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Slim majority of Texans support Gov. Greg Abbott’s border buoys, poll finds

A string of buoys is deployed to prevent migrants from swimming across the Rio Grande in Eagle Pass on July 13, 2023.
 Jordan Vonderhaar
The Texas Tribune
A string of buoys is deployed to prevent migrants from swimming across the Rio Grande in Eagle Pass on July 13, 2023.

WASHINGTON — A slim majority of Texas voters support using buoys and barbed wire on the Rio Grande to prevent migrants from crossing into the United States, according to a recent poll by the University of Texas published Friday.

Gov. Greg Abbotthas taken heat for deploying the deterrents, with critics asserting they are inhumane and violate treaties with Mexico. A federal judge ordered the state Wednesday to remove the barriers after the federal government sued Texas on the grounds that the state had not secured the required authorization to construct in navigable waterways and interfered with U.S. diplomacy. Abbott’s office immediately appealed the decision, saying it was prepared to take the case up to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Of 1,200 UT poll participants, 52% support Abbott’s use of buoys and barbed wire to deter migration, while 40% oppose it. Analytics firm YouGov conducted the poll between August 18-19, interviewing 1,329 registered voters in the state before whittling the sample to 1,200 to be politically representative. The margin of error was plus or minus 2.83 percentage points.

Among participants, Abbott’s overall tactics on the border under his Operation Lone Star appeared well received, with 64% supporting deploying state police and military resources on the border and 29% opposing. Similarly, 60% of respondents supported constructing walls and other physical barriers on the border with 32% opposing.

Other tactics had less support, with 48% of respondents supporting busing migrants out of Texas and 41% opposing. Only 32% supported separating men from their families when apprehending migrants at the border, compared to 55% opposing.

Abbott launched Operation Lone Star in 2021, issuing a disaster declaration that allowed him to send Texas National Guard members to the border. He has also bused over 30,000 migrants out of the state to heavily Democratic cities including Chicago, New York and Washington, D.C.

Texas Democrats have virulently opposed Abbott’s tactics, calling them cruel and deadly. U.S. Reps. Veronica Escobar, D-El Paso, led a letter signed by 10 other Texas Democrats in Congress urging the Justice Department to investigate after a Texas National Guard member shot a Mexican national across the river in Ciudad Juárez.

U.S. Reps.Joaquin Castro, D-San Antonio, and Greg Casar, D-Austin, introduced an amendment to the Department of Homeland Security’s funding bill that would bar any money going from the department to Operation Lone Star.

“Operation Lone Star is trampling on the rights of border communities, endangering our economic relationship with Mexico, and violating the basic human rights of asylum-seekers,” Castro said in a statement. “Congress should not be funding Governor Abbott’s wasteful political stunts.”

The UT poll also touched on a range of other topics, including Texas voters’ opinions on the upcoming presidential election. Former President Donald Trump remains the most favored presidential candidate in the state of either party, with 41% of voters having a positive opinion of him. President Joe Biden, meanwhile, has only 37% approval, and Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis has 35%.

Despite his approval ratings relative to other presidential candidates, Trump still faces a majority of voters holding a negative view of him, with 51% holding unfavorable opinions. Biden, meanwhile, has 53% having unfavorable opinions and DeSantis has 45%.

Trump’s approval ratings have also gone down since June, when 44% held favorable opinions of him. His highest approval was in June 2021 with 47%. The percentage of respondents with favorable opinions of DeSantis also decreased, with 40% holding favorable views in April and 35% holding unfavorable views.

Trump’s approval rating currently matches that of Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, who also has 41% of voters holding favorable views. But Cruz has opted to focus on his Senate reelection campaign next year rather than make another run for the White House. Cruz has a lower percentage of voters who hold unfavorable views at 47%.

Meanwhile, Cruz’s top Democratic challengers have yet to break deeply into the public consciousness, according to the poll. U.S. Rep. Colin Allred, D-Dallas, has 20% of respondents holding favorable views and 17% holding unfavorable views. Meanwhile, 46% don’t know him or don’t have an opinion.

The numbers are even bleaker for state Sen. Roland Gutierrez, D-San Antonio, who has 15% favorable views, 13% unfavorable and 52% not knowing who he is or not having an opinion.