This year’s legislative session was a brutal one here in Texas, according to a new report from the Texas Politics Project.
After 140 days and four special sessions, less than 30% of Texas voters expressed confidence that the Legislature had addressed the issues most important to them. Among those issues were reducing property taxes, improving public school safety, border security, and increasing reliability of the power grid.
For more on the results and what they mean for next year’s election cycle, the Standard was joined by Jim Henson, director of the Texas Politics Project.
This transcript has been lightly edited for clarity.
Texas Standard: Voters showed support for some policies that the Legislature ultimately didn’t pass. Let’s go through them one by one. What was the No. 1 issue that voters seem disappointed in legislators for?
Jim Henson: One issue that was top of the agenda for virtually everybody in the political class was reducing property taxes. We asked this question in a way to get voters to look forward. So, when we say how confident are you that the Legislature reduced property taxes enough to make a difference to most Texans, less than a third – 29% – were either extremely or very confident.
That seems like a low number, but the Legislature did pass property tax cuts, much more sizable than a lot of Democrats wanted.
I think there’s a couple of things to consider here. One is the history of property tax reduction in the state, in which property taxes have been hailed as being reduced, they don’t go down very much and people don’t notice it, and they’re under impressed.
Second, to be fair, people haven’t seen this property tax reduction yet. As you say, it is bigger than what they’ve done in the past. I expect that number may go up a little, should we go back to the well on this.
What about border security?
I think there’s a kind of Bermuda Triangle on some of these issues, between voters’ enthusiasm for what the Legislature said they were going to do and the agenda of the leadership and voters’ confidence that they did it.
Border security is maybe the best example, because you saw a lot of support, particularly among Republicans, for many of the measures that the Legislature undertook – more money for enforcement and for the wall, and so on. But still, not a lot of faith that that’s going to succeed.
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When it comes to reliability of the state’s power grid, only 23% believe that the Legislature was successful in dealing with that. What does all this add up to politically, as you see it?
To be fair, a lot of people don’t pay attention to the Legislature. Throughout the session, only about 10% said they were following extremely closely. I think what it means is that the Legislature does not enter the consciousness of a lot of Texas voters as much as it does people that watch it very closely.
The Legislature is suffering, to some degree, from the same lack of faith and trust in institutions that we’re seeing across the board, not only in the state but in the country.
Any clues that you can tease out when it comes to what issues might be emerging as Texas voters go to the polls in 2024?
I think it’s different for the two parties. On the Republican side, certainly immigration and border security continue to dominate the political consciousness of Republicans. Once again, in this poll, well more than half of Republicans say that the most important problem facing the state is either immigration or border security.
With Democrats, it’s spread among several issues, with the main issues being the economy and a general kind of dissatisfaction with the leadership in the state.
What about abortion issues?
It’s one of the puzzles that we’ve seen in our polling throughout the last couple of years – certainly since the reversal of Dobbs. We know what Democratic attitudes are like, but overall, it’s not dominating Democrats’ political attention. That may change, but so far, we’re not seeing evidence that that’s going to have the kind of galvanizing effect that immigration and border security have for Republicans.