New UT/Texas Politics Project Poll finds Texans dour and deeply divided

The latest University of Texas/Texas Politics Project poll finds Texans in a dour mood colored by a resurgent COVID-19 virus, an economy recovering yet roiled by its impact, and state politics driven by increasingly entrenched and in many instances extreme partisanship, which is being accentuated by the Republican monopoly on state government. Texans expressed more worry about the surging pandemic and its effects than in June, and gave Governor Abbott the lowest job approval rating of his tenure in office. A majority – 52% –  said the state is headed in the wrong direction, the worst assessment of the direction of the state since the inception of this polling project in 2008.

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PollRight DirectionWrong Track
October 200938%39%
February 201043%37%
May 201045%38%
September 201043%38%
October 201045%37%
February 201141%41%
May 201136%48%
October 201139%43%
February 201243%38%
May 201238%42%
October 201243%34%
February 201345%39%
June 201350%32%
October 201342%39%
February 201445%35%
June 201449%33%
October 201448%35%
February 201550%30%
June 201550%32%
November 201545%36%
February 201642%37%
June 201641%38%
October 201642%40%
February 201746%36%
June 201743%40%
October 201743%40%
February 201848%36%
June 201846%37%
October 201850%35%
February 201949%35%
June 201949%34%
October 201947%35%
February 202049%37%
April 202043%43%
June 202041%47%
October 202041%44%
February 202139%41%
March 202141%46%
April 202142%42%
June 202141%43%
August 202135%52%
October 202140%48%
February 202240%46%
April 202239%51%
June 202231%59%
August 202236%52%
October 202237%50%
December 202239%46%
February 202335%51%
April 202337%50%
June 202338%49%
August 202333%55%
October 202337%50%
December 202338%49%
February 202444%44%
April 202443%45%

As the COVID-19 Delta variant fueled increases in cases, deaths, and hospitalizations in Texas throughout August, Texans’ concerns about the safety of public activity have led many to resume more cautious behavior, though partisan differences in both attitudes and behaviors persist. Democrats are uniformly more concerned about the spread of the virus, judge it a more serious crisis, and are more likely to engage in preventative behaviors like mask wearing and physical distancing than are Republicans. The poll found across-the-board increases in behaviors meant to slow the spread of the coronavirus compared to polling conducted after earlier surges but prior to the spread of the delta variant, and increases in concern about the safety of a wide range of everyday activities compared to recent polling.

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April 202091%56%48%
June 202088%52%29%
October 202087%45%24%
February 202085%48%26%
April 202185%46%24%
June 202177%37%23%
August 202188%41%24%
October 202176%37%15%
February 202266%46%19%
April 202236%26%8%
June 202241%19%11%
August 202238%14%6%
October 202237%11%10%
December 202242%18%5%

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Strongly support5%34%67%
Somewhat support4%10%13%
Neither support nor oppose9%15%10%
Somewhat oppose5%6%3%
Strongly oppose73%29%4%
Don't know/No opinion4%6%2%

The agenda and politics of the two contentious special sessions called by Governor Abbott in the wake of the chaotic ending of the regular session of the 87th Legislature elicited responses from Texans reflective of the intense partisan polarization defining politics in the state. Attitudes on the actions that have roiled politics in recent months, such as local authority to take measures to slow the spread of the coronavirus, Gov. Abbott’s plan to build a Texas-funded border wall, and his vetoing of funding for the legislative branch, all elicited responses polarized along partisan lines.

Amidst the resurgence of COVID-19 and the political infighting during the summer, Texans’ views of the state leadership, the path of the state, and their own situations turned more negative than they were during the period of relative optimism in the spring and early summer.

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Don't know/No opinion12%17%7%

The fundamentally different partisan views of elections and voting that have fueled political conflict across the regular session and the two special sessions called by the governor continue to show up in August poll results. As was evident in previous UT polling, Democrats remain much more likely than Republicans to agree that the Texas election system discriminates against racial and ethnic minorities and that eligible voters are prevented from voting. Republicans are much more likely than Democrats to agree that ineligible voters are allowed to cast votes, and that election rules should be made more strict.

These sharply different partisan perceptions of voting and elections exist within an overarching loss of faith in elections and democracy. Only 17% of Texans say democracy in the United States is working “extremely” or “very well,” while 29% say it’s working “very” or “extremely poorly.” Assessments of democracy in Texas are more positive, but also show most Texans having mediocre assessments of the state’s political system as well.

The poll also captured familiar attitudes toward border security and immigration amidst another surge of migrants on the southern border and the passage of over a billion dollars in additional funding for Governor Abbott’s plan to take up former president Donald Trump’s efforts to build more barriers on the Texas-Mexico border. The lion’s share of Republicans view border security as a major problem facing the state, and favor Governor Abbott’s plan to spend state funds on continuing Donald Trump’s border wall project. Democrats find immigration and border security much less salient compared to the ongoing pandemic and the political leadership of the state, and are overwhelmingly opposed to the governor’s border construction project.

August 2021 UT/Texas Politics Project Poll Highlights

Below are some key findings from the poll, with a focus on COVID-19, assessments of political leadership, and Texans’ views of the central issues related to the pandemic and the multiple sessions of the 87th Texas legislature. For complete results, a summary document and a crosstab file can be downloaded at the Texas Politics Project polling data archive. Graphical representatino of the poll can be found on the latest poll page. We’ll elaborate more on these results in the coming days.

COVID-19 policy

As schools grapple with masking and other public health measures to prevent the spread of COVID-19 among faculty, staff, and students, a large share of Texans support requiring masks in educational settings.

  • 56% support requiring public school students & staff to wear masks on campus — 47% strongly support; 35% oppose, 28% strongly.   
  • By party: Among Republicans, 27% support, 63% oppose (50% strongly); among Democrats, 95% support (87% strongly), 2% oppose; and among true independents, 47% support, 29% oppose. 

 Similarly large shares of Texans support the implementation of measures by local governments and school districts to slow the spread of the coronavirus

  • 57% support school districts implementing anti-coronavirus measures, 23% oppose.
  • 56% support local governments implementing such measures, 22% oppose.

These views make for cross currents in Texans’ assessments of Gov. Abbott’s executive order prohibiting government entities from enacting mask requirements, which does not enjoy majority support.

  • 41% support the governor’s executive order, 32% strongly; 45% oppose it, 42% strongly.
  • Partisanship strongly conditions Texans’ views: Among Republicans, 70% support the governor’s order; only 7% of Democrats support it, as do 40% of independents.
  • Both the overall distribution of support as well as the partisan differences are also evident in views of Gov. Abbott’s order prohibiting government entities in Texas from enacting limitations on business in response to the pandemic.

A narrow majority of Texans favor the idea of “vaccine passports,” with 46% supporting the idea and 44% opposing it.

  • 81% of Democrats support the idea, while 71% of Republicans oppose it; 34% of independents support the idea, 49% oppose it.

Views of government response to COVID-19

Asked to assess the response of different levels of government to the COVID-19 pandemic, local government received higher ratings than both the federal and state government, though approval of all three levels of government have decreased since both initial polling on COVID response in April 2020 and since the uptick evident in June 2020 polling, prior to the spread of the Delta variant.

Governor Greg Abbott’s handling of the response to the coronavirus received the lowest rating of the eight assessments in polls conducted since April 2020. 

  • 39% approved of the governor’s handling of the pandemic, while 53% disapproved.
  • 68% of Republicans approved, while 20% disapproved. Democrats’ assessments were the inverse, and more lopsidedly negative. Among independents, 34% approved and 52% disapproved.
  • Net approval decreased among all partisan groups, dropping by 7 percentage points among Republicans (from +56 to +49); by 14 points among Democrats (-71 to -85); and by 9 points among independents (-9 to -18).

COVID-19 attitudes and experiences

The Delta variant surge fueled increases in the level of concern about the impact of the continuing pandemic, about the risk of various everyday social activities, and the threat the virus poses to individuals and their communities. Amidst the overall increase in concern about COVID-19, stark partisan differences in views of the pandemic and the appropriate response endure.

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April 202076%54%36%
June 202074%47%23%
October 202069%40%19%
February 202177%49%28%
April 202161%36%16%
June 202149%27%10%
August 202178%47%23%
October 202162%36%15%
February 202260%39%18%
April 202242%28%13%
June 202243%27%14%

Texans who have not received a COVID-19 vaccination continue to be less likely to report behaviors that curb the spread of the virus than are those who are vaccinated.

  • 70% of those who have not been vaccinated, and don’t plan on getting the shot, report not wearing a mask when in indoor public spaces.

Politics and the legislature

Asked how much they had heard about a list of 10 actions that had been in the news, the matters most likely to earn the attention of Texans were the Democrats’ breaking of quorum and Governor Abbott’s executive order prohibiting government entities from enacting mask requirements in response to the coronavirus.

  • 63% of Texans said they had heard “a lot” about the group of House Democrats who left the state, including 63% of Democrats and 68% of Republicans.
  • 62% said they had heard about Gov. Abbott’s restrictions on local governments, including 72% of Democrats and 57% of Republicans.

Asked about their support or opposition to the same 10 items, deep partisan differences that have riven the Texas legislature became apparent.

  • The two items with the lowest level of overall support were the Democrats’ breaking of quorum (supported by 36%, opposed by 47%) and Gov. Abbott’s veto of funding for the legislative branch (supported by 38%, opposed by 34%, with a comparative large share (17%) expressing no opinion.
  • A large share of Democratic voters supported the quorum break (72%), while very few Republicans supported it (8%). Three-quarters of Republicans strongly opposed it. Democrats failed to persuade independents of the rightness of their tactic: only 22% supported their departure, while 47% opposed it.
  • 64% of Republicans supported Gov. Abbott's veto, while only 7% of Democrats supported it – 62% strongly opposed it.  As a group, independents narrowly approved of the veto: 40% supported it, 32% were opposed.

Approval of political leaders

Greg Abbott’s job approval hit the lowest point in the data set, which has measured his job performance 23 times since February 2015, shortly after the beginning of his occupation of the governor’s office.

  • 41% approved of the job Abbott is doing, while 50% disapproved. His net approval rating decreased from even in June 2021 (44% approve/44% disapprove) to -9 in August, and registered a drop of 33 percentage points from the high point of his governorship in April 2020, the early days of the pandemic, when 56% approved and 32% disapproved.
  • Abbott’s job approval dropped among all partisan groups. It decreased most significantly among independents, dropping from 41% to 30%, and decreasing from 77% to 73% among Republicans and 8% to 6% among Democrats.
  • Looking at the entire time series of Abbott’s ratings, his highest approval among Republicans was 89% (in October 2018, shortly before his reelection).  His highest approval rating among Democrats occurred in April 2020, the period of his most proactive approach to halting the spread of COVID-19. His highwater mark among independents was 54%, in February 2019, shortly after his reelection.

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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%

Lt. Governor Dan Patrick’s net job approval also decreased between June and August, dropping from slightly underwater in June, when 36% approved and 37% disapproved (net -1), to a 9-percentage point deficit in August, when 33% approved and 42% disapproved.

Speaker of the House Dade Phelan, while still less well known to Texans than the governor and lieutenant governor, nonetheless elicited a judgment from more than half of Texans, though his assessments were also net-negative: 23% approved and 32% disapproved of his job performance.


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