Polling suggests Texas GOP-led election reform didn’t increase overall trust in state election results

Widespread alarm about the corrosion of trust in democracy in the U.S. marks the anniversary of the violent attempt to obstruct the peaceful transfer of presidential power on January 6, 2021.  In Texas, Donald Trump’s unambiguously documented and verified loss in the presidential election and the rejection of the validity of the results by the president and many of his followers – most significantly those who stormed the U.S. Capitol as Congress prepared to ratify the results of the Electoral College – reinforced efforts by statewide elected officials and Republican majorities in both houses of the state legislature to pass “election integrity” measures. The controversial legislation, which inspired quorum breaks by otherwise powerless Democratic legislators – was widely advertised by supporters as necessary to preserve the “integrity” of the electoral process and encourage trust in the system.

Public opinion polling in the aftermath of the election, and after a legislative session blown up by the intensive debate over GOP-sponsored election legislation, shows that trust in Texas’ official election results were not strengthened by the legislation pushed with deep determination by Republican legislators and signed with great fanfare by Governor Greg Abbott. In fact, both Democrats and Republicans showed a slight decrease in the intensity with which they believe in the validity of Texas elections. Only among independents – a generally less attentive and political engaged group – did belief in the accuracy of state elections increase.

We can take a proximate measure of the relevant attitudes using an item included in both February 2021 and October 2021 University of Texas/Texas Tribune polls that asked self-reported registered voters, "Overall, how accurate do you think official election results are in Texas?" 

As a group, Texas respondents’ overall views of the accuracy of state election results appear to be largely unaffected by the stormy politics around elections and voting during the first three-quarters of 2021. In February, 78% said official election results were either very or somewhat accurate, and only 16% said they were either somewhat or very inaccurate, as the graphic below illustrates. This would seem to support the view of critics that the Republican election legislation seemed to be a solution in search of a problem (at least an institutional or policy problem).

In the absence of any widespread concern about state elections, the legislation did little to instill more confidence in results. In October, 76% expressed the belief that Texas election results are accurate, a share largely unchanged from February (though slightly lower, if well within the margins of error of the two polls), with 15% saying that they were inaccurate. Interestingly, the share of those most confident in the accuracy of state election results decreased from 43% who said results were “very accurate” in February, compared to 38% in October. 

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Very accurate43%
Somewhat accurate35%
Somewhat inaccurate11%
Very inaccurate5%
Don't know/No opinion6%

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Very accurate38%
Somewhat accurate38%
Somewhat inaccurate12%
Very inaccurate3%
Don't know/No opinion8%

This decrease in belief that election results are “very accurate” in Texas appeared among both Republicans and Democrats. Among Republicans, the share considering Texas election results "very accurate" declined 7 percentage points, from 30% in February to 23% in October. Despite the passage of the high-profile legislation prioritized by GOP incumbents, there was no statistically reliable change in the overall attitudes. In fact, among Republicans, the share saying that they wanted Texas election laws made more strict actually increased during the year, from 46% in February of 2021 to a high of 67% in August, and eventually ending the year at 56% in October polling.

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Very accurate65%26%30%
Somewhat accurate23%31%46%
Somewhat inaccurate4%18%14%
Very inaccurate4%7%6%
Don't know/No opinion4%18%4%

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Very accurate57%37%23%
Somewhat accurate27%29%50%
Somewhat inaccurate5%12%18%
Very inaccurate3%6%3%
Don't know/No opinion8%16%6%

Among Democrats, the share calling Texas election results "very accurate" declined 8 points, from: 65% in February to 57% in October. The overall attitudes among Democrats didn’t show a statistically reliable change after the passage of SB 1 either, though it did decrease, from 89% to 84%. (If you want to focus on particular group results in the graphics directly above, you can toggle groups on and off by clicking on group labels in the legend of each graphic.)

Independents, as is often the case, looked different than partisans, both in the direction and the prevalence of their positions. The share of “true independents” (excluding partisan “leaners”) saying Texas election results are "very accurate" increased 11 points between the two polls, from 26% in February to 37% in October. Overall, this group – the smallest, and made up, all things being equal, of Texans least attentive to politics and elections – was the only one of the three to show increased belief in the accuracy of Texas elections: 57% thought they were accurate in February, compared to 66% in October.

While these questions provide a limited look at trust in the state’s election system amidst a very volatile and noisy political environment, they certainly provide no evidence either that Texans’ trust in the state’s system required emergency maintenance, nor that the state leadership’s actions had a positive impact on the partisans most focused on the issue (albeit from very different perspectives). If anything, the data provide signs that they were unsuccessful in insulating Texans’ attitudes about state elections from the overall decline in trust in elections evidenced in national data in recent days.

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