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.”
Some voters like the legislation more than others. Overall, 44 percent consider it important and 47 percent do not. Among all Republicans — including those who identify with the Tea Party and those who don't — 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 54 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 vs. 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.