14 and 275 deaths on July 23 (based on state-compiled data), and into a fall season in which the virus has receded from its peak, but still persists at levels roughly equivalent to mid-June when measured in the level of daily new cases, as illustrated in the chart immediately below. 

Source: Texas 2036, Accessed: October 14, 2020.

With the path of the virus portrayed in these recent charts, which are based on official data and produced by Texas 2036, as context, the time is ripe to look at what polling data can tell us about Texans' attitudinal and behavioral response has been as the virus spread thorugh Texas, and while the government had sought to contain it with decidedly mixed results.

The share of Texans who think that the coronavirus is a serious crisis, as opposed to a serious problem but not a crisis, continues to drop. In April polling, 66% of Texans felt that the coronavirus was a significant crisis, but that share has now dropped to 53% after registering 57% in June. Most of this drop in perceived seriousness can be attributed to Republicans and political independents. Among Democrats, the share saying that COVID is a significant crisis remains roughly unchanged, from a high of 91% in April, to 88% in June, to a comparable 87% in October. Among independents, the share rating COVID a significant crisis dropped from 56%, to 52%, to 45%. Among Republicans the share dropped from 48%, to 29%, to 24% over the same period. 

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A significant crisis53%
A serious problem but not a crisis29%
A minor problem11%
Not a problem at all6%
Don't know/No opinion1%

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A significant crisis57%
A serious problem but not a crisis29%
A minor problem10%
Not a problem at all4%
Don't know/No opinion1%

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A significant crisis66%
A serious problem but not a crisis26%
A minor problem4%
Not a problem at all2%
Don't know/No opinion2%

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A significant crisis87%45%24%
A serious problem but not a crisis8%31%47%
A minor problem2%14%18%
Not a problem at all1%7%9%
Don't know/No opinion1%3%1%

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A significant crisis88%52%29%
A serious problem but not a crisis9%29%46%
A minor problem1%7%18%
Not a problem at all0%9%5%
Don't know/No opinion1%4%1%

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A significant crisis91%56%48%
A serious problem but not a crisis6%21%43%
A minor problem2%7%6%
Not a problem at all1%6%1%
Don't know/No opinion0%10%2%

Concerns over both community spread and individual infection continued to drop in the most recent poll, even as case counts continue to fluctuate. In April, 54% of Texans said that they were either “extremely” (28%) or “very” (26%) concerned about the spread of the coronavirus in their community. That concern dropped to 47% in June (even as cases were surging after the phased re-opening announced on June 3) and now stands at 40% in October. The share “not very” or “not at all” concerned has seen a corresponding increase, from 17% in April, to 26% in June, to 30% in October. Individual concern follows a similar pattern, with concern about contracting the coronavirus peaking in April at 54%, but then declining to 48% in June, and 44% in October. The “unconcerned” share has risen from 17% to 27% to 32% over the same time period. Texans’ perceptions don’t track with the actual experience of the virus’s spread as measured by daily new cases and other trends in public health data, though no public opinion data were collected during the rapid spread of reported infection, and the lagging increase in deaths, in late June and July, after the June poll was conducted. But even if our timing missed an uptick in concern at the peak, the data still indicated that the severe peaks in infection and death in mid- to late July did not seem to deflect the trend of attitudes evident in June and continued in October.

COVID Case Counts and Public Opinion in Texas


Polling Data

Month Cumulative Daily New Cases by Month Polling Field Dates % Saying Covid is a "significant crisis" % "extremely" or "very" worried about commnuity spread % "extremely" or "very" worried about contraction
March 3,212        
April 24,821 4/10 - 4/19 66% 54% 54%
May 36,200        
June 95,699 6/19 - 6/29 57% 47% 48%
July 261,876        
August 182,165        
September 99.383 9/25 - 10/4 53% 40% 44%

COVID Data (column 2) was collected by TX2036, accumulated from the Texas Department of State Health Services. Polling data includes the April University of Texas/Texas Tribune Poll; June University of Texas/Texas Politics Project Poll; and October University of Texas/Texas Tribune Poll

While more Texans report wearing masks, declining concern is likely fueling a move away from following more serious social distancing practices. While the share of Texans who say that they wear a mask when in contact with people outside their home has increased somewhat from 81% in June to 87% in October, the share who say that they are “living normally, coming and going as usual” has increased from 9% in April to 19% in June to 27% in October polling. The share only leaving their residence when they have to or not leaving home at all has declined from 72% in April to 34% in October. Politically, this change in the orientation of behavior in response to the coronavirus is being driven almost entirely by Republicans, with 41% saying that they are living normally, compared with 24% of independents and only 10% of Democrats.

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Living normally, coming and going as usual10%24%41%
Still leaving my residence, but being careful when I do38%43%41%
Only leaving my residence when I absolutely have to50%30%18%
Not leaving home2%2%1%

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Living normally, coming and going as usual27%
Still leaving my residence, but being careful when I do40%
Only leaving my residence when I absolutely have to32%
Not leaving home2%

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Living normally, coming and going as usual19%
Still leaving my residence, but being careful when I do41%
Only leaving my residence when I absolutely have to37%
Not leaving home3%

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Living normally, coming and going as usual9%
Still leaving my residence, but being careful when I do20%
Only leaving my residence when I absolutely have to63%
Not leaving home9%

Unfortunately for elected officials forced to own the response to the pandemic, Texans’ declining concern about the danger posed by the pandemic coexists with increasingly tepid evaluations of how efforts to contain the virus are going in both the state and the nation. The high water mark for these evaluations occured in April, when 56% of Texans said that efforts to deal with the coronavirus were going well in the U.S., along with 64% who felt the same about those efforts in Texas. Today, only 45% say that those efforts are going well in the U.S., 51% in Texas. The share saying that things are going badly has similarly increased from 40% to 49% when thinking about the country’s efforts, and from 29% to 44% when considering Texas.

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Very well16%
Somewhat well29%
Somewhat badly21%
Very badly28%
Don't know/No opinion6%

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Very well21%
Somewhat well35%
Somewhat badly22%
Very badly18%
Don't know/No opinion5%

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Very well18%
Somewhat well33%
Somewhat badly23%
Very badly21%
Don't know/No opinion5%

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Very well24%
Somewhat well42%
Somewhat badly20%
Very badly9%
Don't know/No opinion4%

These results are again, driven in large part by partisanship. But even in a context in which partisan perceptions largely dictate whether assessments are rosy or dour, the share of Republicans rating these efforts positively has also declined over the time period, from a high of 83% saying that the U.S. efforts to deal with the coronavirus were going well in April to 71% in October. Within GOP evaluations, the share who said that those efforts are going “very well” dropped from 35% to 27%. GOP evaluations of Texas’ efforts sagged, too. The share of Republicans who say that things are going well in the state declined from 87% in June to 77% in October, with those saying that things are going “very well” dropping from 42% to 30% over that time period.

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Very well6%10%27%
Somewhat well13%23%44%
Somewhat badly26%31%15%
Very badly52%29%7%
Don't know/No opinion3%8%7%

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Very well6%12%35%
Somewhat well24%22%48%
Somewhat badly35%23%9%
Very badly32%25%4%
Don't know/No opinion4%18%4%

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Very well6%10%30%
Somewhat well18%27%47%
Somewhat badly32%34%12%
Very badly40%19%6%
Don't know/No opinion4%10%5%

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Very well3%16%36%
Somewhat well12%30%40%
Somewhat badly26%23%16%
Very badly58%27%6%
Don't know/No opinion1%5%2%

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Very well6%16%42%
Somewhat well42%27%45%
Somewhat badly35%22%7%
Very badly13%20%2%
Don't know/No opinion3%16%3%

The failure of infection and hospitalization rates to return to pre-pandemic levels, signaling that the virus is still present in the population, is being processed very unevenly among different groups. Overall, 17% of Texans believe that the coronavirus is already contained “in the U.S. to the point that most activities like social gatherings, work, and sporting events can return to normal.” This represents a 5 point increase over June and an 8 point increase over April. Democrats expect it to be at least more than a few months (38%) or a year or more (39%) before things can return to normal, similar to their attitudes in June, and more dour than their initial estimates in April, when 28% thought the virus would be contained within a year, and only 13% thought it would take more than a year to contain the virus. 

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It is already17%
In the next few weeks7%
In the next few months18%
In the next year30%
A year or more25%

Among Republicans, opinions are clearly split. A remarkably large share of Republicans – one in four (26%) – believe that the virus is already contained, up from 19% in June and 12% in April. Among Republicans who don’t erroneously believe that the virus is already contained, the share who believe that the virus will be contained in the next few weeks declined precipitously from 35% in April, to 15% in June, to 9% today. Therefore, the other 65% of Republicans now believe that the virus will be contained in the next few months (27%), within the next year (24%), or in more than a year (11%). In short: The share of Republicans who deny the evidence that the spread of the COVID-19 virus remains an active threat continues to grow, even if an ever-shrinking majority of Texas Republicans still acknowledge what the preponderance of evidence tells us about the continuing threat.

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It is already5%16%26%
In the next few weeks4%6%9%
In the next few months11%15%27%
In the next year38%28%24%
A year or more39%30%11%

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It is already2%15%19%
In the next few weeks3%5%15%
In the next few months12%15%32%
In the next year38%26%21%
A year or more42%29%10%

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It is already5%10%12%
In the next few weeks7%21%35%
In the next few months46%41%38%
In the next year28%12%9%
A year or more13%11%5%

Given these different opinions about the containment of the virus and its overall seriousness, it’s not surprising that there was an overall increase in the share of Texans who found a wide range of activities safer in September and October than they did in June. While the share of Democrats who evaluated various activities as safe increased, more than 50% rated only two of 17 activities safe — grocery shopping and voting in person (put a pin in that). By contrast, majorities of Republicans found 14 of the 17 activities tested safe, including eating in a restaurant (79%) and going to a movie theater (56%). The only activities that a majority of Republicans rated unsafe included attending a concert or event at an indoor arena, going to a bar or a club, and (wait for it) going to a political protest. (Exceptions are made, apparently, if the protest is held at the residence of Republican elected officials, though to be fair, that wasn't a very big protest.)

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Go grocery shopping68%73%93%
Vote in person57%67%91%
Get a haircut47%60%84%
Go to work44%57%83%
Stay in a hotel46%51%77%
Eat at a restaurant30%51%79%
Attend church20%43%77%
Go to a shopping mall24%45%71%
Ride in an elevator28%44%65%
Send your child to school14%42%73%
Attend an outdoor event17%38%62%
Fly on an airplane18%42%57%
Go to a movie theater17%30%56%
Go to a gym or health club12%32%56%
Attend an indoor event8%23%49%
Go to a bar or club8%21%46%
Go to political protests14%29%38%

Ultimately, this constellation of attitudes leads to different priorities in our collective attempts to contain the virus. Asked in both June and October whether it is more important to try to help the economy, even if it hurts efforts to contain the virus, or whether it is more important to contain the virus, even if it hurts the economy, a majority of Republicans in both surveys prioritized the economy (65% and 66%) while a majority of Democrats prioritized containing the virus (88% and 86%). Those splits are important, and do show less unanimity among Republicans than Democrats when it comes to where we should place our priorities, with 24% and 21% of Republicans, respectively, saying that we should prioritize virus containment in April and June.

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Help the economy7%40%66%
Control the virus86%47%21%
Don't know/No opinion7%13%14%

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Control the virus88%48%24%
Help the economy7%39%65%
Don't know/No opinion6%13%11%

Amidst this drift toward accommodation and decreased sensitivity to the risks posed by COVID-19, Texans have also grown more wary of a potential vaccine. Between June and October, the share who say they would try to get a coronavirus vaccine if it became available at low cost decreased by 17 points, dropping from 59% to less than half of Texans – 42%. A likely combination of a higher baseline of skepticism about the seriousness of the virus and a slim but not inconsequential share of general vaccine skepticism among Republicans produced a comparatively low embrace of a potential vaccine among GOP voters in June — only 50% said they would try to vaccinated – and this share dropped still lower in October, to 38%. Democrats’ also added some social distance to their comparative embrace of a vaccine over the same period. Amidst seemingly unreliable promises of a fast-tracked vaccine from the president and subsequent, highly visible criticism from Democratic officials and opinion leaders, the share of Texas Democrats who said yes to a low-cost vaccine if available dropped from 73% in June to 51% in October – about where Republicans were in June. And just to flesh these results out, even though it only became salient to ask after the president’s demonstrably overpromising rhetoric on how soon a vaccine might be made widely available and affordable, the latest poll asked Texans if a coronavirus vaccine would be made available before it is proven safe and effective. A plurality, 41%, thought this would be the case, 35% didn’t, and 24% were unsure. Half of Democrats thought a vaccine would be released prematurely, as did 46% of independents and 30% of Republicans. Only 26% of Democrats joined 46% of Republicans in thinking this wouldn’t happen.

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Don't know/No opinion21%

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Don't know/No opinion20%

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Don't know/No opinion24%24%19%

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Don't know/No opinion16%26%21%

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Don't know/No opinion24%

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Don't know/No opinion23%30%23%

Keywords: coronavirus