For Hurricane Harvey recovery, Texans want federal, state and local officials to focus on debris cleanup and disposal, housing, public health and environmental contamination, according to the latest University of Texas/Texas Tribune Poll.
Texas voters said other problems brought on by the historic storm — transportation, public education, unemployment and damage to local businesses — are extremely or somewhat important to them, but their first priorities are cleaning up and making sure everyone is okay.
That showed in their assessments of how others responded to the effects of the storm: 86 percent lauded the response of the people of Texas, and large majorities thought highly of the actions of local and state governments. The federal government's responses won approval from 57 percent of the respondents.
"Texans love how Texans did," said Jim Henson, co-director of the poll and head of the Texas Politics Project at the University of Texas at Austin. He said Republicans and Democrats alike approved of local government responses but that Republicans were much more likely than Democrats to approve of the state and federal government responses. "They were far more positive," he said.
Voters were less impressed with the news media — 47 percent approved of the media's response to the storms while 30 percent disapproved — and with insurance companies. A majority had neutral or no opinion about insurance companies' responses; a fuller ruling on that will probably follow experiences with damage claims.
More than two of every five Texas voters said they or someone close to them was directly affected by Hurricane Harvey.
Voters were divided when asked whether federal relief should be available in the future for people who rebuild homes in frequently flooded areas. Democrats (49 percent) were more likely to say yes to that than Republicans (32 percent). Black voters (53 percent) and Hispanic voters (49 percent) were more likely to answer yes than white voters (31 percent). Tea Party Republicans were the most likely to oppose future federal relief for those who rebuild in flood-prone areas; 60 percent don't like that idea.
Did climate change contribute to the severity of recent hurricanes that hit Texas, Louisiana, Florida and Puerto Rico? Yes, according to 45 percent of voters; no, said 42 percent. And the answers to that question were closely linked to the political preferences of the respondents. Among Republicans, 16 percent said climate change worsened the storms while 72 percent said it didn't. Among Democrats, the answers flipped: 80 percent yes, 8 percent no. Independents were more like Republicans, but more evenly divided: 37 percent said yes, 46 percent said no.
"It’s fascinating that age, education and other such variables are swamped by ideology here," said Daron Shaw, co-director of the poll and a government professor at UT-Austin. "I think what has happened is that this is an issue where the debate (and the science surrounding it) get politicized such that party cues dominate the perceptions of voters. On issues directly involving government spending and/or regulation — even those where scientific expertise is an obvious factor — ideology is much more readily tied to attitudes."
The high approval ratings for state and local government come at a time of some tension between those institutions. The Texas Legislature earlier this year debated a considerable number of bills that would have constrained local governments and/or asserted state control over issues often handled locally. But when it comes to issues of trust — whether government is careful or careless with tax dollars, or addresses or ignores the needs of Texans — voters didn't make much distinction between the state and local regimes.
That said, they didn't exactly fawn over either source of authority: Voters were more likely to say state government is more careful handling tax dollars, but only a minority said either government was mostly careful. Similarly, less than half of voters said state or local government mostly addresses the needs of Texans.
"Your attitudes on federalism are closely tied to which level of government shares your partisan and ideological orientation. There is evidence of that here," Shaw said. "The overall ambivalence of the numbers reflects two contradictory facts: Most voters are suspicious of government and its ability to work effectively, but most voters in Texas have conservative representation at the state and local levels, which makes them feel somewhat better about their elected officials."
Tea Party voters skewed those numbers in favor of the state government, Henson said. "72 percent of Tea Party Republicans say state government is careful with tax dollars — a clear indication that the message [from Austin] is resonating with its intended target."
The University of Texas/Texas Tribune internet survey of 1,200 registered voters was conducted from October 6 to October 15 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.