Oct 19, 2022 - Politics

COVID absent from campaign messaging in Texas

Illustration of a combination word balloon and covid particle, with the covid prongs retracting.

Illustration: Brendan Lynch/Axios

Texans are still testing positive for the coronavirus, but candidates up and down the ballot are staying far away from talking about masks, vaccines and other pandemic topics that were a staple of campaigning over the last two years.

The big picture: Dwelling on COVID could seem out of touch with an electorate that is now more concerned about the rising cost of groceries than about mask wearing.

Between the lines: In Austin, signage requesting masks in businesses has disappeared, events are at full capacity and there are few debates surrounding vaccines and testing in the workplace.

  • That shift is also clear in campaign messaging.

Flashback: Ahead of the 2020 election, in the throes of the pandemic, campaign ads for both Democrats and Republicans in a Hill Country congressional district race between Wendy Davis and incumbent Chip Roy featured mask-wearing.

  • In January of this year, GOP candidate Don Huffines ran a GOP primary ad that said "When other Republicans are siding with Dr. Fauci" — over an image of Gov. Greg Abbott wearing a mask — Huffines "stood for your freedom."

Yes, but: This year's general election ads haven't had the same tone.

What they're saying: "There isn't much to be gained either way on this issue," Daron Shaw, a professor of government at the University of Texas, tells Axios.

  • "Public attitudes in Texas are ambivalent: There is some sense that things were locked down too long — especially with respect to the public schools — but there is disagreement on this. More to the point, other issues — prices, crime, border security, education — have eclipsed COVID."

Of note: In the latest round of polling from UT's Texas Politics Project, conducted in late August and early September, 1% of respondents named COVID as the most significant problem facing Texas. Border security and immigration ranked as the top issues.

  • The same poll found that 21% of Texans describe COVID as a "significant crisis" — down from 43% at the start of this year.

By the numbers: New cases in Texas are in decline.

The bottom line: COVID is still slowly spreading, but that doesn't mean candidates want to talk about it.


Get more local stories in your inbox with Axios Austin.


Support local journalism by becoming a member.

Learn more

More Austin stories

No stories could be found


Get a free daily digest of the most important news in your backyard with Axios Austin.


Support local journalism by becoming a member.

Learn more