Texas voters deeply divided on voting, a border wall and diversity, says UT/TT Poll

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Photo Illustration by Michael Stravato/John Jordan for The Texas Tribune

Most Texas voters believe people who aren’t U.S. citizens “sometimes” or “frequently” vote in Texas elections, according to the latest University of Texas/Texas Tribune Poll.

At the same time, 45 percent believe people who are eligible to vote in the state’s elections are “sometimes” or “frequently” prevented from doing so, the poll found.

Partisan feelings show through strongly in the results. Among Democrats, 68 percent said noncitizens vote either “never” or “rarely” in Texas elections. Only 16 percent of Republicans agreed. Meanwhile, 76 percent of Republicans believe non-citizens vote sometimes or frequently (including 47 percent who say it is a frequent occurrence) — a view shared by 22 percent of Democrats.

“The erosion of confidence in American elections is really a tragedy,” said Daron Shaw, a government professor at the University of Texas at Austin and co-director of the UT/TT Poll. Looking at the numbers of voters who believe either that noncitizens are voting, or that citizens are being blocked from voting, he added, “There are a lot of people who think there is a lot of stuff going on.”

Among white voters, 55 percent say noncitizens vote sometimes or frequently. That view is held by 48 percent of black voters and 40 percent of Hispanic voters. Black voters were most likely to say eligible voters are frequently or sometimes prevented from voting, a view held by 68 percent of that group. Among Hispanic voters, 49 percent hold the same view, while only 38 percent of white voters agree.

Black voters are also more likely to agree that the state’s election system discriminates against racial and ethnic minorities. Overall, 36 percent of Texans agree that is the case. Among black voters, 58 percent agree. Among white voters, 29 percent say so. Hispanic voters are split 42 percent to 40 percent on that question. As with some other voting questions, this one sends the partisans in opposite directions: 70 percent of Democrats say the system discriminates, and 85 percent of the Republicans say it does not.

Building a wall

A majority of Texas voters want to build a wall between the United States and Mexico, but the partisan divide is as deep on this issue as on any item in the UT/TT Poll.

Republicans overwhelming support the wall, with 89 percent saying it should be built. Democrats oppose it just as strongly, with 87 percent registering that opinion.

“The parties have become even more polarized,” said Joshua Blank, manager of polling and research for the Texas Politics Project at UT-Austin.

Jim Henson, who co-directs the poll and heads the Texas Politics Project at UT-Austin, attributed that to elected officials who’ve been talking about the issue, on both the federal and state levels. “Elite conflict over this has resonated with both party bases,” he said.

Men are more likely to favor the wall — 59 percent of them support it, as opposed to only 46 percent of women. And 64 percent of white voters support a wall, while only 28 percent of black voters and 34 percent of Hispanic voters expressed support.

Asked how extensive a wall should be, 68 percent of those in support of building said the entire border should have a barrier, while 30 percent said barriers should be added to some sections of the border.

Opponents of the border wall were similarly divided on a parallel question: 65 percent said that “no additional barriers should be built” was closer to their opinion, while 30 percent said “barriers should be added to some sections” on the border.

“Even among people who strongly support the wall or strongly oppose it, there’s a feeling that some barriers are needed, but not all of them,” Shaw said.

Even so, Blank said, wall supporters — most of the Republicans — split more than two-to-one in favor of an unbroken wall on the border, while wall opponents — most of the Democrats — split more than two-to-one in favor of no barriers at all. “If this seems intractable, it’s because it is,” he said.

“Very few people appreciate the subtleties in policy that people were trying to promote in the discussion to create the grounds for a compromise,” Henson said.

When it comes to President Trump’s use of executive powers to fund a wall without approval from Congress, voters are as split as their representatives seem to be, with Democrats overwhelmingly against (90 percent) and Republicans strongly in favor (80 percent).

Only 15 percent of Texans think the state is spending too much on border security — a finding that explains why lawmakers, who have put $800 million into that basket for two budgets in a row and plan to continue the funding in the budget they’re writing now. Those lawmakers are spending the right amount, according to 30 percent of voters, and another 38 percent say they’re not spending enough. That last group includes 61 percent of Republican voters, 10 percent of Democrats, and 43 percent of independents.

Diversity in Texas

Increasing racial and ethnic diversity in Texas worries elderly Texans and is a cause for youthful optimism, the poll found. Overall, 46 percent said increasing diversity is a cause for optimism and 33 percent said it’s a cause for concern. Among voters ages 18 to 29, 56 percent are optimistic and 27 percent said it’s cause for concern; among those 65 and older, only 35 percent say they’re optimistic about the state’s growing diversity, while 48 percent said it’s cause for concern. The 30-44 age group was 48 percent optimistic, as was 46 percent of the 45-64 age group.

The University of Texas/Texas Tribune internet survey of 1,200 registered voters was conducted from February 15 to February 24 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.

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