December UT/Texas Politics Project Poll: After long legislative session, Texas voters have not-so-great expectations

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After a bruising 2023 legislative session extended by four special sessions, Texas voters continue to convey little confidence in legislative efforts to address key problems in the state such as the reliability of the grid, public school safety, and improved border security, according to a University of Texas/Texas Politics Project Poll conducted in early December. When asked about their support for key legislative priorities during the session, the issues deemed most important by the largest shares of voters were areas in which the legislature either failed to pass significant legislation or achieved mixed results.

After 140 days and 4 special sessions, no more than 29% of Texas voters said that they were either “extremely” or “very” confident that the legislature “reduced property taxes enough to make a difference to most Texans” (29%), improved the safety of Texas public schools (26%), improved security among the Texas-Mexico border (26%), or increased the reliability of the state’s electric grid (23%) or the state’s water supply (22%). These expectations are only marginally improved since these questions were asked of voters at the end of the regular session in June.

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categoryTotal
Reduced property taxes enough to make a difference to most Texans29%
Improved security along the Texas-Mexico border26%
Improved the safety of Texas’ public schools26%
Increased the reliability of the state’s electric grid23%
Increased the reliability of the state’s water supply22%

There are not large differences in partisan expectations when broken down by partisan identification.

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CategoryDemocratIndependentRepublican
Reduced property taxes enough to make a difference to most Texans24%18%35%
Improved security along the Texas-Mexico border21%16%32%
Improved the safety of Texas’ public schools19%15%32%
Increased the reliability of the state’s electric grid19%12%27%
Increased the reliability of the state’s water supply19%12%26%

Going into an election year in which Texans will vote for all seats in the Texas House and half of those in the Texas Senate, the widespread pessimism about the legislature’s impact in vital areas presents a rare case of bipartisan sentiment: no more than 35% of Republicans said that they were either “very” or “extremely” confident in the legislature’s work in these 4 areas, not much more optimistic than the Democrats’ similarly negative expectations, among whom no more than 24% expressed the same levels of confidence in the legislature’s work. Neither Governor Greg Abbott nor Lt. Governor Dan Patrick, both of whom were deeply engaged in public efforts to shape the legislative agenda in 2023, are on the ballot in 2024.

Asked to evaluate the subjects of the special sessions proclaimed by Gov. Abbott, voters expressed the greatest support for policies the Legislature ultimately declined to send to the governor’s desk. Education proposals topped this list of policies: 82% supported an increase in funding for public school safety, 81% supported increasing the pay of public school teachers, and 68% favored increasing per student funding for Texas’ public schools. Establishing a voucher, ESA, or other school choice program — which was tied to the other, more popular, education policies in unsuccessful logrolling attempts in the fraught negotiations between the two legislative chambers — had the support of 54% of voters, with 32% opposed.

As the large majorities of support among Texas voters overall imply, clear majorities of Republicans also favored the most popular public education measures: 88% supported increased school safety funding, and 76% supported increasing teacher pay, while 71% supported establishing a voucher, ESA, or other school choice program.

Two items passed during special sessions and now signed into law were significantly less broadly popular than the widely supported education items. Increasing funding for the construction and repair of physical walls and barriers on the Texas Mexico border was supported by 61% of voters (32% in opposition), while prohibiting private employers from requiring COVID-19 vaccinations saw support from 54% of voters, and opposition from 35%. However, the border wall funding and vaccine measures enjoyed lopsided support among Republican voters: 90% of GOP voters supported the former, while 79% supported the latter. A majority of Democrats opposed both measures (61% opposed more wall funding and 58% opposed the vaccine mandate prohibition, respectively).

Gov. Abbott's signing of three bills this week to increase state funding for building barriers on the border, make illegal border crossings a state crime, and increase penalties for human smuggling, earned national as well as state news coverage. The latest poll confirms that these border measures remain popular with Texans, especially Republicans. Sixty-one percent of Texas voters supported increasing funding for wall construction, including 91% of Republicans. A smaller majority of all voters support "making it a state crime for an undocumented immigrant to be in Texas in most circumstances," but 84% of Republicans approve of that, too.

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Strongly support39%
Somewhat support17%
Somewhat oppose14%
Strongly oppose19%
Don't know/No opinion11%

Four months out from the March presidential primary election in Texas, 65% of Texas voters planning to vote in the Republican primary favor Donald Trump, a slight increase from the 62% who said the same in October. The slight shifts among Trump’s challengers evident in polling in early contests in Iowa and New Hampshire have failed, so far, to appear in Texas. Florida Governor Ron DeSantis and former South Carolina governor Nikki Haley were the choices of only 12% and 9% of potential GOP primary voters, respectively, with the remaining candidates still in the race all receiving less than 5% support.

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categoryTotal
Donald Trump65%
Ron DeSantis12%
Nikki Haley9%
Vivek Ramaswamy4%
Chris Christie2%
Doug Burgum1%
Someone else0%
No one/None of them1%
Anyone/Any of them1%
Don't know/No opinion6%

In a hypothetical head-to-head rematch between Trump and President Joe Biden, Trump bests Biden 45% to 39% in Texas. (See below for results from other hypothetical match-ups included in the poll.)

Results from items related to the October 7 Hamas terrorist attack in Israel and the U.S. response found Texans divided along lines similar to those roiling the national political discussions. A majority of Texas voters (56%) said that they approved of Israel’s response to the attacks by Hamas, with only 26% disapproving. Voters’ views of the Israeli response differed among partisans: Republicans overwhelmingly approved of the Israeli government’s response (75%), with only 12% disapproving. A plurality of Democrats expressed disapproval (44%) compared to 39% who approved.

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CategoryDemocratIndependentRepublican
Approve strongly12%29%54%
Approve somewhat27%22%21%
Disapprove somewhat19%8%5%
Disapprove strongly25%13%7%
Don't know/No opinion17%28%12%

Views of how the U.S. should respond to the conflict fell along similar lines. The plurality of Texas voters, 34%, say that the U.S. should be working to balance support for the Israeli military with the prevention of Palestinian civilian casualties. About a quarter, 26%, think the U.S. should primarily be working to support Israeli military efforts, while 12% think the U.S. should primarily be working to prevent Palestinian civilian casualties. Sixteen percent said the U.S. should not be involved in the conflict, and 12% had no opinion.

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Primarily be working to support Israeli military efforts.26%
Primarily be working to prevent Palestinian civilian casualties.12%
Be working to balance support for Israeli military efforts AND the prevention of Palestinian civilian casualties.34%
Not be involved in the conflict between Israel and Hamas.16%
Don't know/no opinion12%

Looked at through the lens of partisanship, Republicans were more likely to express unqualified support of the Israeli government’s military response than were Democrats. Among Republicans, the plurality say the U.S. should primarily be supporting Israeli military efforts (43%), with 6% favoring primarily working to prevent Palestinian civilian casualties, and 25% favoring working to balance the two goals. Among Democrats, the plurality say the U.S. should be balancing support for the Israeli military with the prevention of Palestinian casualties (47%), while 19% favored primarily working to prevent Palestinian civilian casualties and 11% favoring primarily working to support Israel’s military efforts. More Republicans (18%) than Democrats (11%) favored not being involved.

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CategoryDemocratIndependentRepublican
Primarily be working to support Israeli military efforts.11%23%43%
Primarily be working to prevent Palestinian civilian casualties.19%8%6%
Be working to balance support for Israeli military efforts AND the prevention of Palestinian civilian casualties.47%35%25%
Not be involved in the conflict between Israel and Hamas.11%18%18%
Don't know/no opinion12%16%9%

The poll found little change in Texans’ approval of the state’s political leaders since October polling:

 (For trends in support for elected officials, see the Texas Politics Project page featuring graphics that track results from previous polls.)

The latest University of Texas/Texas Politics Project Poll was conducted December 1-10, 2023, among 1200 self-declared registered voters in Texas. The margin of error for topline results is +/- 2.83% (3.3% adjusted for weighting). See the methodology section of the poll summary for more detail on sampling and methodology.

Other findings from the December 2023 UT/Texas Politics Project Poll

The following sections look more closely at results from the last of six polls conducted by the Texas Politics Project in 2023. In addition to links to documents at the top of this post, find the usual set of hundreds of graphics for topline and subgroup results on our latest poll page, and links to all supporting files in the Texas Politics Project polling data archive.

2024 Election

President Joe Biden, likely to be at the top of the ballot in the general election, continues to earn dismal job approval ratings. Only 38% of Texas voters approved of the job he’s doing, while 54% disapproved. Biden’s disapproval numbers remain unsurprisingly high and intense among Republican voters (85% disapprove, including 76% who disapprove strongly). More troubling for Democrats on the ballot in Texas, Biden’s approval numbers among his own partisans fail to match the strength of Republicans’ antipathy: 74% approve of the job he’s doing, but with only 40% approving strongly, and 34% approving somewhat. Among independents, 27% approve and 61% disapprove.

In a trial ballot between the two most likely candidates in the presidential election in November 2024, Donald Trump led Joe Biden, 45% to 39%, with 11% preferring an unspecified “someone else” and 5% expressing no opinion.

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categoryTotal
Joe Biden39%
Donald Trump45%
Someone else11%
Haven't thought about it enough to have an opinion5%

No other candidates fared as well as Trump in head to head match-ups with Biden. Florida Governor Ron DeSantis edges out Biden, though within the poll’s margin of error (39%-37%), while Biden bests other long shot Republican candidates by similarly small margins, edging out Nikki Haley (35%-33%).

The poll revealed signs of continued divisions set to play out in campaigns during the March primary elections. Voters continued to express divided views about the ideological orientation of their parties with the March legislative and congressional primary elections sure to highlight differences within each party.

Among Republicans, 41% think GOP elected officials in Texas are conservative enough, while 33% say they are not conservative enough; only 13% say they are too conservative. (For some historical perspective: the averages of these three responses across 29 UT/Texas Politics Project polls dating back to October 2017 were 33.69% for “not conservative enough,” 46.66% for “conservative enough,” and 11.34% for “too conservative.”

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categoryTotal
Conservative enough41%
Too conservative13%
Not conservative enough33%
Don't know/No opinion12%

In a parallel question asked of Democrats, 35% said Democratic elected officials were liberal enough, 32% said they are not liberal enough, and only 13% said they were too liberal. (The remainder didn’t know or had no opinion.) The historical averages among Democrats over the same period used to average Republican responses were 37.93% for “not liberal enough,” 34.72% for “liberal enough,” and 8.62% for “too liberal.”

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categoryTotal
Liberal enough35%
Too liberal13%
Not liberal enough32%
Don't know/No opinion20%

Such intraparty issues are likely to be at play in the Democratic primary for the U.S. Senate, but the poll found no indications that Democratic voters are paying much attention to the race, in which Congressman Colin Allred and State Senator Roland Gutierrez are the most prominent candidates among a field of candidates with little or no name recognition. Almost half of Texans planning to vote in the Democratic primary didn’t offer a preference. Allred was the choice of 28%, while 7% chose Gutierrez. No other candidate was chosen by more than 3%. Among all voters, 23% viewed Allred favorably, and 16% viewed him unfavorably, while 16% viewed Gutierrez favorably and 13% viewed him unfavorably. At this stage, both lose to incumbent Ted Cruz by 16 points in hypothetical match-ups.

Israel-Hamas conflict

ln a battery of items assessing Texas voters’ views of 14 foreign countries, 55% expressed favorable views of Israel and 16% unfavorable views – favorable views increased from 47% one year ago, with the “very favorable” responses increasing from 24% in 2022 to 31% in 2023. Very unfavorable ratings also increased (though by a smaller margin) from 8% to 11%.

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categoryTotal
Very favorable31%
Somewhat favorable24%
Neither favorable nor unfavorable19%
Somewhat unfavorable10%
Very unfavorable10%
Don't know/No opinion6%

The partisan patterns evident in attitudes toward the Israel-Hamas conflict and the U.S. response were also present in more general views of Israel. Three-quarters (75%) of Texas Republicans held favorable views of Israel, with 7% holding unfavorable views, an increase in positive views from December 2022 (68% favorable, 8% unfavorable) that made Israel the most favorably viewed country in the battery. Democrats were much less favorably inclined and evenly divided: 36% held favorable views, and another 36% held unfavorable views, only a slight change from the views expressed by Democrats a year earlier (34% favorable and 32% unfavorable). Views among independents fell between those of partisans, increasing from 33% favorable in December 2022 to 50% one year later, with the share of unfavorable views unchanged (19%).

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CategoryDemocratIndependentRepublican
Very favorable14%24%48%
Somewhat favorable22%26%27%
Neither favorable nor unfavorable23%19%15%
Somewhat unfavorable19%9%4%
Very unfavorable17%10%3%
Don't know/No opinion5%13%2%

The poll picked up the effects of extensive media coverage of the Hamas terrorist attack and the Israeli response. About two thirds of voters (67%) said they have heard “a lot” about these events, landing the story at the top of the list of news items Texans say they have heard a lot about recently. For comparison, 62% had heard “a lot” about the “legal problems of former Donald Trump,” while 45% reported hearing the same amount about the war in Ukraine. At the bottom of the list of eleven news items voters reported having heard a lot about: “the Special Sessions of the Texas Legislature” (17%) and “the Colony Ridge development in Texas” (9%).

On the border: attitudes on national immigration policies show remarkable stability over last decade

The December 2023 UT/TXP poll asked Texas voters their opinions on a range of proposals related to national immigration policy in a battery initially asked (in part) in June of 2013. Despite significant political attention to the issue over the intervening 10 years along with major increases in apprehensions on  the U.S.-Mexico border, opinions have remained largely fixed. In December of this year, 81% said that they supported tightening U.S. border security by providing border patrol with increased technology, infrastructure, and personnel with 14% in opposition, unchanged from 2013 polling. Nearly three-quarters of voters, 74%, said they supported requiring U.S. businesses to verify the immigration status of any employee they hire, largely unchanged from the 83% who supported this policy in 2013. Asked about allowing engineers and scientists from other countries who earn graduate degrees in the U.S. the ability to remain in the U.S. to work, 68% expressed support in 2023 compared to 67% support in 2013.

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categoryTotal
Strongly support30%
Somewhat support32%
Somewhat oppose10%
Strongly oppose21%
Don't know/No opinion6%

Perhaps most surprisingly, 62% said that they supported a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants currently living in the U.S. if they pass a criminal background check and pay taxes and penalties, largely unchanged from the 66% who expressed support in 2013. Finally, a guest worker program for low-skilled labor found the lowest support, though still a majority, 53%, statistically unchanged from 2013 (54%).

Despite the attention paid to immigration and border security in Texas by both Republican voters and politicians, a majority of Republicans said that they supported each of these policies (with support statistically, or largely, unchanged from 2013) except for a guest worker program, which decreased from 55% support in 2013 to 43% support today, and a pathway to citizenship for those already here, which Republicans remain opposed to.

Ukraine

As a new tranche of continuing funding for Ukraine remains stalled in Congress, Texas voters’ views of U.S. support for Ukraine continues to convey clear partisan differences and signs of resistance to committing more resources to support Ukrainian efforts to fight the Russian invasion, particularly among Republicans. Overall, identical shares say the U.S. is doing “too much” to support Ukraine (33%) as say the U.S. is doing “the right amount,” while 19% say the U.S. is doing “too little.” Half of Republicans in the poll said the U.S. was doing “too much,” while 28% said “the right amount,” and 11% said too little. Among Democrats, 43% thought the U.S. was providing the right amount of support, 30% said “too little,” and 14% said “too much.”

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PollToo muchToo littleRight Amount
Apr. 202215%39%29%
June 202228%27%25%
Dec. 202229%22%34%
Feb. 202330%21%32%
Apr. 202332%21%32%
June 202335%22%30%
Aug. 202336%21%30%
Oct. 202337%19%31%
Dec. 202333%19%33%
Apr. 202428%26%31%

Many Texas voters still report hearing about Ukraine in the news – 45% report having heard “a lot” about it – though this share marks a decrease from previous polling. In February 2023, a year after the war began, 53% reported having heard the same amount.

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CategoryDemocratIndependentRepublican
Very favorable32%9%10%
Somewhat favorable33%23%20%
Neither favorable nor unfavorable21%31%27%
Somewhat unfavorable6%14%22%
Very unfavorable4%12%17%
Don't know/No opinion4%10%4%

Views of the economy

More Texans rate the Texas economy, the national economy, and their own personal economic situations as declining than say things are improving compared to last year. Nearly half of voters, 49%, say that the national economy is worse compared to last year, including 23% of Democrats, 51% of independents, and 72% of Republicans. These partisan differences reflect the historical pattern in which respondents’ views reflect the alignment of their personal partisanship with the partisanship of the president. 

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CategoryDemocratIndependentRepublican
A lot better off14%1%2%
Somewhat better off33%21%11%
About the same26%23%16%
Somewhat worse off14%25%31%
A lot worse off9%26%41%
Don't know4%5%0%

Partisanship appeared to play less of a role in Texas voters’ assessment of the Texas economy. While Republican officeholders maintain a monopoly on high-profile executive offices in the state, Republicans were more likely than Democrats to express negative views of the state economy. Asked to rate the Texas economy, the plurality, 36%, say it is worse off compared to last year compared to 20% who say it is better off. Pluralities of Democrats (32%), independents (42%), and Republicans (38%) say the Texas economy is worse compared to last year.

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CategoryDemocratIndependentRepublican
A lot better off3%0%5%
Somewhat better off20%15%16%
About the same38%40%39%
Somewhat worse off22%31%26%
A lot worse off10%11%12%
Don't know8%3%3%

Asked to evaluate their own economic situation compared to last year, 40% say that they are worse off compared to 23% who say that they are doing better. This represented a slight improvement over polling throughout the year, in which at least 42% rated themselves worse off in five prior polls, and no more than 21% rated their situation as better off. And while Democrats, on balance, were more likely to say that they are better off than worse off compared to last year (31% to 25%), independent voters and Republicans were more likely to say they are worse off (48% among independents; 52% among Republicans).

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CategoryDemocratIndependentRepublican
A lot better off5%1%3%
Somewhat better off26%15%15%
About the same41%36%30%
Somewhat worse off17%27%33%
A lot worse off8%21%19%
Don't know2%1%1%

Mood: Most important problems; direction of the state and country

A plurality of Texas voters (34%) say that either border security (20%) or immigration (14%) are the top issues facing the state of Texas, followed by inflation and rising prices (10%) and political corruption and/or leadership (10%). Consistent with prior polling, Texas Republicans drive attention to the border, with 61% saying that border security (37%) or immigration (24%) is the top problem facing the state. Only 7% of Democrats say the same. Democratic responses conveyed no corresponding area of consensus, with just two responses earning shares of more than 10%, “political corruption/leadership” (20%) and the economy/inflation (17%).

Asked to identify the most important problem facing the country, the economy topped the concerns of Texas voters, with 16% saying inflation or rising prices was the country’s most important problem along with 12% saying the economy. This was followed by political corruption and leadership (11%), border security (8%), and gun control/gun violence and immigration (7% each, respectively).

Nearly half of Texas voters (49%) say that the state is on the wrong track, with only 38% saying the state is headed in the right direction. While 69% of Democrats said the state is headed in the wrong direction along with 60% of independents, a majority of Republicans, 56%, said that the state is on the right track.

Texans rank the direction of the country worse than the state’s, with 67% saying that the country is on the wrong track compared to only 24% who say the country is headed in the right direction. Republicans expressed the most negativity about the direction of the country, with 85% saying that the country is on the wrong track along with 76% of independents, and a plurality of Democrats (47%; with 40% saying the country is headed in the right direction).

Issue catch-up: little change in attitudes on marijuana, the death penalty, Medicare expansion

The December UT/TXPP poll also checked in on a number of issue areas to compare with historical trends in responses captured in previous polls.

In a result unchanged since the question was last asked in December 2022, only 17% of Texans think that marijuana should not be legal under any circumstance, with 34% saying it should be legal for medical purposes only, and 49% saying either small amounts (30%) or any amount (19%) should be legal for any purpose. When the item was first asked in May of 2010, 27% said that marijuana should never be legal. While nearly two-thirds of Democrats (63%) think that marijuana should be legal for any purpose, the share of Republicans who agree is significantly less (37%). At the same time, only 23% of Republicans said that marijuana should never be legal, with the plurality, 40%, saying it should be available for medicinal purposes only.

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PollMarijuana possession should not be legal under any circumstancesMarijuana possession should be legal for medical purposes onlyPossession of small amounts of marijuana for any purpose should be legalPossession of any amount of marijuana for any purpose should be legal
May 201027%27%28%14%
Feb. 201423%28%32%17%
Feb. 201524%34%26%16%
Feb. 201717%30%32%21%
June 201816%31%30%23%
Feb. 201920%26%32%22%
Feb. 202113%28%32%28%
June 202113%27%31%29%
Dec. 202217%28%32%23%
Dec. 202317%34%30%19%

Asked to rate their support for the death penalty, 69% of Texas voters said that they support the death penalty (39% strongly), while 22% said that they are opposed. This represents a slight uptick in support over last year (65% support in December 2022), but significantly less than the 78% who registered support in both 2010 and 2011 polling. Republican voters expressed overwhelming support for the death penalty (86%; 10% opposed), while Democrats expressed more mixed views with 50% registering support and 38% registering opposition — consistent with recent polling, though a decline from a high of 62% support in October 2013.

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Polling DateSupportOppose
February 201078%18%
September 201078%18%
October 201174%21%
May 201273%22%
February 201575%19%
June 201865%25%
April 202163%25%
December 202265%24%
December 202369%23%

This support coexists with a widespread belief that the death penalty isn’t always fairly applied. Asked how often people are wrongly convicted of death penalty offenses in Texas, results reflect a fair amount of uncertainty, with only 3% of Texans saying that this “never” happens, 25% saying this happens “almost never”, 46% saying this happens “occasionally”, and 14% saying people are wrongly convicted of death penalty offenses “often.” Democrats are significantly more likely than Republicans to say that this happens often (24% to 5%), while nearly equal shares of Republican voters say that people are wrongly convicted of death penalty offenses either “occasionally” (41%) or “almost never” (39%).

The December poll also asked about Medicaid expansion in Texas – specifically, whether voters support or oppose “expanding eligibility for Medicaid, the government health insurance and long-term care program for certain low-income adults and children?” Overall, 65% of Texas voters said that they support the expansion of Medicaid in Texas, unchanged from December 2022 results, though slightly less than said the same in April 2023 polling (73%). While unsurprising to find overwhelming support among Texas Democrats (88%), this is the second consecutive survey in the time series finding at least 50% support for Medicaid expansion among Texas Republicans, with 61% expressing support in April of this year, and 50% expressing support in the most recent survey.

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CategoryDemocratIndependentRepublican
Strongly support62%34%21%
Somewhat support26%20%29%
Somewhat oppose5%16%20%
Strongly oppose1%13%18%
Don't know/No opinion6%16%12%

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