What Texans are thinking

The Texas Tribune’s February poll of 800 registered voters is a good opportunity to look at what Texans are thinking going into the 2010 election. The Tribune did a number of stories based on these polls (“Accentuate the Negative,” “Survey says…” and  “Meet the Flinstones“) and I found a number of questions that deserved some mention.

Interest in politics

“Generally speaking, would you say that you are extremely interested in politics and public affairs, somewhat interested, not very interested, or not interested at all?”

Chart of Texan's interest in public affair

Anyone who has taught the subject or talked to most citizen knows some of these people are lying. It’s a good example of “social desirability bias.” Social desirability bias leads citizens to respond to questions in a way that they believe to be social desirable. Poll respondents frequently over-report voting.

Job approval

“How would you rate the job Barack Obama has done as president? Would you say that you…”
“How would you rate the job Rick Perry has done as governor? Would you say that you…”

Chart comparing job approval of President Obama and Governor PeryNote that approval (combining approving “strongly” and “somewhat”)  you get 41% approval for Obama and 48% for Perry. While Obama’s approval is clearly lower in Texas, Perry’s approval is much lower than you’d expect for a governor going into reelection. Both are suffering somewhat from the state of the economy.

Political ideology

“On a scale from 1 to 7, where 1 is extremely liberal, 7 is extremely conservative, and 4 is exactly in the middle, where would you place yourself?”

Chart of Texans' self-reported political ideology

Texans are clearly in the conservative category. However, note that just over one in four Texans put themselves exactly in the middle. Moderates usually feel ignored by both parties. The race to the base in the primaries has been clear as candidates in the primaries have pursued the more extreme party activists. Turning around and claiming those moderates could prove critical in the general election.

Gay marriage

“What is your opinion on gay marriage or civil unions?”

Chart of Texans' opinions on gay-lesbian marriage or civil unionsThe level of support for gay marriages or civil unions may surprise some people. However, Texas conservatism has always included a strong libertarian element. Few candidates have been willing to disappoint religious conservatives, but many Texas conservatives don’t care about regulating the private lives of others. As the chart shows, almost as many Texans (28%) support gay marriage as oppose it (30%). The support of the 35% of Texans who support civil unions reveal that many Texans have some sympathy for these couples.

If you get into the 225 pages of detailed crosstabulations that the Texas Tribune provides, you see that while only 3% of  self-described “extreme” conservatives opposed the rights of gays to marry, about 40% support their right to enjoy civil unions. The chart below also reveals a small divide on gay marriage on the left. Some of this may result from some Catholic voters who are liberal on some social programs but conservative on social issues like marriage and abortion.

Chart of support-opposition to gay marriage by ideology

Home state pride

“How strongly do you agree or disagree with the following statement: Generally speaking, the way state government runs in Texas serves as a good model for other states to follow?”

Chart of Texans' agreement that Texas is a good model for other states.

It’s tempting to say that Texans are endorsing their government. However, note that later in the survey only 31% of respondents will correctly answer the question about how often the Texas Legislature meets. In fact, the most popular answer was every year (36%) with the correct answer (every other year) finishing at only 31%. It’s hard to say what Texans mean when we say our government is a model to follow when we don’t know much about what our model looks like.

The Origin of our Species

Texans have some pretty interesting views about how long we’ve been around where we came from.

For example, 30% of Texans agreed with the statement:”The earliest humans lived at the same time as the dinosaurs.” Another 30% Texans responded “Don’t know.” Those “don’t knows” are interesting to me since evolution has been a pretty public debate since the Scopes Monkey Trail in 1925 brought William Jennings Bryan and Clarence Darrow into a very public debate about our origins. Also, dinosaurs certain get their share of attention on the Discovery channel. You would think that after almost a century of debating these things that Texans would have made up their mind about this issue. If we lived at the same time as dinosaurs, that debate about whether T-Rex was a predator or scavenger become much more personal.

The relationship between these attitudes on the origins of life and political life is complicated. There is some relationship between the belief that humans lived at the same time as dinosaurs and political philosophy.

You can see that agreement with the idea that dinosaurs lived at the same time as humans generally goes up as you move from left to right on the political spectrum while disagreement generally trends the other way. However, the picture is mixed with the exact middle of the ideological scale showing the most belief in dinosaurs and humans together.  Actually, moderates are pretty evenly divided between agree (34.9%), disagree (29.8%), and don’t know (35.8%).  In addition, belief in humans co-existing with dinosaurs declines as education increases and increases with age. Check the last couple of pages of cross tabulations if you want to do you own speculation on who believes what about dinosaurs.

The question on dinosaurs and people is the product of the research of Professor David Prindle. You can read some of his comments about the results in the original Tribune article (“Meet the Flinstones“).

A Pew Center Poll found that 87% of scientists agree with the statement that humans and other living things developed through a natural process.In contrast, the Tribune’s poll found that 38% of Texans believe that “God created human beings pretty much in their present form about 10,000 years ago.”  I don’t know what percentage of scientists believe that the earth is only about 10,000 years old. However, I’m sure it’s very, very small. Anyway, it’s clear that Texans don’t see eye-to-eye with most scientists.

The science questions are interesting to me since science education has become an obsession. Why are we spending so much time teaching kids science if we’re going to ignore what science says?


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