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Most Texas voters would admit refugees from other countries, new poll shows

Marjorie Kamys Cotera/The Texas Tribune
A group demonstrates in Austin in support of Texas accepting refugees in this file photo.

AUSTIN, Texas -- A narrow majority of Texas voters said the state should accept refugees from other countries who have gone through a security clearance process, according to the latest University of Texas/Texas Tribune Poll. At the same time, 38% of the state’s voters said the U.S. allows too many people to immigrate into the country.

Only a third of the voters said refugees shouldn’t be allowed into Texas. That puts the majority in disagreement with the position of Gov. Greg Abbott, who recently told the federal government that Texas won’t be participating in the refugee resettlement program this year. (A federal judge has temporarily blocked the policy that allows states to opt out.) While 51% of Texas voters, including 75% of Democrats and 53% of independents, think refugees should be allowed into Texas, Abbott is in sync with his fellow conservatives: Only 28% of self-identified Republican voters said the state should accept refugees.

“Given the trends on almost every other question we have asked about immigration that doesn’t involve children or breaking up families, it’s consistent with attitudes among Republican voters,” said James Henson, co-director of the poll and head of the Texas Politics Project at the University of Texas at Austin.

“At the time that the policy got a lot of public attention, there was a certain amount of questioning about whether this was a bridge too far,” Henson said.

The evidence doesn’t support that concern.

“Refugees are a subset of legal immigrants, and in fact, they’re legal immigrants who’ve faced some kind of horrific hardship to be in the situation they’re in,” said Joshua Blank, research director for the Texas Politics Project at UT-Austin. “But even when we talk about legal immigration generally, 62% of Republicans say we allow too many people into the country.”

Asked whether their communities would welcome such refugees, 48% of Texas voters said yes, and 21% said no. Democrats (61%) were more likely than independents or Republicans (both at 38%) to say their communities would welcome refugees. While 14% of Democrats said refugees would not be welcomed, 25% of independents and 27% of Republicans said so. The rest offered no opinion or said they didn’t know how the refugees would be received.

Almost a third of the state’s voters — 30% — think the U.S. allows about the right number of people to migrate here from other countries. But 38% said too many are allowed, and only 19% said too few are allowed. A strong majority of Republicans, 62%, said too many immigrants are allowed into the U.S., an opinion shared by 15% of Democrats and 28% of independents.

“Immigration and border security are the most important problems facing Texas — again,” said Daron Shaw, co-director of the poll and a government professor at UT-Austin. “The persistence of immigration and border security is one of the most fascinating things about these polls.”

He said other issues — the economy, health care, whatever might be prevalent at a given moment — rarely overwhelm Texas voters' concerns about border security and immigration. In this survey, 31% of Texas voters put those issues at the top of their list of most important problems facing the state; health care, at 11%, was next.

Almost half of the state’s voters, 47%, agree with this statement: “Undocumented immigrants currently living in the United States should be deported immediately.” Almost as many, 44%, disagree. Among Republicans, 77% agree with that statement, 47% strongly so. Among Democrats, 75% disagree, 56% strongly so.

Most Texans think the U.S. should be involved in the rest of the world; 54% disagreed with the statement, “This country would be better off if we just stayed home and did not concern ourselves with problems in other parts of the world.” Republicans were split, 47%-45%, with slightly more agreeing with that statement. Among Democrats, it was 29%-65%; among independents, 38%-48%.

Texas voters have mixed feelings about the state's recent growth: 41% said that growth has been good for Texas, but 31% said it has been bad. And more than a quarter — 28% — don’t have an opinion about it. Republicans had the strongest misgivings of any political group; 34% said growth has been good for the state, and 39% said it hasn’t. Democrats were more positive about the effects, with 49% saying growth has been good and only 24% saying it has been bad for the state.

Almost half of the state’s voters said the state’s increasing racial and ethnic diversity is a cause for optimism. Again, there were partisan differences: 66% of Democrats called the increase a cause for optimism, while only 33% of Republicans said so. And white (51%) and Hispanic voters (49%) were more likely than black voters (38%) to see cause for optimism. Among black voters, 42% said the increasing diversity is cause for concern, a point of view shared by 26% of white and 25% of Hispanic voters.

The University of Texas/Texas Tribune internet survey of 1,200 registered voters was conducted from Jan. 31 to Feb. 9 and has an overall margin of error of +/- 2.83 percentage points, and an overall margin of error of +/- 4.09 percentage points for Democratic trial ballots. Numbers in charts might not add up to 100% because of rounding.

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