Most Texas voters don’t want to remove Confederate memorials or put them in museums, according to the latest University of Texas/Texas Tribune Poll.
Many of those who would leave the monuments in place said they should “remain where they are with historical context provided,” but a greater number would leave the memorials in place unchanged.
The partisan and racial divides within those responses were stark. Only 9 percent of Republicans would remove or relocate Confederate memorials, while 75 percent of Democrats would do so. A majority of Republicans would leave the monuments unchanged; a majority of Democrats would move them to museums. And while 60 percent of black voters would remove or relocate those symbols, 64 percent of white voters and 53 percent of Hispanic voters would leave them in place.
“Very few people want the monuments removed or destroyed,” said Daron Shaw, a government professor at the University of Texas at Austin and co-director of the poll.
“Republicans tend to think they ought to be left as they are,” he said. “This strikes me as a reaction, at least in part, against being told what to do by the news media or by Democratic or liberal elites. In other words, opinion on the right against monument removal is partly a function of genuine support for the existence and purpose of the monuments and partly a function of resistance to what they view as overly intrusive political correctness.”
Texans are divided when asked if the United States would be safer if more people carried guns. As with many issues, the answers revealed a big divide between conservatives and liberals.
A convincing majority of Republicans said the country would be safer with more people packing weapons. An even larger majority of Democrats said the opposite — that more people with guns would make the United States less safe.
More than half of the registered voters surveyed said gun control laws should be stricter. Only 13 percent said the laws should be less strict than they are now, and 31 percent would prefer to leave current gun laws unchanged. Most Democrats (86 percent) would toughen current laws. Most Republicans (51 percent) would leave them as they are now. Half of Tea Party Republicans would leave the laws in place, while 38 percent would make them less strict; among non-Tea Party Republicans, 35 percent would toughen current law. Black (74 percent) and Hispanic (61 percent) voters would prefer stricter gun control laws, while only 43 percent of white voters agreed with them.
The primary cause for mass shootings in the United States in recent years is “failure of the mental health system to identify dangerous individuals,” closely followed by current gun laws, the respondents said. Voters also blamed various forms of media —“spread of extremist points of view on the internet” and “media attention given to perpetrators of mass shootings.”
“This illustrates why talking about mental health has become a good diversionary issue for conservatives,” said Jim Henson, co-director of the poll and head of the Texas Politics Project at UT-Austin. Both conservatives and liberals agree there are mental health problems, even though they disagree on gun issues. “What we’ve seen in the past was a cycle of an immediate response that involves talking about gun laws, and then a counter-response that used to be primarily a Second Amendment fight — but more recently has involved this mental health element.”
Bathrooms and transgender Texans
A little more than half of Texas voters put little importance on efforts to restrict access to public restrooms for transgender people, while 43 percent said that legislation is “very” or “somewhat” important.
“Bathrooms has kind of fallen off the radar,” Henson said. “If you can get this on the agenda, you can activate some Republicans and conservatives on this.”
The counterpunch from establishment Republicans has been to try to change the focus to economic development, he said. “This is why the desire of the speaker and other longtime members of the Republican coalition to talk about economic development is about the agenda, but also by extension, about what the central issues are going to be moving forward,” Henson said.
Few groups were particularly fired up about the issue: 46 percent of Republicans ranked it important, along with 40 percent of Democrats and 52 percent of Tea Party Republicans. That’s a marked change from the June survey done at the end of the Texas Legislature’s regular session, where the “bathroom bill” was a major point of contention. In that earlier survey, 57 percent of Republicans, 35 percent of Democrats, and 70 percent of Tea Party Republicans deemed the issue important.
“This is not a durable attitude being driven from bottom to top — it’s being driving from top to bottom,” said Josh Blank, manager of polling research at the Texas Politics Project at UT-Austin. He said the polling shows voter opinions on the importance of bathrooms fluctuates “when certain officials are talking about it.”
That dynamic could determine how important the bathroom debate will be in next year's elections.
“I think this issue is utterly contingent upon elite actions; if they insist on keeping it in the limelight, it will be a serious — though perhaps secondary — issue, but it will fall off the map if elites move on,” Shaw said.
Discrimination and the courts
A slight majority of Texas voters said they were aware of recent court rulings finding discrimination in Texas elections, but a plurality believe the Texas election system does not discriminate against racial and ethnic minorities.
Democrats (61 percent) were more familiar with the court rulings than Republicans (50 percent) and were far more likely to believe the system discriminates (73 percent) than Republicans are (10 percent).
Hispanic voters split 40 percent to 38 percent on whether the election laws discriminated on the basis of race. Black voters (63 percent) were more likely than white voters (32 percent) to believe that it does.
The University of Texas/Texas Tribune internet survey of 1,200 registered voters was conducted from Oct. 6 to Oct. 15 and has an overall margin of error of +/- 2.83 percentage points. Numbers in charts might not add up to 100 percent because of rounding.
This is one of several stories on the latest University of Texas/Texas Tribune Poll. Also today: Texas voters on immigration and federal health care. Earlier: Texans grade President Trump, his qualities and his response to top issues; voters rate the top figures and institutions in state politics; and impressions from Hurricane Harvey. Coming Tuesday: The mood and political climate of the state.
Disclosure: The University of Texas at Austin has been a financial supporter of The Texas Tribune. A complete list of Tribune donors and sponsors can be viewed here.