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UT/TT Poll: Texas Voters Weigh In On Importance Of 'Bathroom Bill'

Jacob Villanueva
Texas Tribune

The “bathroom bill” that preoccupied the Texas Legislature for the first half of the year is important to only 44 percent of the state’s voters — and “very important” to only 26 percent, according to the latest University of Texas/Texas Tribune Poll. 

During the regular session, lawmakers considered but did not pass legislation that would regulate transgender Texans’ use of public restrooms, blocking them from using facilities not designated for their “biological sex.”

The debate over that issue is going into overtime; Gov. Greg Abbott added it to the list of issues he wants legislators to consider in a 30-day special session that starts next month.

Some voters like the legislation more than others. Overall, 44 percent consider it important and 47 percent do not. Among Republicans, 57 percent said such a bill is important, and among Tea Party Republicans, 70 percent said so. Democrats are on the other side of this one, with 53 percent saying the legislation is either “not very important” or “not important at all.”

“The lieutenant governor led the charge in trying to make this a partisan issue and making it more salient to Republicans,” said Jim Henson, co-director of the poll and head of the Texas Politics Project at the University of Texas at Austin. “It worked.

“Whatever their attitudes are, when we ask if it’s important for the Legislature to act, the number of Republicans who thought so increased 13 [percentage] points from February to June — and 31 points among Tea Party Republicans.

“The lieutenant governor preached to the choir, and they are singing more loudly now,” Henson said.

The conversation during the session did elevate the issue with some voters. In February, only 39 percent of Tea Party Republicans considered the issue important, and that rose to 70 percent. Among non-Tea Party Republicans, the numbers rose to 57 percent from 44 percent in February. Among Democrats, the numbers remained about the same during the course of the legislative session. 

That was one of several cultural questions in the June UT/TT Poll. A majority of voters — 55 percent — say gays and lesbians should have the right to marry, a view shared by 77 percent of Democrats, but rejected by 52 percent of Republicans. Across those and most other subgroups in the poll, opposition to same-sex marriage in Texas is softening and support is growing. In June 2015, 66 percent of Democrats approved of same-sex marriages and 60 percent of Republicans did not. Overall, 44 percent of Texans were supportive while 41 percent were not. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled two years ago that gay marriage bans are unconstitutional.

“It’s going to take time,” said Daron Shaw, who co-directs the poll and teaches government at UT-Austin. “But there’s a broader push to inclusivity and diversity, particularly among young people.”

A slender majority of Texas voters believe sincerely held religious views should not trump anti-discrimination laws, the poll found. But — as with a lot of questions about cultural beliefs — it depends on who you ask.

Non-Tea Party Republican voters were split when asked whether they agreed or disagreed with this statement: “A sincerely held religious belief is a legitimate reason to exempt someone from laws designed to prevent discrimination.”

Meanwhile, 57 percent of Tea Party Republicans said religious views should outweigh those laws.

“This invokes conflicting norms — religion verses the rule of law,” Shaw said. “It splits Republicans and causes them headaches. Religious freedom is absolutely secondary to these anti-discrimination laws.” 

The response from Democrats was even more lopsided, and in the other direction: 72 percent disagreed, effectively saying the anti-discrimination laws should outweigh religious views.

A plurality of Texas voters support requiring the burial or cremation of fetal remains from abortions, miscarriages or stillbirths: 44 percent support that, while 39 percent oppose it. Republicans (62 percent/20 percent) were more likely than Democrats (26 percent/58 percent) to favor that, and men (47 percent/37 percent) were more likely than women (42 percent/40 percent).

The University of Texas/Texas Tribune internet survey of 1,200 registered voters was conducted from June 2 to June 11 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.

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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