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UT/TT Poll: Bathrooms, the Constitution and Other Hot Texas Issues

Emily Albracht
Texas Tribune

From the Texas Tribune: A slight majority of Texans want transgender people to choose restrooms based on their birth gender and not their gender identity, according to the latest University of Texas/Texas Tribune Poll.

The overall preferences were about the same when voters were asked about public school locker rooms and restrooms: 53 percent of voters said transgender people should use the facilities that match their birth gender.

Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, a Republican, has made it widely known that regulating transgender people’s use of public facilities will be one of his legislative priorities. As a matter of politics, he’s on solid ground. Self-identified Republican voters — by a 76 percent to 14 percent margin — said transgender people should use the restrooms that match their birth gender. The Republican numbers were even stronger — 80-10 — on the use of facilities in public schools.

Democratic voters went the other way, with 50 percent saying gender identity should be the standard in public restrooms and 51 percent saying that should be the standard in public schools.

“Republican leaders who are hitting this issue hard are doing things that are resonating with their base and their party,” said Jim Henson, co-director of the poll and head of the Texas Politics Project at the University of Texas at Austin. Given the results, he said, “it’s not surprising that elements of the Republican leadership have stacked this out and are sticking to it.”

Credit Emily Albracht/Texas Tribune

Gov. Greg Abbott is pushing for a “convention of states” that would consider nine amendments to the U.S. Constitution, generally limiting the power of the federal government and asserting the power of the states.

Abbott has some selling to do if he’s counting on public opinion. Voters were asked whether “the Constitution has held up well as the basis for our government and laws and is in little need of change, or would you say that we should hold a new constitutional convention to update the Constitution?” Most — 59 percent — said the Constitution has held up well; only 25 percent said the states should hold a new convention.

Democrats were less defensive about changes than Republicans: Where 51 percent of Democrats said the Constitution has held up well and should be left alone, 67 percent of Republicans took that position. And where 30 percent of Democrats were open to the convention, only 19 percent of Republicans chose that option.

“There doesn’t seem to be a ready audience for this, but if there is one, it’s more populated by Democrats than by Republicans,” Henson said.

Two issues that have attracted a lot of attention in the state Capitol are getting less notice from voters. State leaders have told the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services to immediately come up with plans to speed placements of foster children and to intervene in cases where children under the state’s protection are in danger. That agency, in turn, has told legislators it needs 550 additional employees and $53.3 million to pay for them. Lawmakers have pushed back on that request, but fixing the system remains a top priority.

In spite of the Austin focus, only 45 percent of voters say they have heard “some” or “a lot” about the troubles at the agency. Another 30 percent chose “not very much” when asked how much news they’ve heard. Among those who’ve heard even a smidgen of news, 20 percent said they have a favorable opinion of the agency and 36 percent said they have an unfavorable opinion. The remaining 43 percent said they don’t have an opinion.

Credit Emily Albracht/Texas Tribune

Similarly, 31 percent of Texas voters said they have heard “nothing at all” about the legal problems of Attorney General Ken Paxton. The state’s top lawyer faces state criminal charges and federal civil fraud charges arising from his private business as an attorney who also advised clients on investments in securities. Those allegations first came to public attention during the Republican primaries in 2014, when Paxton was first running for attorney general, and have episodically appeared in the news ever since.

Only 15 percent of voters said they have heard a lot about Paxton’s legal fight, 30 percent said they have heard “some” and 24 percent said they have not heard very much.

“Maybe it’s because it’s a slow drip,” said poll co-director Daron Shaw, regarding how the news of Paxton’s troubles has come to light. “There’s a year of Cruz and Trump and Hillary, and people have a lot of other distractions.”

Shaw, a government professor at UT-Austin, said voters often learn more about this kind of news in the heat of battle, when candidates are trying to get elected. Paxton is up for re-election in 2018. “Perhaps what it would take is an active political campaign,” he said. “It might take a Republican in the primary or a Democrat in the general to make this known to the public.”

On a question testing political knowledge in the same poll, 42 percent of the voters, when asked for the name of the state’s current comptroller, selected Attorney General Paxton. Only 26 percent correctly chose Glenn Hegar.

The University of Texas/Texas Tribune internet survey of 1,200 registered voters was conducted from Oct. 14 to Oct. 23 and has an overall margin of error of +/- 2.83 percentage points. Among likely voters — those who said either that they are certain to vote or that they have voted in “every” recent election — the margin of error is +/- 3.16 percentage points (n=959). Numbers in charts might not add up to 100 percent because of rounding.

Ross Ramsey is managing editor of The Texas Tribune and continues as editor of Texas Weekly, the premier newsletter on government and politics in the Lone Star State, a role he's had since September 1998. Texas Weekly was a print-only journal when he took the reins in 1998; he switched it to a subscription-based, internet-only journal by the end of 2004 without a significant loss in subscribers. As Texas Weekly's primary writer for 11 years, he turned out roughly 2 million words in more than 500 editions, added an online library of resources and documents and items of interest to insiders, and a daily news clipping service that links to stories from papers across Texas. Before joining Texas Weekly in September 1998, Ramsey was associate deputy comptroller for policy with the Texas Comptroller of Public Accounts, also working as the agency's director of communications. Prior to that 28-month stint in government, Ramsey spent 17 years in journalism, reporting for the Houston Chronicle from its Austin bureau and for the Dallas Times Herald, first on the business desk in Dallas and later as the paper's Austin bureau chief. Prior to that, as a Dallas-based freelance business writer, he wrote for regional and national magazines and newspapers. Ramsey got his start in journalism in broadcasting, working for almost seven years covering news for radio stations in Denton and Dallas.
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