New UH Survey Finds Last Year’s Winter Storm Still Lingers in Minds of Voters

On Utility Grid’s Readiness for Rough Weather in 2022, Respondents Were Almost Evenly Split

photo of Winter Storm Uri in 2021
Millions of Texas homes and businesses lost electrical power during Winter Storm Uri in 2021. This year, state officials and energy companies promise Texans the state's electrical grids will stand up to a storm, even one that brings extreme cold weather. A new UH Hobby School of Public Affairs survey looks into what Texas voters think about the issue. Photo: Houston during Winter Storm Uri, February 2021. Getty Images.

A new survey from the University of Houston Hobby School of Public Affairs finds Texans divided about assurances that new state laws will be enough to keep them from losing electrical power and heat if another big freeze happens this winter. They were less divided, however, over how much influence elected officials’ track records in storm-proofing the state’s power grid will have on their voting choices in 2022, especially the high-stakes race for governor between Republican incumbent Greg Abbott and Democrat challenger Beto O’Rourke.

The statewide survey – “Texas 2022 Elections & Issues - How Ready is Texas for Another Winter Storm?” – sought opinions from 1,400 English- and Spanish-speaking registered voters on politics of the storm and winterization actions taken by the state government and the energy sector since the polar vortex of Winter Storm Uri stranded millions of Texans last February without electrical power or heat.

“Early voting for Texas primaries begins on Feb. 14, which is the one-year anniversary of Winter Storm Uri. Memories of the storm remain fresh in terms of politics. We found a majority of Texans saying that the state’s legislative response to the storm’s wrath will be important when determining which candidates to support in 2022,” said Renée Cross, senior director of the UH Hobby School.

“Gov. Abbott has staked his political reputation and possibly his prospects for re-election on the resiliency of the Texas electrical grid in the face of cold weather. If the power goes out again like last year, half of Texas voters will hold Abbott responsible, and that could provide a glimmer of hope for O’Rourke’s long shot bid for governor,” said Mark Jones, UH Hobby School senior research fellow and Rice University fellow in political science.

According to the survey, 53% of respondents believe the state laws adequately address the issue and Texans have no further need to worry about being left in the cold. But 47% believe not enough has been done and that a return trip to the deep freeze could be pending.

Regarding weatherization, while 74% of survey respondents believe the Texas electricity generation companies have successfully weatherized their plants, only 55% feel the same way about the upstream and midstream natural gas industry, which is seen by many Texans as the weak link in the state’s energy matrix.

If Texas were to experience another power outage due to cold weather, similar to that in February 2021, more than two-thirds (70%) say they will hold the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT) responsible, and nearly half will hold Gov. Abbott (49%) and the Public Utility Commission of Texas (47%) accountable. 

Despite the Texas Railroad Commission’s prominent role regulating the state’s oil and gas industry, only 17% of survey participants would hold the commission responsible.

Looking ahead to the November 2022 election, amajority (56%) of survey participants will consider how effectively state elected officials responded to the 2021 winter storm when making vote decisions this year, with nearly one quarter (24%) saying the response will be a very important factor and 32% reporting that it would be one of several factors.

A majority of Texans approve of expanding the country’s reliance on renewable energy, such as solar power plants (65%) and wind turbine farms (56%).

The“Texas 2022 Elections & Issues - How Ready is Texas for Another Winter Storm?”survey was conducted Jan. 14 through 25 by YouGov for the University of Houston Hobby School of Public Affairs and has a margin of error of +/- 2.2%.

Full survey results are available here.