We focus on five issues for our report: race, immigration, education, economy, and democracy. The issue of change is inherent in all of these focus areas: change, in each case, is perceived by some segments as welcomed and by others as a threat. We believe that these five issue areas, in addition to issues pertaining to religion and COVID-19 (public health), are the backbone of change in Texas: the type of state Texas becomes in the future will be defined by how the citizens of the state conceive, participate in, or prevent change in these areas.
The issue of race is a constant that defines Texas’ past, present, and future. The state is continuing to grapple with its history of slavery, role in the confederacy, and the impact of segregation. While this study finds widespread support for diversity and equality among Texans, we also uncover how racial issues expose the starkest contrasts across the Threads of Texas. These issues show up today in debates over renaming military bases, removing confederate statues, police brutality and reform, and how all of those issues are addressed in schools.
A slight majority of Texans believe racism continues to be a significant issue in Texas today, though there are sharp divides across the Threads. Almost all Lone Star Progressives (97%) believe that racism continues to be an important issue in Texas nowadays, while the vast majority of Heritage Defenders (86%) and Reverent Texans (72%) disagree.
Die-hard Texans and Rising Mavericks, which are 53% and 57% Hispanic, are rather ambivalent and split on their views. The diversity of their beliefs reflects the varied understandings and experiences of racism within the heterogeneous non-white racial groups, shaped by a multitude of societal and psychological factors.
“What a lot of us 60-something-year-old men like me would dismiss as political correctness, it might be something that a young black man or woman has had to live with for years. We might dismiss it as political correctness, while it may indeed be quite hurtful to them. I'm certainly trying to learn and grow in this time period.”
- Greg, Civic Pragmatist, Hispanic man, Baby Boomer
“As long as you treat each other respectfully, there is no difference between Texans. I mean, it's all over around here, Black people with white people, and it doesn't matter, as long as you treat each other with respect.”
- Bailey, Die-hard Texan, white woman, Baby Boomer
The issue of Confederate Civil War monuments and how to wrestle with Texas’ history have been a persistent point of tension among Texans. Around half of Texans view them as symbols of the country’s racism while the other half view them as symbols of southern pride. Segments who are especially proud of the Texas traditions — Die-hard Texans, Reverent Texans, and Heritage Defenders — are especially likely to view the monuments positively. Here again, Lone Star Progressives deviate starkly from the majority of Texans in thinking that statues are symbols of racism.
Similarly, Texans are relatively split on whether they regard mistreatment of racial minorities by law enforcement as part of a pattern of racism or as isolated incidents. However, in contrast to debate on Texas history, Reverent Texans and Heritage Defenders, rather than Lone Star Progressives, are the outliers. Majorities of Texans in other segments see police misconduct against Black Americans as indicative of a pattern of racism.
“Police brutality has been normalized to the point that it's traumatic, hurtful, and saddening. My family and I, we touch on it, speak our well wishes for one another, pray on each other's head. But we try not to dwell on it partly because we don't really have the luxury to do so. Because while that may be yesterday, something can happen today and tomorrow.”
– Darren, Black man, millennial
Immigration is central to the Texas story. Immigrants are part of all aspects of Texas society and workforce, from business owners to construction workers. Our study reveals that Texans across segments present intricately nuanced views on immigration, shaped by their understanding of who can be Texan, what it means to be Texan, and where Texas' future lies.
Assessment of the impact of immigration mostly falls along ideological lines, with more conservative segments (Reverent Texans and Heritage Defenders) saying there is a negative effect. Rising Mavericks, the segment with the highest proportion of immigrants (35%), followed by Apolitical Providers and Civic Pragmatists, believe that the effects are positive.
A key finding is that most fractures around immigration are less driven by fear of crime by immigrants, but stem from tension over whether American identity and traditional Texas culture will be preserved or irreversibly altered. Our study finds that Texans who subscribe to the “traditional ideas” of what it means to be Texan– speaking English, being born in Texas, being politically conservative and so on–are more likely to think negatively of immigration.
Among the Texas Threads, Die-hard Texans, Reverent Texans and Heritage Defenders are particularly defensive about safeguarding what they view as authentic “Texan culture.” They are more likely to feel alarmed by the cultural changes brought by the continuous influx of immigrants.
“Don't erase your own history and your culture, because Texas is known for its melting pot of diversity. Yes, bring your culture to us. But don't expect us to change our culture here.”
- Lily, Reverent Texan, white woman, Baby Boomer
“I kind of like guys who are a little contemptuous of the rules and regulations. I have some sympathy with the guy who comes to Texas, crosses the border, works hard and makes a success of himself. While the rational part of me says ‘he ought to be legalized,’ I also kind of admire the sort of spirit that it takes to do that. I think that guy is as much as Texan as anybody else.”
- Jack, Civic Pragmatist, white man, Baby Boomer
Despite the stark differences in attitudes toward immigration, our study also identifies key common ground: nearly all Texans agree that the current immigration process is inefficient and reform is urgently needed.
“I was born and raised in Mexico. It took me seven years to get my green card, to do the right way. But I see kids running away from gangs, from political persecution. They come here asking for asylum. The government has to fix it to make it more fair because there are big loopholes.”
– Hugo, El Paso Resident, Hispanic man, Generation X
Texans’ diverse interpretations of change with regards to a variety of issues are also mirrored in their differing evaluation and expectations of the local education system. About one in five Texans (19%) cite education as one of the top three issues facing Texans today. Texans are proud of their education system, both on the K-12 level and public higher education, even as they worry about inequalities in school quality and funding.
Despite the expansion of knowledge economies in the state, almost two-thirds of Texans believe that the education system in Texas should equip young people with applicable trade skills. Only Lone Star Progressives and Rising Mavericks, the segment with the largest percentage of young Texans, are fairly divided between prioritizing trade skills or higher education.
“The quality of the schools is based on your socioeconomic status. I was blown away when I looked at the education levels of people that live in the different areas. How much taxes you’re paying will dictate the quality of your schools. It's unfortunate but that's how it is.”
– Caroline, Black woman, Generation X
A fault line in education appears in the question on teaching Texas history. This tension is associated with the broader conversation about how to address the racial injustices in Texas’ past. Heritage Defenders, Reverent Texans, and Die-hard Texans favor a focus on Texas’ proud history, whereas the other segments believe that teaching students about the state’s racial injustices is necessary.
“I think Texas’ history of slavery should be taught, but also supplemented with ways to equip kids on how they can help, how they can change other people's opinions, and how to help the United States kind of grow forward.”
– Teresa, Civic Pragmatist, white woman, Generation X
“Students should definitely be taught the history of slavery and segregation, so that they can understand what people of color went through, and they can learn to do better as a society.”
– Tina, Rising Maverick, Asian woman, Generation Z
Texas is an economic powerhouse: it has the 9th largest economy in the United States. While the energy sector remains one of the biggest contributors to the state’s GDP, Texas has also seen rapid growth in the high tech sector. The growth of knowledge economies, however, also has created schism among Texans on the future of Texan economy. Around one third (31%) of Texans chose “Economy/Jobs” as one of the top 3 most important issues facing Texas.
Texans are split in their views on the drivers of the state’s economic success in the future. The majority of Rising Mavericks, Reverent Texans, and Heritage Defenders believe that entrepreneurs will take the determining role. Given traditional perceptions of Texan values, it is perhaps surprising that not just a large number of Lone Star Progressives, but even one in three Texans with conservative values emphasizes the centrality of collective endeavors in determining Texas’ future.
As Texans look ahead, a clear majority believe that the state’s future lies in knowledge-based industries–including those in tech, healthcare and education sectors–and not in the oil and gas industries that have built prosperity in the past. Reverent Texans and Heritage Defenders are less convinced, with almost two-thirds seeing oil and gas as central to Texas’ economic future.
However, some believe that the arrival of the tech industry creates growth opportunities and synergies for not only knowledge economies but also the traditional sectors.
“The oil and gas industry is ripe for disruption and technical modernization. There is an enormous amount of activities going on in the start up scene related to the innovation of the energy sector. Now you’ve got more young people coming to the oil and gas field – they are much more open and understand the power of technology. I don’t see the oil and gas industry in decline.”
– Tyler, entrepreneur
“I don’t want Texas to be dependent on agriculture or energy. It’s nice we have a huge technology industry. Knowledge economy has bled over into agriculture. There are things we’re utilizing right now that we wouldn’t dream of 20 years ago. Self-driving tractors, real time data on fertilizer in the field… it’s been very beneficial. I think the more diverse the economy, the better.”
– George, agricultural industry
How Texans vote and engage with politics has always attracted national attention. Recent efforts to understand and predict the voting patterns of the Lone Star state have focused on the potential political impacts of demographic changes. However, this study shows that demographic breakdown and a rigid liberal-versus-conservative or newcomers-versus-oldtimers framework often obscures the significant variation of how Texans view politics, governance, and democracy.
Contrary to conventional wisdom on Texas’ independent and libertarian tendencies, our study finds that Texans are more evenly split in their views on the scale of government. A majority of Lone Star Progressives, Rising Mavericks, Apolitical Providers and Civic Pragmatists believe that the government should take more responsibility. Die-hard Texans are split evenly, whereas an overwhelming majority of Heritage Defenders and Reverent Texans think that people should take more responsibility for themselves.
How American democracy currently works is not perfect in Texans’ eyes. The top concern cited by Texans is the influence that they perceive money has in politics. The conservative-leaning segments, Heritage Defenders and Reverent Texans, are especially concerned that the media is unreliable. Around two thirds of Lone Star Progressives, one third of Civic Pragmatists and one in five Rising Mavericks express apprehension over voter suppression, whereas few Heritage Defenders share the concern.
With respect to the 2020 election, Reverent Texans and Heritage Defenders are more likely to articulate doubts about the integrity of the election and the veracity of the information about the election.
“I think that democracy is mostly working, but there has been a lot of voter suppression this year in Texas – from the suppression of mail-in ballots and accessibility to just voter registration itself. There are a lot of reforms and changes that need to be made to ensure that the system is democratic.”
– Zayne, Rising Maverick, white man, Generation Z
“There's so much information and misinformation about what happened, it's hard to understand what actually transpired. I want to believe that everything was done fairly. But then there's that other part of me that believes in conspiracy and thinks that maybe the election result wasn't that accurate.”
– Alejandro, Reverent Texan, Hispanic man, Generation X
A sentiment held by most Texans is that in general, politicians do not care about them. Despite their sharply different levels of civic engagement and views on political issues, the majority across all segments agree with the statement that “Politicians don’t care about people like me.”
Faith plays a critical role in Texas – around 70% of Texans say religion is important in their lives. Despite differences in psychological orientation and ideological beliefs, most segments affirm the significance of religion, with Lone Star Progressives as the outlier. Faith is especially important to Reverent Texans, with 86% agreeing that religion is a crucial part of their lives and about half (47%) attending religious services at least once a week – the highest rate of church attendance out of all the Texas Threads.
For some Texans, faith provides a trusting community, a unifying identity amidst changes, and a platform that rallies people of different backgrounds together:
“We have had a lot of immigrants crossing the border of Hispanic descent and the majority of them look to Catholicism as something they can bring from their origins and it’s a continuation of something for them. When you’re in church, you’re not viewed as any differently as the person sitting next to you in the pew.”
– Sandra, Catholic Cathedral staff member
While most of the Texas Threads deem religion as important in their private lives, they vary significantly on their views on religion’s influence in Texas. Ninety percent of Lone Star Progressives believe that religion has too much influence in Texas politics, whereas over 75% of Reverent Texans and Heritage Defenders and over 60% of Die-hard Texans think religious influence is too little. The remaining segments are equally split.
“I think religion is a huge issue in Texas. Our society is becoming less tolerant toward other religions, and we're kind of on the verge of becoming a theocracy in Texas. It's become a subject in Texas you just can't talk about.”
– Rebecca, Lone Star Progressive, white woman, Generation X
2020 was a difficult year for Texans. Many lost their loved ones to the pandemic, coupled with job losses, business shutdown, school closure and the negative impact of lockdown on mental health. Debates on COVID-19 restrictions, mask mandates and vaccine rollout have persisted into 2021, as well as discussions on how the pandemic has revealed and reinforced entrenched economic and racial inequalities.
During the summer of 2020, the Texas Threads had wide-ranging reactions to the COVID-19 restrictions implemented in Texas. Over 90% of Lone Star Progressives and 60% of Apolitical Providers thought that the restrictions had not been sufficient enough in proportion to the severity of the pandemic.
A majority of Die-hard Texans, Civic Pragmatists and Rising Mavericks shared similar views, although around 30% of these segments believed that the restrictions were just enough.
On the other hand, almost half of Heritage Defenders and 37% of Reverent Texans saw the COVID-19 restrictions as overly restrictive.
“It's understandable the economy needs to grow but I believe there are certain things that we need to improve in our society rather than just keeping it open and exposing people to the virus.”
– Bryan, Apolitical Provider, hispanic man, Millennial
“I think the restrictions were far too excessive. They took power away from the people illegally.”
– Jacob, Heritage Defender, white man, Generation X
In February 2021, Texas was struck by a major winter storm that left millions of residents without power and water for several days. The power grid failure triggered heated discussions on the role of government and the impact of deregulation; yet it also prompted countless acts of kindness and a feeling of solidarity, as Texans regardless of backgrounds and beliefs helped friends, neighbors and strangers weather the crisis collectively.
Our research finds that from the devastating winter storm emerges a Texas ready and eager for substantial changes. When asked about whether they hope for a return to normal or major changes to the state, 70 percent of Texans favor the latter. Even around half of Heritage Defenders, who are typically very cautious about change, express a desire for significant transformation.
“The problems of climate change are not specific only to Texas, what’s challenging in Texas are the obstacles to dealing with the problems. We are stunted in our ability to be able to address those problems as a state.”
– John, environmental justice activist
“What you have seen is really a push to understand the historical context of some populations’ relationship to the healthcare system, to still educate individuals about the disease and the vaccine, and to do the best we can with limited supplies of vaccines. It’s been hard. But what I can say is that there's definitely light at the end of the tunnel. So if there's any silver lining during this pandemic, we saw what it means to have a collective voice to come together.”
- Maya, healthcare worker
The pandemic and the winter storm of 2021 have clarified that the state is at an inflection point. Texans can choose a path of bitter partisan discourse, or harness their shared values to build a robust and inclusive future. The challenge lies in finding ways to harness Texans’ commonalities to work together more constructively. This study aims to help Texans chart that course, building on the shared story of both the heritage and vision for an ideal future of Texas.
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