Some #TxLege-focused takeaways from the new Texas Politics Project / UT Energy Institute Poll

While our joint venture with colleagues at the UT Energy Institute focused primarily on research questions related to Texans’ experiences during the winter storm and the infrastructure outages that followed, the results also provide rich context for the legislative wrangling over the appropriate policy response(s) to the storm and the multidimensional politics surrounding it. The data is fresh and there’s more drilling down to be done, but here are some initial impressions, with more to come after the holiday break. You can find all the results and hundreds of graphics on our latest poll page, and if you want to take a look at the questionnaire and topline results or take your own deep dive into the crosstabs (or even the data itself), it can all be found in our polling data archive.

Republican efforts to blame ERCOT for the power outages following the February storms succeeded among the public, but not enough to save the PUC. It’s not exactly news that the Public Utility Commission (PUC) imploded as the elected political class hunted for scapegoats other than themselves in the immediate wake of the storm, with firings and resignations (some forced) decimating leadership at both the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT) and the PUC. But both bodies now enjoy higher name recognition (see here, and here) than could reasonably be expected absent the recent crises, finger pointing, and headlines. We’ve come a long way since the early press conferences in which Gov. Abbott was clearly trying to hang it all on ERCOT (after a similar play on green energy as a whole failed) and divert attention away from his appointees to the PUC. While assessments of ERCOT attest to the partial success of the strategy, assessment of the PUC, which few had likely heard of pre-storm, are far from positive.

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Your local government47%
Governor Greg Abbott41%
Senator Ted Cruz31%
The Texas Legislature28%
Senator John Cornyn26%
The Public Utility Commission of Texas (PUC)12%
Railroad Commission of Texas12%
The Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT)8%

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Your local government45%32%52%
Governor Greg Abbott11%32%70%
Senator Ted Cruz9%16%55%
The Texas Legislature13%13%48%
Senator John Cornyn9%15%44%
The Public Utility Commission of Texas (PUC)8%7%15%
Railroad Commission of Texas9%7%16%
The Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT)9%6%8%

Speaking of regulatory bodies and public attention, the profoundly misnamed Railroad Commission of Texas escaped with much less attention and many fewer bruises. The eternal resistance of everyone in the oil and gas industry to avoid exposure and the accountability that comes with truth-in-labeling has clearly worked. Tucked in the back pages of the March poll, an item asking “which Texas agency regulates oil and gas production in the state?” found only 39% correctly identified the Texas Railroad Commission. While 17% admitted they didn’t know, 38% said it was the Public Utility Commission that regulates oil and gas production. Despite the integration of natural gas into the electric generation system and the evidence of multiple failures in the natural gas component of that system during the blackouts, many Texans’ reflexive romance with the oil and gas industry insulated them from the harshest judgments about who and what contributed to the cold weather crises, as the relative assessments of the PUC, ERCOT, and the Railroad Commission suggest. While there are a lot of reasonable objections to dead-on-arrival proposals to either combine the regulation of oil and gas with that of electricity or, and to a lesser extent, more aptly rename the Railroad Commision (that have, as always, not gotten any anywhere in the legislature in the face of industry opposition), transparency isn’t one of them.

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Texas Railroad Commission39%
Public Utility Commission of Texas38%
Texas Department of Agriculture4%
Texas Department of Public Safety2%
Don’t know17%

The ongoing flurry of activity in Austin notwithstanding, Texas voters have low expectations for the legislative response. Only 25% of Texas voters are “extremely” (9%) or “very” (16%) confident that “the Texas Legislature will pass effective laws to prevent future disruptions…”  While Democrats are predictably less optimistic than Republicans, GOP expectations are nonetheless not very high either: 17% of Democrats are either “extremely” or “very” confident in the legislature acting effectively, with 35% of Republicans feeling similarly. However, 38% of Republicans feel only “somewhat confident”, and the remainder, 38%, feeling either “not very” confident or “not at all confident.” Nor are the reviews of what the legislature has accomplished so far very enthusiastic. Twenty-eight percent of Texas voters approve of how the legislature has handled the response to the storm and its effects, while 37% disapprove. Granted, the legislature doesn’t have executive power to respond to emergencies, which helps explain the 38% who were either neutral (26%) or didn’t have an opinion (12%).

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Extremely confident9%
Very confident16%
Somewhat confident31%
Not very confident29%
Not at all confident16%

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Extremely confident5%5%14%
Very confident12%9%21%
Somewhat confident22%33%38%
Not very confident36%36%21%
Not at all confident26%17%7%

Amidst discussion of difficulties with electricity, gas, and water during the storm, there seems to be much less discussion of widely-reported problems with internet access. On one hand, it is, of course, hard to rely on your home internet connection if you don’t have electricity. But nearly half of Texas voters (47%) reported not having reliable internet access on their cell phones during the winter storm. This comes at a time when legislation to improve broadband access to provide vital services like education and telemedicine (not to mention emergency services) is one of the few seemingly bi-partisan subjects in the legislature. (The Senate broadband bill carried by Senator Nichols (SB 5) passed in the Senate by a vote of 31-0.) Traditional utilities were not the only infrastructure that let Texans down, but the (also) powerful telecom and internet providers seem to have effectively ducked similarly extensive legislative scrutiny.

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Did not have reliable internet access in your home56%
Did not have reliable internet access on your cell phone47%
Did not have reliable phone service (cell phones or landlines)41%

In the wake of the storm, some GOP elected officials saw long-anticipated signs of erosion in their support, but (to the chagrin of those doing the anticipating) the decay was minor. The expectations of the fabulists and flaks who have been lashing out at anyone who doesn’t confirm their fever dreams of an inevitable collapse in support for Republicans like Gov. Abbott and Senator Cruz – and the dawn of a progressive Texas their own efforts have failed to produce and maybe even obstructed – remain largely fantasy. Back in fact-based reality, there are subtle signs that the air of invincibility around the governor has dissipated. Gov. Abbott’s job approval numbers remained in a very gradual decline, though he remains, barely, in net positive territory, with 45% approving of the job he’s doing as governor and 43% disapproving. The semi-professional progressives hawking the inevitability of a spontaneous Repulican collapse can be slightly cheered by a dip in Senator Ted Cruz’s job approval. The Senator’s attempted trip to the other side of the border wall, aka Mexico, and his betrayal by his neighbors during the storm crisis seems to have made a slight dent in his approval/disapproval numbers, which decreased from 45%/43% in a Feburary UT/Texas Tribune Poll conducted before coverage of the trip hit big, to 43%/46% in March, after he experienced his own personal storm of derision and national schadenfreude. Though not a very big shift, the share who “approve strongly” dropped from 33% to 28%, and his “disapprove strongly” increased from 38% to 41%. It seems likely that this will be an ephemeral dip in a world so structured by extreme partisanship – and for the same reason, don't expect the usual suspects to stop screaming in their ever-hysterical fundraising emails that the end of his career is imminent and he should just quit now.

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PollApproveDisapproveNeither/Don't Know
November 201542%29%28%
February 201641%29%30%
June 201642%31%27%
October 201642%33%25%
February 201745%33%23%
June 201745%38%16%
October 201748%33%19%
February 201846%31%23%
June 201847%36%18%
October 201852%32%17%
February 201951%32%17%
June 201951%31%18%
October 201952%28%21%
February 202048%34%18%
April 202056%32%13%
June 202049%39%13%
October 202047%40%14%
February 202146%39%15%
March 202145%43%11%
April 202143%45%13%
June 202144%44%11%
August 202141%50%9%
October 202143%48%10%
February 202244%42%15%
April 202247%41%13%
June 202243%46%12%
August 202246%44%10%
October 202247%44%9%
December 202249%41%8%
February 202346%43%12%
April 202346%41%12%
June 202347%42%12%
August 202345%45%10%
October 202349%40%10%
December 202348%41%11%
February 202453%37%10%
April 202455%37%10%
June 202450%39%11%

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SENCRUZApproveDisapproveNeither/Don't Know
Oct. 201544%37%20%
Feb. 201637%42%21%
June 201635%43%22%
Oct. 201635%45%20%
Feb. 201738%39%23%
June 201738%44%18%
Oct. 201738%43%18%
Feb. 201840%41%19%
June 201839%41%20%
Oct. 201847%42%11%
Feb. 201946%41%13%
June 201947%39%14%
Oct. 201946%39%15%
Feb. 202042%44%14%
Apr. 202045%39%15%
June 202046%42%13%
Oct. 202046%42%12%
Feb. 202145%43%12%
Mar. 202143%46%12%
Apr. 202143%48%9%
June 202143%46%11%
Aug. 202142%46%12%
Oct. 202145%46%12%
Feb. 202239%43%18%
Apr. 202243%43%13%
June 202241%45%13%
Aug. 202242%44%13%
Oct. 202243%44%13%
Dec. 202244%44%11%
Feb. 202340%46%13%
Apr. 202345%41%14%
June 202345%42%14%
Aug. 202342%45%13%
Oct. 202345%42%13%
Dec. 202344%41%13%
Feb. 202448%39%13%
Apr. 202449%38%13%
June 202446%42%11%

The Texas GOP’s hard right turn has an audience. There are multiple instances of this, and we’ll return to it, but the signs that the Texas GOP, with a Democrat in the White House and the 2022 election looming, is doubling down on courting their most extreme primary voters are evident when you look at the current GOP agenda in light of several of the poll’s results.  Immigration and Border Security retake the top spot in Texas voters’ views of the most important poblem facing the state, knocking COVID off the top of voter’s agendas (at least the pandemic doesn’t involve undocumented immigrants). Similarly, Abbott’s rescinding of COVID restrictions and his mask order, while not popular with Democrats, played well with Republican voters who were at least somewhat less impressed with his response to the storm and the management of it by his appointees. Efforts by both Abbott and Republicans in the legislature to blame renewables, believers in climate change, and the feckless-by-definition bureaucracy as contributing factors to the state’s sputtering response to the storm also show that the choir is hearing a LOT of songs they like.

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Strongly approve5%30%60%
Somewhat approve5%9%16%
Somewhat disapprove7%11%7%
Strongly disapprove81%37%13%
Don't know/No opinion2%13%3%

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Strongly approve4%30%62%
Somewhat approve9%14%16%
Somewhat disapprove11%10%10%
Strongly disapprove74%30%10%
Don't know/No opinion3%16%2%

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Border security2%18%33%
Coronavirus / COVID-1928%12%6%
Political corruption / leadership19%11%2%
The economy2%6%3%
Health care5%2%1%


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