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Most white Texas voters believe the deaths of Black people in police custody aren’t a systemic problem

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(TEXAS TRIBUNE) – Public opinion is split, however, on a crucial question about police behavior: whether the deaths of Black people in encounters with police are isolated incidents or a sign of broader problems.

Most Texas voters have a favorable opinion of police, feel safe where they live and don’t think police budgets should be cut, according to the latest University of Texas/Texas Tribune Poll. Public opinion is split, however, on a crucial question about police behavior: whether the deaths of Black people in encounters with police are isolated incidents or a sign of broader problems.

Overall, 45% of Texas voters said those deaths are a sign of broader problems, an opinion shared by 72% of Black voters, 53% of Hispanic voters and 36% of white voters.

The same percentage of voters — 45% — believes those deaths are isolated incidents. That view is shared by 16% of Black voters, 34% of Hispanic voters and 56% of white voters.

Among Republican voters, 78% said the deaths are isolated incidents; Democrats, 83% said the deaths are a sign of broader problems.

Texas voters have mixed views about the state’s increasing racial and ethnic diversity. A plurality of 40% said it should be a cause for optimism, while almost a third — 31% — said rising diversity is a cause for concern. That 9-percentage-point difference is markedly different from what voters were saying a year ago. In a Feb. 2020 UT/TT Poll, 49% were optimistic about the increasing diversity of the state and 28% were concerned — a 21-percentage-point difference.

In the most recent survey, the optimistic view was shared by 59% of Democrats and 25% of Republicans, the concerned opinion by 29% of Democrats and 35% of Republicans.

A significant number of Republicans — 39% — said they either didn’t know or didn’t have an opinion. Similar shares of Black (38%), Hispanic (40%) and white voters (42%) said increasing diversity is a cause for optimism. While 28% of white and Hispanic voters said it’s a cause for concern, 46% of Black voters said so.

A majority of Texas voters (62%) have a favorable opinion of police; only 20% said they have an unfavorable opinion. White voters have a more favorable opinion (70%) than Black voters (37%) and Hispanic voters (63%). Police are viewed negatively by 17% of white voters, 34% of Black voters and 16% of Hispanic voters. Republican voters are overwhelmingly positive about law enforcement: 85% have favorable opinions of police. Among Democrats, 43% view police positively, 33% view them negatively and 22% said they have a neutral view of police.

“There is a duality. Nobody wants to live in a place without police,” said Daron Shaw, co-director of the poll and a government professor at the University of Texas at Austin. “Police are necessary and important in these communities, but that doesn’t mean they’re doing a good job.”

A large majority of Texans (85%) said they feel very or somewhat safe where they live — a feeling that reaches across all of the groups in the poll, including Hispanic (81%), Black (75%) and white voters (91%); Democrats (84%) and Republicans (89%); and men and women (86% each).

And those voters generally don’t agree with calls to cut police spending: 40% would increase police spending a little or a lot, and 76% would either increase spending or leave it about where it is now. Only 17% would cut spending a little or a lot. That last group includes just 4% of Republicans and 29% of Democrats. Only 14% of white voters would cut police budgets, as would 23% of Black voters and 18% of Hispanic voters.

“You can think institutional racism is a problem in police departments without wanting to take their money away,” said Joshua Blank, research director for the Texas Politics Project at UT-Austin.

“The political argument has become warped into a set of positions that no one actually holds,” Blank said, noting that 64% of Democrats would either increase police spending or leave it alone.

The University of Texas/Texas Tribune internet survey of 1,200 registered voters was conducted from Feb. 12-18 and has an overall margin of error of +/- 2.83 percentage points. Numbers in charts might not add up to 100% because of rounding.

Disclosure: The University of Texas at Austin has been a financial supporter of The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan news organization that is funded in part by donations from members, foundations and corporate sponsors. Financial supporters play no role in the Tribune’s journalism. Find a complete list of them here.

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