Texas Republican voter opinion turned against the FBI and special counsel Robert Mueller even before last week’s mass shooting in a Florida high school and indictments of Russian propagandists who tried to influence American elections, according to the latest University of Texas/Texas Tribune Poll.
It’s a peculiar position for a party known for its strong law-and-order positions. Only 14 percent of Texas Republicans approve of the way Mueller is handing the investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 elections, while 60 percent disapprove. And only 27 percent said they have a favorable impression of the FBI, while 48 percent of those Republican respondents said they have an unfavorable opinion.
“Since when do Republicans dislike the FBI?” asked Daron Shaw, co-director of the poll and a professor of government at the University of Texas at Austin. “This is pure party.”
The poll was conducted before a former student killed 17 people at a Florida high school on Valentine’s Day, and before news reports that the FBI and Florida social services officials had not acted on tips and other signs that the killer was dangerous and had access to weapons.
And the survey was completed before the grand jury indictments of 13 Russians and an organization called the Internet Research Agency as part of Mueller’s investigation.
Overall, 38 percent of Texas registered voters approve of Mueller’s investigation and 36 percent do not. Unlike their Republican counterparts, 66 percent of Texas Democrats approve of the probe while only 10 percent do not. About a quarter of all voters — as well as of Republican voters and of Democratic voters — said they have either a neutral or no opinion about it.
Overall, 42 percent of Texas voters have a favorable opinion of the FBI, while 31 percent have an unfavorable opinion and 27 percent have either a neutral opinion or none at all. Democratic voters were positive overall, with 64 percent favorable and 12 percent unfavorable. Only 27 percent of Republicans have favorable opinions of the FBI, while 48 percent said they hold unfavorable opinions.
“The deeply partisan view of everything involving Trump and Russia — even with a national law enforcement agency — is pretty striking,” said Jim Henson, co-director of the poll and head of the Texas Politics Project at UT-Austin. “The most striking number here is the movement in attitude about the FBI in less than a year.”
Those numbers have changed significantly since a June 2017 UT/TT Pollin which 44 percent of Texas voters gave the FBI good marks and 27 had negative opinions of the agency. At that time, voters in both parties were more favorably disposed than they were in the more recent survey: 43 percent of Republicans gave the FBI favorable marks, while 35 percent of Republicans said their opinions were unfavorable.
“It’s not driven by the base,” said Josh Blank, manager of polling research at the Texas Politics Project at UT-Austin. “Non-Tea Party Republicans are the big change.”
Democrats, meanwhile, were a bit less positive on the FBI last year — with 51 favorable and 15 percent unfavorable — than they were in the latest survey.
Most Texans say they’ve heard about the investigations into Russian efforts to influence the 2016 presidential elections; only 2 percent say they have heard nothing at all, and only 12 percent say they have not heard very much.
They are split, largely along partisan lines, when asked whether the outcome of that election was influenced by Russia. Overall, 40 percent believe it was and 46 percent do not. Among Democrats, 77 percent believe Russians succeeded in influencing the outcome, while only 9 percent of Republicans do. Only 9 percent of Democrats believe the Russian efforts fell short, while 81 percent of Republicans said the Russians were unsuccessful.
Was there any coordination between the Trump campaign and Russia? Texans split 41 percent to 44 percent on that question, but the partisan differences drive the numbers. Among Democrats, 77 percent think there was coordination, while 81 percent of Republicans believe there was not coordination.
Voters from the two parties disagree strongly about the reasons for the investigations, too. What looks like an even split overall — 43 percent to 43 percent — masks deep partisan differences.
More than three-quarters of Democratic voters (77 percent) said the inquiries about the 2016 election are “mostly efforts to investigate potential foreign interference in a U.S. election.” But the same percentage of Republicans believe “they’re mostly efforts to discredit Donald Trump’s presidency.”
The University of Texas/Texas Tribune internet survey of 1,200 registered voters was conducted from Feb. 1 to Feb. 12 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.