Sheltering in Plain Sight: Some Data Points from the April 2020 University of Texas/Texas Tribune Poll

The latest University of Texas/Texas Tribune Poll focused almost exclusively on Texans’ attitudes about the Coronavirus, its impact (including the economy), and the response of government and elected officials to the pandemic. We’ve already written about Texans’ struggle to reconcile powerful economic concerns with the widely (if not quite universally) acknowledged seriousness of the public health hazard confronting the country and the state, and provided a compendium of poll results related Texans’ views of Governor Greg Abbott as the twin crises wrack Texas. And, of course, Ross Ramsey and Brandon Formby wrote five stories about the poll in The Texas Tribune last Friday and Saturday (link, link, link, link, link). We pulled out several data points that might have gotten missed in the wealth of results from the first public poll in the state to focus on the coronavirus —  and one point that no one should forget.

1. Republican women frequently appear to take the coronavirus more seriously than Republican men. In most of our Texas polling, when we observe differences in the attitudes of men and women, they fit familiar partisan patterns because women, as a group, are more likely to identify with the Democratic Party than are men in Texas (as elsewhere). In the April 2020 poll, 44% of women identified with the Democratic Party compared with 39% of men — and this gap was relatively small. In February, 50% of women identified with the Democratic Party compared to 40% of men, and in October of 2019, the difference was 49% to 36%. In this survey, while the usual gender differences showed in familiar places, most of those differences in attitudes related to the coronavirus can be attributed to the differences between Republican women and men, with minimal differences in the attitudes of Democrats. For example, while 40% of Republican men said that the coronavirus is “a significant crisis,” 55% of Republican women felt the same. Asked how concerned they are about the spread of the coronavirus in their community, 31% of Republican men said that they were either “extremely” or “very” concerned, compared with 40% of Republican women. Asked the most important problem facing the country, 34% of Republican women chose COVID-19 compared to 23% of GOP men; at the state level, the difference was 31% to 22%. These gaps are small, but persistent throughout the poll, and don’t apply to Democratic attitudes. This is an attitude difference worth keeping an eye on given the important role Republican women have played in Texas, but also in President Trump’s standing here. Though, as with so many other things, these gaps aren’t as evident in assessments of Trump so far. 

2. Even amidst a pandemic, Republicans and conservatives are still worried about border security and want to reduce the presence of immigrants, legal and illegal. Asked to name the most important problem facing the state of Texas, a plurality of voters chose the coronavirus (32%), including a plurality of Republicans (27%). However, slightly more Republicans (28%) said that immigration (14%) or border security (14%) is the most important problem facing the state RIGHT NOW. Among self-identified conservatives, again more said that immigration (14%) or border security (15%) are the top issues when combined compared to those that said it was COVID-19 (27%). Nor have Texans’ views on immigration changed in response to the virus. Among Republicans, 62% said that we allow too many people to immigrate here legally, unchanged from February polling; 75% would support immediately deporting all undocumented immigrants currently living in the country (again, unchanged from recent polling), compared to 49% of Texans overall and only 18% of Democrats. At least in the short-run, the disruption caused by the coronavirus has not disrupted deeply held attitudes among Republicans towards one of their most persistently felt issues (if not policy problems).

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The economy3%6%12%
Health care13%5%2%
Border security0%1%14%
Political corruption/leadership10%6%1%

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Too many15%34%62%
Too few34%22%6%
About the right amount38%19%25%
Don't know/No opinion14%25%7%

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Strongly agree7%24%47%
Somewhat agree11%22%28%
Somewhat disagree18%13%15%
Strongly disagree54%22%6%
Don't know/No opinion10%19%4%

3. Nearly three-quarters of Republicans inexplicably believe the federal government had done a good or excellent job of ensuring that healthcare workers have the necessary equipment. Well, it is explicable, strictly speaking. This result highlights the generally partisan structure in Texans’ evaluations of the pandemic response — and the GOP’s now-warm feelings about government at all levels. Republicans also expressed, in overwhelming numbers, that the federal government has done an excellent or good job providing people with clear information (73%), preventing the spread of the virus (76%), and working cooperatively with state and local officials (82%). This is despite the many real conflicts the president openly has had (and continues to have) with many state officials, governors in particular; the U.S.’s slow response to the start of the virus and comparatively poor job containing the outbreak compared with other countries; and the President’s persistent, though erratic, press conferences; not to mention his own shifting pronouncements about the seriousness of the virus. Maybe this is a new Republican Party given their overwhelming approval of all levels of government (federal, state, and even Texas’ dreaded local governments). But it might also just be the effects of partisanship and the desire we all have for cognitive consistency. Ultimately, 82% of Republicans say that efforts to deal with the coronavirus in the U.S. are either going “very” or “somewhat” well, compared to 56% of voters overall, 30% of Democrats, and 32% of independents. As those last numbers illustrate, Democrats aren’t immune to either partisanship or the struggle for cognitive consistency.

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Health care professionals86%60%84%
Your local government64%34%70%
Texas state government35%30%82%
Federal government20%26%79%
The news media58%16%17%
Insurance companies25%13%32%

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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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Only fair13%20%12%
Don't know/No opinion2%14%4%

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Only fair22%18%14%
Don't know/No opinion2%12%3%

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Only fair19%24%8%
Don't know/No opinion4%13%4%

4. Donald Trump appears to have underestimated Republican voters' love for him when he said that he could shoot someone on 5th Avenue. They are even more tolerant of his flaws than that. Amidst an ongoing series of “daily briefings” regularly filled with misinformation, bizarre and occasionally dangerous advice, and ever-increasing evidence that he ignored direct warnings about the COVID-19 pandemic that has killed more than 50,000 Americans according to conservative estimates, his job approval numbers among Republicans remain rock solid: 90% in Texas in April, with 69% approving strongly. If you might be imagining that this Republican loyalty can hold while still admitting some criticism of Trump’s erratic performance during the pandemic, that would be your imagination running away with you: 86% of Republicans approve of his handling of the pandemic. In the context of a point made above, Republicans’ approval of Trump’s handling of the virus is 10-points higher than their rating of the federal government’s performance in preventing its spread. Once again: the power of partisanship is truly a thing to behold.

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Approve strongly2%21%69%
Approve somewhat5%13%21%
Neither approve nor disapprove5%12%2%
Disapprove somewhat9%8%2%
Disapprove strongly78%39%5%
Don't know1%6%1%

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Approve strongly3%22%62%
Approve somewhat7%13%24%
Neither approve nor disapprove5%10%5%
Disapprove somewhat10%6%3%
Disapprove strongly74%45%5%
Don't know1%4%0%

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Only fair23%17%14%
Don't know/No opinion2%13%4%

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PollApproveDisapproveNeither/Don't know
February 201781%10%8%
June 201780%13%7%
October 201778%15%7%
February 201883%11%5%
June 201887%7%6%
October 201888%7%4%
February 201988%8%5%
June 201988%8%5%
October 201988%8%5%
February 202087%9%4%
April 202090%7%3%
June 202086%8%6%
October 202090%8%2%

5. Older Texans may not be as self-sacrificing as Lt. Governor Patrick, who made headlines by suggesting that old people, like himself, wouldn’t mind sacrificing their lives for the good of the U.S. economy, and then, after a month of social distancing decreased the total fatality (as intended), suggested that the new state of affairs shows that he was always right about opening up sooner, and doubled down on his sacrifice of others. 



Turns out not everyone with an AARP card agrees. Between February and April (roughly the time frame of Patrick’s charm offensive), the Lt. Governor’s net job approval rating (the share who approve minus the share who disapprove) among voters over 65 dropped 18-points from +29 to +11. His job approval among this group dropped 10-points from 58% to 48%, while his disapproval increased from 29% to 37%. World Senior Citizen Day is August 21 — perhaps a bulk order of Hallmark cards is in order.

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Approve strongly11%15%24%31%
Approve somewhat9%14%19%27%
Neither approve nor disapprove15%15%13%10%
Disapprove somewhat7%9%8%6%
Disapprove strongly29%32%28%23%
Don't know30%14%8%3%

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Approve strongly9%15%24%30%
Approve somewhat15%21%22%18%
Neither approve nor disapprove17%13%13%11%
Disapprove somewhat6%10%6%5%
Disapprove strongly26%28%30%32%
Don't know28%12%6%4%

6. You don’t have to be a socialist to believe in mandatory sick pay in Texas. You don’t even have to be a Democrat. In addition to the 92% of Democrats who support requiring employers to offer paid sick leave, 61% of Republicans and even 57% of self-identified conservatives agree. Even the most conservative identifiers favor requiring paid sick leave (56%), compared to 25% who oppose it. And lest you think these results only reflect the nature of our current situation, in February 2019, 56% of Republicans, 56% of conservatives, and 55% of the most conservative (among the self-identified conservatives) favored paid sick leave, with similar shares in opposition. Expect this to be on the Democratic agenda at the state and even the local level as the economic crash deepens and the legislative session draws ever nearer.

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Don't know/No opinion6%19%17%

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Don't know/No opinion7%14%16%

7. Brad Pitt may admire him, but some Texas conservatives are apparently suspicious of Anthony Fauci and his nefarious dedication to public health and conscientiously applied science. Overally, 54% of Texans hold a favorable view of Fauci’s compared to 15% who hold an unfavorable view, for a net favorability of +39. He’s viewed favorably by 74% of Democrats and 79% of liberals. Yet the doctor’s support is much more anemic on the right: his rating is 39% favorable, 24% unfavorable among Republicans, and conservatives. The mixed messages about Fauci from conservatives and even at times the president are causing cross pressures that are evident in withheld judgment: a quarter of both groups say they neither approve nor disapprove of him. Fauci is underwater among those who identify as the most conservative: 31% approve and 33% disapprove. 

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Very favorable31%
Somewhat favorable23%
Neither favorable nor unfavorable19%
Somewhat unfavorable8%
Very unfavorable7%
Don't know/No opinion12%

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Very favorable50%23%17%
Somewhat favorable24%24%22%
Neither favorable nor unfavorable12%21%24%
Somewhat unfavorable2%6%13%
Very unfavorable1%10%11%
Don't know/No opinion11%16%12%

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Very favorable53%31%16%
Somewhat favorable26%20%23%
Neither favorable nor unfavorable7%22%25%
Somewhat unfavorable4%3%13%
Very unfavorable1%3%11%
Don't know/No opinion8%19%12%

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CategoryLean conservativeSomewhat conservativeExtremely conservative
Very favorable17%20%12%
Somewhat favorable24%27%19%
Neither favorable nor unfavorable32%22%24%
Somewhat unfavorable8%11%17%
Very unfavorable5%9%16%
Don't know/No opinion14%12%11%

8. It’s worth repeating: 85% of Texans support a 14-day quarantine for anyone who has been exposed to COVID-19. We wrote earlier this week about how fringey the fringe calling for the immediate roll-back of social distancing guidelines that have helped save the state from more COVID-19 cases, more death, and a potentially overwhelmed health care system actually is. A number of questions in the April 2020 UT/TT poll were designed to assess concern over the coronavirus compared with concern about the impacts of combatting the virus. While it was clear that concern over the economic impact of COVID-19 may be even more prevalent (especially among Republicans) than concern over the potential spread of the virus, there are few Texans who see their liberties being trampled as a result of local, state, and federal efforts to contain the virus’ spread. The vast majority of Texans of all stripes support a mandatory quarantine for anyone (even) exposed to the virus; support the stay-at-home order; and support limiting the size of social gatherings (and yes, even for religious services).

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Don't know/No opinion8%

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Don't know/No opinion7%

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Don't know/No opinion6%

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Don't know/No opinion9%