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New poll shows Texans' faith in democracy and public education is declining

Gabriel C. Pérez

More than two years since a mob attacked the U.S. Capitol in an attempt to overturn the 2020 presidential election results, a new survey released Friday found that fewer Texans are certain democracy is the best form of government.

The survey, conducted by the nonprofit Texas Lyceum, found that — of the 1,200 Texas adults asked — only 40% “strongly agree” that democracy is the best form of government. That’s a 13% drop from the group’s 2019 poll.

Joshua Blank, the research director of the Texas Lyceum, told The Texas Newsroom it’s unusual to see such large attitude shifts happen over just a few years.

“It’s not like the majority of Texans don’t agree that democracy is the best form of government, but it’s not moving in the right direction,” Blank said. “No one would deny it’s moving in the wrong direction.”

According to the poll, 14% of the respondents said they didn’t know or had no opinion on whether democracy is the best form of government. In 2019, no one said they didn’t know.

“The last few years of politics, democracy, government— including a non-peaceful transfer of power — has unsurprisingly led a lot of people to question whether or not democracy works in the 21st century,” Blank said.

The latest results show a real erosion in trust in some of the main institutions of America, including the education system.

The poll, conducted from Jan. 6 to Jan. 12, also found what Blank called an “astronomical” change in Texans’ opinion on public education.

In 2022, 63% of Texas adults rated the quality of K-12 education as excellent or good. Meanwhile, 23% rated it as either poor or terrible.

But in 2023, the percentage of Texas adults who rated the quality of K-12 as excellent or good dropped to 55%. The percentage of those who rated it as poor or terrible increased to 39%.

“The reality is it’s impossible to say exactly what led to that, but it's pretty easy to surmise that the long tail of COVID-related closures and changes to education have had an impact, but also the explicit politicization of K-12 public education with culture war issues,” Blank said. “So, it's not surprising to see these negative evaluations take hold. It's surprising that it happened so quickly.”

Blank said these results show “the list of the things we agreed on seems to be getting smaller and smaller year by year.”

He thinks that could mean bad news for the future.

“Two fundamental institutions of American culture have been democracy and public education,” Blank said. “And to see both declining in the public's mind at the rate we are seeing is troubling because if these institutions cannot maintain public support, what can?”

Texans disapprove of Biden, Abbott’s job

The poll also found that Gov. Greg Abbott’s approval rating has hit an all-time low.

Abbott easily won his reelection for a third term in November by 11 points against Democratic nominee Beto O’Rourke.

But, according to the poll, 48% of Texans either somewhat or strongly disapprove of the job Abbott is doing as governor. That’s in contrast with 47% of Texans who answered the same in 2022.

Meanwhile, 46% said this time they either somewhat or strongly approve of Abbott’s job. That’s a one percent drop from 2022.

For President Joe Biden, the numbers look similar: 55% said he was doing a somewhat poor or very poor job as president. Only 40% said he was doing a very good job or somewhat good job.

In 2022, 44% said he was doing a good or very good job, while 54% said the opposite.

Copyright 2023 KUT 90.5. To see more, visit KUT 90.5.

Sergio Martínez-Beltrán is Nashville Public Radio’s political reporter. Prior to moving to Nashville, Sergio covered education for the Standard-Examiner newspaper in Ogden, Utah. He is a Puerto Rico native and his work has also appeared on NPR station WKAR, San Antonio Express-News, Inter News Service, GFR Media and WMIZ 1270 AM.