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Half of Texans Consider COVID-19 a Crisis; Willingness to Get Vaccine Declines

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A mural in Austin, TX, painted after initial shutdowns in April 2020. Photo by Ampersand72, Flikr.

AUSTIN, Texas — The share of Texans who think that the coronavirus is a “significant crisis” continues to decrease, according to data from the latest in a series of polls measuring Texas attitudes toward the COVID-19 pandemic and Texans’ reported behavior in response to it.

In April, 66% of Texans felt that the coronavirus was a “significant crisis.” In June, that belief was held by 57%, and now in October, 53%. The latest poll, conducted Sept. 25 to Oct. 4 by The University of Texas at Austin and The Texas Tribune, repeats similar sets of questions from polls conducted in April and June.

A team of researchers affiliated with the Texas Politics Project and the Department of Government at The University of Texas at Austin designed the poll. The April and October polls were conducted in partnership with The Texas Tribune, and the June poll was conducted by the Texas Politics Project in response to the pandemic’s continuing impact on Texas. All three polls surveyed samples of 1,200 self-declared registered voters in Texas. Data was collected over the internet by YouGov.

“Most of this drop in perceived seriousness can be attributed to changes in the attitudes of Republicans and political independents,” said James Henson, co-director of the statewide poll and director of the Texas Politics Project at UT Austin. “Among Texas Democrats, the share saying that COVID-19 is a significant crisis has changed very little.”

The polls also registered a decrease between the June and October polls in the share of Texans who say they would try to get a coronavirus vaccine if it became available at low cost. Less than half of Texans (42%) said they would try to get a vaccine in the most recent poll, a significant drop from the 59% who said they would in the June UT/Texas Politics Project poll.

“It seems that the question of a COVID vaccine has become somewhat partisan,” said Daron Shaw, co-director of the poll and Frank C. Erwin, Jr. Chair of State Politics at UT Austin. “Beyond the normal reticence about vaccines, some others — mostly on the political left — are suspicious about the efficacy of a vaccine approved by people who might be influenced by the current administration.”

The polls showed that individuals’ concerns about community spread and contracting the virus continue to drop, even as case counts fluctuate. In April, 54% of Texans said that they were either “extremely” (28%) or “very” (26%) concerned about the spread of the coronavirus in their community, but that concern dropped to 47% in June and now stands at 40%. The share that are “not very” or “not at all” concerned has also seen an increase, from 17% in April, to 26% in June, to 30% in October.

Individual concern follows a similar pattern, with concern about contracting the coronavirus peaking in April at 54%, but then declining to 48% in June, and 44% in October. The share who report being unconcerned has risen from 17% to 27% to 32% during the same period.

“Ultimately, the decline in concern appears to reflect some groups’ accommodation of pandemic conditions, even if it doesn’t correspond with the actual, collective experience of the virus as a dire public health threat,” said Joshua Blank, research director for the Texas Politics Project.

As concerns dropped, Texans also became more lax about more serious social distancing practices. The share who say that they are “living normally, coming and going as usual” increased from 9% in April, to 19% in June, to 27% in October polling. The share “only leaving when they have to” or “not leaving home at all” has declined from 72% in April to 34% in October. However, more Texans report wearing masks when they do go out, with 87% saying they wear one when coming into contact with others outside their home in the most recent poll, up 6 points from 81% who said the same in June.

In April, 57% of Texans said that efforts to deal with the coronavirus were going well in the U.S., and 64% felt the same about those efforts in Texas. Today, only 45% say that efforts are going well in the U.S., 51% in Texas. The share saying that things are going badly has similarly increased from 40% to 49% when thinking about the country’s efforts, and from 29% to 44% when considering Texas.

The date files and supporting material for the latest poll are now available at the Texas Politics Project website. Publicly available resources also include hundreds of downloadable graphic files in multiple formats for both the overall sample and major subgroups for teaching, research and presentations. These include more than 180 items related to COVID-19 and the pandemic.

The October University of Texas/Texas Tribune Poll is the 41st statewide poll conducted in Texas by a team of researchers based in the Department of Government and the College of Liberal Arts at UT Austin. For access to data sets and thousands of graphics useful for teaching and presentations, visit their polling data archive.