The latest University of Texas / Texas Tribune Poll, which Ross Ramsey wrote about in a batch of stories released through the week, covered a range of subjects and issues with an emphasis on the current legislative session. As always, we’ll continue to mine the data and connect it with happenings at the legislature as the session kicks into a higher gear, but below are a first set of observations, hopefully more than hot takes but certainly less than the in-depth treatment we’ll give them in coming weeks.
No one is surprised that Texas Senators John Cornyn and Ted Cruz voted today to clear the way for Brett Kavanaugh’s ascension to the United States Supreme Court, and will vote in his favor tomorrow when the Senate takes the final vote. In the meantime, polling data from the University of Texas / Texas Tribune Poll illuminates, at least in part, why Senators Cornyn and Cruz would support Kavanaugh even as temperament and forthrightness with Senate, and questions about his past became ever more problematic. A more thorough analysis will require new, more focused data. But in the meantime, the data at hand provide context for why the Texas Senators followed the party line once the responses to the accusations against Kavanaugh intersected with the seemingly ever-escalating partisan environment. From perceptions of discrimination to the #metoo movement to attitudes toward the court, the attitudinal landscape in Texas is marked by deeply opposed, partisan frames of references on some of the fundamental questions raised by Kavanaugh hearing and his and his defenders' responses to the objections raised to his confirmation.
The Public Opinion Context in Texas of the Kavanaugh Confirmation, Sexual Assault Charges Against Him, and Ted Cruz’s Role in the Coming Senate Hearings
Amidst talk (though uneven evidence) of Ted Cruz’s possible vulnerability among women in the suburbs and of a lack of enthusiasm for Cruz overall, as well as comparatively more demonstrable gender differences in attitudes related to sexual harassment and assault, the accusations against Brett Kavanaugh pose political hazards for Ted Cruz should there be new hearings by the Senate Judiciary Committee. In the present atmosphere of partisan polarization on both Kavanaugh’s nomination and gender politics, Cruz must walk a narrow and somewhat unfamiliar path – one that requires moderation of his usual temperament.
We revisit key aspects of the relevant landscape of attitudes in Texas below. Multiple results on relevant subjects from University of Texas/Texas Tribune polling illustrate just how narrow this path is in the Texas electorate, who will start early voting in about a month. (This post was slightly revised 20 September 2018 at 3:10 PM to reflect new developments, including data on Texans' views of the FBI.)
In an increasingly familiar dynamic in the election for the U.S. Senate seat currently occupied by Ted Cruz, Beto O’Rourke is gaining glowing reviews from a national audience on social media and in the press for his explanation of his view that NFL players taking a knee are not disrespectful to the flag or to veterans and service members. But as in other episodes in O’Rourke’s campaign, the reception in Texas is likely to be much more ambiguous, given what we know about public attitudes in the state toward the NFL protests.
This week, the Supreme Court released its much anticipated decision in Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Civil Rights Commission, narrowly ruling for the plaintiffs and spurring both sides in the debate over LGBTQ rights to claim larger victories than justified by the decision. While LGBTQ rights were clearly being tested, beliefs about discrimination in America lurk just below the surface of responses to the decision — and those beliefs vary markedly among partisans.
As the party primaries got predictably nasty in the final week of campaigning before the March 6 election, Democratic early voting surged all week, a real phenomena that launched a thousand fundraising emails and at least a few flights of fancy, especially from those who can’t resist trying to turn a good thing into a fantastic thing. Donald Trump and Robert Mueller continued to make headlines, likely deepening the partisan divides in perceptions of their respective endeavors. Continue on for data on public opinion related to the torrent of political events this week, much of it freshly gathered in the latest University of Texas / Texas Tribune Poll.
Political courage took a back seat to political calculation as the renegade memo on the investigation of Carter Page was made public, completing the eclipse of the President’s State of the Union and, at least for the moment, the increasingly corrosive immigration debate. While the fiddling continues in a smoldering Washington, D.C., the Comptroller delivered bad news of a more mundane variety to the Senate Finance Committee this week, while financial bad news of a different sort added to the woes of a (somewhat) surprisingly beleaguered George P. Bush in his increasingly contentious primary battle to remain Land Commissioner. Beto had better financial news than either Glenn or George P. (That sentence shows why the first name thing works better for O’Rourke). National media attention to a report on white supremacist groups focusing recruiting efforts on college campuses featured their fairly piddling efforts on Texas campuses, through our data suggests that White Supremacy pretty clearly doesn’t have a data analytics department.
Texas politics continued to be roiled by the ongoing national reckoning with sexual misconduct and gender attitudes in the culture this week, from a hearing in the Texas Senate on harassment policy to a couple of men calling it quits, including yet another Congressman, Blake Farenthold. In the policy realm, good stories on the history of the border wall produced by a team of Texas Tribune and ProPublica, and on climate change and Harvey in the Houston Chronicle, remind us all that we can continue to talk about enduring policy issues, though they also point to polarized public attitudes that make any moves on those issues difficult. All this, and, of course, Alabama
The national media storm over sexual harassment hit Texas this week, which the legislative leadership attempted to act on even as in other corners, some of the same old internecine fights in the GOP played out in the House and on the terrain of the upcoming 2018 primary elections. Congressman Gene Green’s announcement that he wouldn’t seek reelection added another wrinkle in Houston politics, this one among Democrats who are either jumping in to fight for his seat or waiting to see which #txlege competitors create new openings as a result of others' efforts to move up. Meanwhile, events in Congress provided lots of reasons why so many people don’t want to work there anymore, and some are even policy related, like the effort to combine repealing the ACA insurance mandate with the Tax Reform bill.
When it comes to legal cases in general, and legal rights in particular, it's important to note that public opinion can often act as a poor guide to a just outcome, and in many cases, may have no relevance on particular legal proceedings. With that caveat aside, public opinion is useful in determining how elected officials, including the Attorney General, might react to court decisions, and further, whether the state chooses to push ahead in the legal process in the face of adverse decisions.