Latest Texas Poll Shows Strong Support for Governor’s Border Policies

Migrant busing, lawsuits, SB 4, and the wall are all really popular in the Lone Star State

By Andrew R. Arthur on May 3, 2024

Nationally, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott has taken a lot of heat for his border policies, be it busing migrants to northern cities, criminalizing illegal entries into the state, suing the administration over the president’s border policies, and erecting border barriers at the Rio Grande, but a recent poll from the Texas Politics Project at the University of Texas (UT) shows that his stance is playing well in the one place that really matters — with the voters in his state.

That poll was conducted between April 12 and 22 and surveyed 1,200 registered voters in the Lone Star State, with a margin of error of +/- 2.83 percent.

“What Would You Say Is the Most Important Problem ...”. Respondents were asked what the most important problem facing the country today is, and inflation came out on top, the choice of 16 percent of those polled. “The economy” finished third, at 10 percent, meaning that financial concerns combined were viewed as a national problem by more than a quarter of those polled.

Sandwiched between inflation and the economy, however, was “immigration”, the choice of 13 percent of respondents, and directly following the economy was “border security”, at 9 percent. Combined, therefore, immigration and border issues were viewed as the biggest problem facing the country by 22 percent of respondents.

Texas being Texas, the pollsters then asked respondents what the biggest problem facing their state was, and that order above was more than reversed: 20 percent — one-fifth of all respondents — identified immigration as the biggest issue facing Texas, and 19 percent said it was “border security” — 39 percent all told.

The two pocketbook issues — inflation and the economy — were identified as the most important issue facing Texas by just 9 percent and 6 percent of respondents, respectively, for a total of 15 percent.

That itself is remarkable, given that its more than 400 miles between Amarillo (in the panhandle) and the closest point at the Southwest border (in Langtry on the Rio Grande), and hours in driving distance from the border to major metropolitan centers like Dallas/Fort Worth and Houston. And yet, all Texans are all feeling the heat from what’s happening at the international boundary.

Border Concerns. UT then asked respondents their thoughts on whether they deemed the number of migrants attempting to cross the Southwest border “a crisis”, “a very serious problem, but not a crisis”, “a somewhat serious problem”, “not much of a problem”, or a subject on which they didn’t have an opinion.

In response, 48 percent of those polled deemed illegal immigration at the Mexican border a crisis, 23 percent stated that it was a serious problem, 19 percent deemed it a somewhat serious problem, and just 8 percent believed it wasn’t that big of a deal.

Those responses were fairly consistent with polling done two months earlier in February, which indicates that Texans by and large are concerned about the border and that not much the Biden administration has done of late has ameliorated those apprehensions.

More telling, however, was the next question, which asked respondents in each camp whether their concerns were related to one or more of six specific impacts of illegal migration.

In response, 59 percent of those who deemed the border a crisis had concerns about the strains those migrants are having on local resources; 57 percent about their impact of national security; 56 percent about crime; 53 percent their impact on the economy; 36 percent on the effect that they would have on U.S. culture; and 31 percent about the effects on the migrants and their wellbeing.

The ”somewhat concerned” cohort put the wellbeing of the migrants at the top of their list (a 37 percent response), followed by local resources (28 percent), culture (25 percent), crime (23 percent), national security (22 percent), and the economy (21 percent).

Interestingly, both the “not too concerned” and the “not concerned at all” folks were most concerned about the impact those migrants would have on American culture (an 18 percent and 20 percent response, respectively), followed by economic impacts for those who were not too concerned about illegal migration (17 percent) and the impact on the migrants themselves for those who aren’t concerned at all (14 percent).

Those responses deserve a much fuller analysis than I can offer here, but it’s safe to say that the nearly half of Texas voters who believe the border is a full-blown crisis have high levels of anxiety with nearly every negative aspect of illegal immigration.

Proper Federal Response. Respondents were next asked what the federal government should do about illegal immigration, and more than half — 52 percent — strongly supported increasing Border Patrol resources, while 81 percent in total supported such a move to one degree or another (just 13 percent opposed such action).

That was the most popular response, followed by 72 percent who supported increasing the number of immigration judges and other staff; 70 percent who want to penalize businesses that hire unauthorized aliens; 67 percent who want to increase deportations of those already here; 63 percent who want to expand opportunities for aliens to come here legally; an equal percentage (63 percent) who want to expand the Southwest border wall; 57 percent who want to make it harder for “asylum seekers” to obtain temporary legal status here; 56 percent who want to increase resources available for migrants; and just 41 percent who want to send aid to migrant-sending countries.

That latter response to illegal migration, of course, is the basis of the Biden administration’s “root causes” strategy of expanding economic opportunities for would-be illegal migrants in Central America, and in that vein, it should be noted that 46 percent oppose shipping aid abroad to stem illegal migration.

It’s especially curious, however, that exactly equal percentages of respondents support both expanding legal immigration opportunities and “building the wall”, but even more notable is that equal percentages of respondents (29 percent in each case) oppose such action.

Plainly the opinions of Texas voters about what the administration should do to stem the tide of illegal migrants are all over the map, but what’s clear is that they want something done.

That said, when asked which of these options would be most effective, a plurality (19 percent) chose the wall, followed by expanding opportunities for aliens to come legally (16 percent), increasing deportations (13 percent), expanding Border Patrol resources (also 13 percent), and making it harder for asylum seekers to temporarily stay (10 percent).

The “root causes” idea came in dead last, at 5 percent.

Support For Texas’ Border Policies. Finally, respondents were asked whether they supported or opposed various initiatives the state of Texas has taken to secure the Southwest border.

“Deploying additional state police and military resources to the border between Texas and Mexico”—the key component of “Operation Lone Star”, which Abbott implemented beginning in March 2021 — was the most popular among Texas voters in this poll, with 69 percent of respondents in support and 25 percent in opposition.

In second place was “constructing and/or repairing walls or physical barriers on the border between Texas and Mexico”, supported by 65 percent of the respondents in the UT poll, and opposed by 28 percent.

I’ll skip over the third most popular state initiative for a moment to go to the fourth-place finisher, “placing buoys and barbed wire at the Rio Grande River to deter migration”, again part of Lone Star, which was supported by 58 percent of those polled (36 percent of whom opposed).

President Biden is likely not relying on Texas’ 40 electoral votes in November, but this is likely bad news for an administration currently suing the state in federal court for the right to remove both the buoys and portions of the wire in Maverick County (Eagle Pass and its environs).

Next in popularity is “suing the federal government over federal immigration policies”, which enjoys the support of more than half — 54 percent — of Texas voters polled. That is an option the state has definitely chosen with gusto, albeit with mixed results (at best).

“Paying to bus foreign migrants awaiting their asylum hearings to other parts of the country outside Texas”, a policy Abbott implemented beginning in April 2022 to the dismay of the mayors of Washington, D.C., New York City, Chicago, and other “sanctuary” jurisdictions, was supported by just over half, 51 percent, of respondents. On the flip side, just 39 percent of those polled opposed the busing scheme.

The least popular Texas policy polled was “preventing U.S. Border Patrol agents from accessing parts of the Texas-Mexico border”, which a majority (51 percent) opposed and just 31 percent supported.

To the best of my knowledge, the only area the state had barred agents from entering was Shelby Park, in Eagle Pass, and even then only during a Supreme Court showdown over CBP’s right to cut the Maverick County wire in January.

Which brings me to the third most popular Texas state border initiative in the UT poll: “Making it a state crime for an undocumented immigrant to be in Texas in most circumstances”, which actually drew a surprising amount of support given all the folderol nationally — and locally — that has surrounded it.

The initiative in question is Senate Bill 4 (SB 4), which would, inter alia, make it a misdemeanor for an alien to cross the border into Texas illegally. SB 4 was supposed to go into effect on March 1, but thus far the Biden administration has successfully blocked its implementation in federal court.

Despite that fact (or possibly in part because of it) 62 percent of Texas voters in this poll supported the law, compared to just 30 percent who opposed criminalizing illegal status. That 2-to-1 margin likely doesn’t sit well with the Texas Democratic party, which has branded SB 4 a “racist ... anti-immigration law”.

Operation Lone Star and the other state border initiatives described above have cost Texas taxpayers billions of dollars, and yet they still garner widespread support from voters. That’s because, as the UT poll reveals, Texans are uniquely concerned about the implications — on their state and the nation — of insecurity at the U.S.-Mexico line.