Monkey Business? Texas Data Points from the Week in Politics – September 9, 2016

The traditional post-Labor Day intensification of the presidential campaign didn’t disappoint, as the week began with the release of a massive 50-state poll from the Washington Post and Survey Monkey that put Texas in the national discussion of presidential polling (if you’re into that sort of thing). Donald Trump dominated campaign news at week’s-end with another round of praise for Vladimir Putin. Closer to home, several education issues heated up: the State Board of Education debated the textbook Mexican American Heritage and, well, Mexican-American heritage, Lt. Governor Patrick renewed his call to end in-state tuition for the children of undocumented immigrants, and the Texas Education Agency called for class size limits in pre-kindergarten. Read on for polling data and comment...​

1. Hair on fire. Clinton is running ahead of Trump in Texas...among registered voters – and this last clause is key. According to a Washington Post/Survey Monkey 50-state poll released this week (with, we should add, some creative methodology*), Clinton leads Trump in Texas by one point. This sent many Democrats aflutter and likely influenced (though with their own data), the Democratic National Committee’s decision to open a campaign office in Houston, per Patrick Svitek, “to be run in conjunction with the campaign of presidential nominee Hillary Clinton.” Do these results mean that Clinton has a shot of being the first Democrat to win a statewide election in Texas since 1994? Probably not. The reason to remain skeptical is the population that this number represents: registered voters, a group that is far more diverse than the electorate that historically votes in elections here in the state. Some context for what some will no doubt take as a stodgy judgment: in the October 2012 University of Texas/Texas Tribune Poll (which, it should be noted was fielded later in the election cycle than the just released WaPo/Survey Monkey Poll), Romney polled ahead of Obama by just 5-points among registered voters, but among likely voters, that lead jumped to 16 points (the same margin by which Romney won the state); in the 2014 Texas Lyceum Poll fielded in September of that year, Greg Abbott was leading Wendy Davis by a mere 6 points among registered voters, while among likely voters, he was leading by 9 points (and went on to win by almost 20 points). There are at least two lessons here: one, the registered voter pool is more Democratic than the likely voter pool and the eventual electorate; and two, things will change between now and Election Day as the campaigns activate the partisanship of their members. BUT (you knew it was coming): a tightening of the electorate among registered voters in Texas is a very plausible consequence of both the slow march of demographic change, and also the unique circumstances of this election, in particular, the rhetoric of Donald Trump. There is no doubt that the Clinton campaign and the Democratic Party in Texas have good reasons to look at the features of this election as a chance to build the state party, and a large reason why Clinton, with her very large war chest, is choosing to sink some resources into the state – even if the most likely outcome is to make the margin of her loss as small as possible.

2. Stereotypically, some people don’t see any problem here. The State Board of Education received a highly negative report from an ad hoc committee named to advise the Texas Education Agency, in which the committee of scholars were highly critical of a proposed textbook, title Mexican American Heritage. By highly critical, we mean they found 68 factual errors, 42 interpretative errors, and 31 omission errors. Among the more inflammatory passages was a section that begins by listing stereotypes of Mexican Americans’ work ethic, but seems to slide into presenting those stereotypes quasi-factually and, as the reviewers write, “The authors’ use of the term “stereotypically” suggests that they are attributing these views to others, but their uncritical use of anti-Mexican views allows them to stand and reinforces the stereotypes” (pg. 37-38). Believe it or not, this understates the weirdness of the passage, at least as presented in the report, that begins talking about stereotypes but then flatly states: “There was a cultural attitude of “mañana,” or “tomorrow,” when it came to high-gear production. It was also traditional to skip work on Mondays, and drinking on the job could be a problem.” Needless to say, there are calls to update or scrap this textbook entirely. Per Nicole Cobler’s Texas Tribune coverage, SBOE Board Member Ruben Cortez (D-Brownsville) said, “It is an utter shame we must deal with racially offensive academic work,” while Board member David Bradley (R-Beaumont) finds the controversy “perplexing,” adding, “I am French-Irish, and you don’t see the French or the Irish pounding the table wanting special treatment, do you?” We neglected to include the French, the Irish, or the French-Irish when asking about the level of discrimination faced by different groups in the U.S., but here are the results for other groups, among all Texas voters, along with results for Republicans and Democrats, respectively.

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Group"A lot" or "Some""Not very much" or "None at all"Don't know
Transgender people70%24%7%
Gays and lesbians69%26%4%
African Americans67%30%4%

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Group"A lot" or "Some""Not very much" or "None at all"Don't know
Transgender people57%37%6%
Gays and lesbians55%40%5%
African Americans52%44%4%

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Group"A lot" or "Some""Not very much" or "None at all"Don't know
Transgender people88%7%5%
Gays and lesbians88%9%3%
African Americans89%7%3%

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A lot of discrimination33%25%10%
Not very much10%20%37%
None at all5%12%12%
Don't know/No opinion4%8%2%

3. In completely unrelated news: Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick renewed his call to end in-state tuition for undocumented immigrants in the upcoming legislative session. Here’s where Texans  stood on this issue at the end of the last Legislative session. 

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In-state tuition41%
Out-of-state tuition43%
Don't know/No opinion16%

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In-state tuition61%36%26%
Out-of-state tuition23%41%59%
Don't know/No opinion16%23%14%

4. It also makes nap time easier. The Texas Education Agency recommends class size limits for its Pre-K program. We wrote during the last legislative session about the curious politics of Abbott’s Pre-K push, given a disinterested Republican electorate. Adding additional cost to the program in the form of class size limits is likely to make for an interesting fight (or lack of a fight, which would also be interesting) between the Governor and skeptical members of the Legislature.

5. Just tighten your belt one notch. According to Comptroller Glenn Hegar, state revenue has fallen almost $1 billion below revenue estimates. This is sure to make the 2017 Legislative Session more complicated than recent sessions when the state seemed to be awash in revenue. Further complicating this picture is the fact that public preferences for the Legislature in the last two sessions, especially among the state’s Republican voters, have elevated “no new spending and no new taxes” as one of if not the clear priority that they think the Legislature should pursue. (BTW, stay tuned for an appearance by the Comptroller at the Texas Politics Project’s Speakers Series this Fall, details TBA soon.)

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Restore cuts made in the last session to education and human services52%19%14%
Continue to limit government by approving no new spending and no new taxes10%36%51%
Lower property and business taxes9%16%19%
Provide public funds for future infrastructure needs like water and transportation17%13%11%
Don't know/no opinion12%16%5%

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Increase K-12 funding22%10%9%
School voucher program3%4%7%
Limit government - no new spending/taxes8%24%25%
Lower property taxes13%6%14%
Lower business taxes1%3%5%
Funding for transportation6%7%4%
Continue border security funding9%17%27%
Expand state-funded, pre-k2%2%1%
Expand Medicaid funding under ACA29%12%4%

Plus a flashback: How Texans thought about the budget the last time things got tight, in the May 2011 UT/Texas Tribune Poll, as the budget was getting done.

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0 - Entirely through spending cuts4%18%31%
5 - In the middle22%24%12%
10 - Entirely through revenue increases8%4%1%
Don't know12%10%5%

6. The Hunt for a Red October Surprise? At the NBC News Commander-in-Chief Forum, Donald Trump again expressed his admiration for Russian President Vladimir Putin’s high approval rating in Russia, his willingness to accept Putin’s admiration of his brilliance, and his judgment that Putin has been “a leader far more than our president has been a leader.” The Clinton campaign pounced while Republicans groaned at yet another instance of Trump’s seeming willingness to choose quantity over quality when it comes to news coverage. Not to be all wrapped up in substance, but public response to Trump’s courting of the authoritarian leader of a geopolitical opponent might be difficult to predict. Trump’s ticket mate Mike Pence defended Trump’s comparison of Putin and Obama, so no walk-back was in the offing (which has not been the case with Putin, as Fareed Zakaria, among others, pointed out on CNN). In a recent national survey of U.S. attitudes toward foreign countries conducted for Vianovo and GSD&M, Russia’s favorability ratings were about as underwater as a scuttled Soviet sub: at 36 percent favorable to 9 percent unfavorable for a net of -45, the only country rated more negatively in the 11 countries offered for evaluation was Saudi Arabia (-52). For comparison purposes, the other country that Trump talks about a lot, Mexico, came in at 22% favorable to 45% unfavorable (net -23). That said, by a 10 point margin, Americans thought it was safer to travel to Russia than to Mexico, though majorities thought both were unsafe. All in all, Trump’s continued invocation of Putin and Russia is one more instance of Trump earning copious media coverage for saying things that seem radioactive with both elites and the public, yet still leaves many wondering in the back of their minds if he knows something about the Zeitgeist that everyone else has missed.

Country ratings

Travel safety perceptions



*WTF do you mean by “creative methodology,” because it was done on the internet? No, not because it was conducted on the internet. The University of Texas/Texas Tribune poll is conducted online through YouGov, so we, personally have no problem with internet polling when it makes sense to use that approach. The creativeness of the Washington Post / Survey Monkey Poll comes in the fact that Survey Monkey is a business tool, and according to their methodology, they solicited participants in their 50-state survey at the end of surveys run for other purposes. Their methodological team is really first class and there’s no reason to discount the seriousness with which they approach this enterprise, but what is creative/interesting/troubling, depending on whether you have an opinion or a stake in the online vs. telephone vs. (the very rare) in-person polling debates, is that their universe or potential respondents was never created with the intention of being, mimicking, or being sampled to become a nationally representative sample, nor as a representative sample of any given state. This is why they were likely in the field for so long, and why they had so many respondents. But the reality is, if you have enough respondents, even if they come from a biased sample, sophisticated weighting techniques can still give you a pretty good estimate of the opinion that you’re interested in - as we saw in the last election cycle with a survey of Xbox Live users. For the Post’s Methodology, go here.