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UT poll shows the majority of Texans support raising the minimum age to buy a gun to 21

 University of Texas students Pedro Pinales, left to right, Ashlynn Turbett and Alyssa Navarro march with thousands of people from Austin's City Hall to the Texas Capitol to rally against gun violence in 2018.
Montinique Monroe for KUT News
University of Texas students Pedro Pinales, left to right, Ashlynn Turbett and Alyssa Navarro march with thousands of people from Austin's City Hall to the Texas Capitol to rally against gun violence in 2018.

With a new presidential season looming and a Texas Legislature racing to wrap up work on a number of issues, a new survey from a highly respected team of pollsters offers some interesting insights into what Texans are thinking right now.

Joshua Blank, the director of research for the Texas Politics Project at the University of Texas at Austin, said his main takeaway from a poll released this week is that Texans are focused on “bread and butter” issues.

“As much as coverage of really hot button topics and particular pieces of legislation gains a lot of attention, the reality is that the fat part of the electorate is focused on things we kind of expect them to be focused on: the reliability of the electric grid, the reliability of the water supply, you know, a property tax reduction for sure, but also school safety,” Blank said. “Once you start to dive in a little bit more, you start to see where some of these hot button issues are getting their drive. But really, when you say what voters are focused on, they’re focused on the operation of the state.”

The poll also showed that the majority of Texans support raising the age to purchase a firearm from 18 to 21.

“Three quarters of Texans say that they would support raising the age to purchase a firearm from 18 to 21. That included 91% of Democrats and 64% of Republicans,” Blank said. “This is a consistent finding, to be quite honest. We’ve asked this question before. We’ve asked similar questions. So there’s an appetite in some ways for stricter gun laws in Texas. It’s just not something that is politically palatable in the process that we have.”

Blank said this is partly because politicians are not always in sync with the majority of voters. But the situation is also more complicated than that.

“The Republican majority in the state has a difficult problem, which is that ultimately there are continuous acts of gun violence that in and of themselves don’t change people’s opinions, but are accumulating to make people look at guns more as a problem,” Blank said. “At the same time, there’s another question that we didn’t ask on this poll, but I think really gets to the heart of this, which is when we ask Texans, ‘do you think that Americans would be safer or less safe if more people had guns?’ About three quarters or more of Democrats will say, ‘oh, well, people would be less safe if there were more guns.’ But about two thirds of Republicans say ‘no, people would be more safe.’”

As is often the case with polling, it comes down to how you phrase the question, Blank said.

“I think what it speaks to is the fact that for Republicans in Texas, there’s probably an openness to nibble around the edges when it comes to gun laws,” he said. “But the fundamental attitude is that guns are a means to safety. And so it’s hard to ask, I think, Republican elected officials to really push through on something that, in the end, they’re not really going to want to have to defend publicly after they pass it.”

When it comes to the 2024 presidential election, Blank said it is way too early to predict how certain candidates would fare against each other. However, he said the poll can give us insight into which candidates have high favorability among likely voters.

“We wanted to do a little heat check on a number of the Republican candidates that are stirring in the 2024 election. And what’s really remarkable, I think, is just how highly viewed a number of these Republican candidates are among the Republican electorate in Texas,” he said. “78% of Republicans hold a favorable view of Donald Trump, but 73% hold a favorable view of Florida governor Ron DeSantis. Now, that might not sound surprising, given how much Ron DeSantis has been in the news. But it’s really surprising to see such high name recognition for a Republican candidate who is an out-of-state politician.”

Blank said 46% of Republicans have a favorable view of Sen. Tim Scott from South Carolina — only 6% have an unfavorable view. The rest don’t know him yet.

“The fact that, you know, basically a majority of Republicans already have a view of the South Carolina senator and it’s 90% positive is really remarkable,” Blank said. “If this were any other election year, you’d be thinking about what a field this is. But right now, it’s actually Donald Trump’s nomination to lose in some ways.”

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

Sarah Asch