Straus Still Flying Under the Radar

The favorability ratings of Joe Straus, Speaker of the Texas House of Representatives, were among the more important findings nestled in the first batch of results released from the February University of Texas/Texas Tribune Poll. In the overall sample, 12 percent had a favorable view of Straus, 14 percent an unfavorable view, 49 percent chose "don't know/no opinion" and 25 percent chose the slightly more aware-seeming "neither favorable nor unfavorable," as the graphic below illustrates.  

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Very favorable3%
Somewhat favorable9%
Neither favorable nor unfavorable25%
Somewhat unfavorable7%
Very unfavorable7%
Don't know/no opinion49%

These numbers are very similar to (in fact, almost statistically indistinguishable from) his ratings in our June 2013 poll, when his fav/unfav numbers were 9 percent to 16 percent, with 55 percent saying "don't know" and 20 percent saying "neither."  If anything, he is in slightly better shape now than at the end of the regular session that year.

This is notable because in both the 2012 and 2014 GOP primaries, as well as during the 2011 and 2013 legislative sessions, political opponents of the Speaker and his allies in the House (and perhaps in the state) made pronounced efforts to cast him in a negative light with the general public, especially GOP primary voters. A look at his ratings by partisan identification, including when respondents are given the option of identifying as Tea Party supporters, also suggests that these efforts haven't succeeded in creating a widespread negative impression of the Speaker. He remains in net positive territory among non-Tea Party Republican identifiers who have an opinion of him, though he also nets negative with Tea Party identifiers (14/23).

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categoryDemocratRepublicanTea Party
Very favorable5%5%1%
Somewhat favorable7%13%13%
Neither favorable nor unfavorable25%30%24%
Somewhat unfavorable8%7%8%
Very unfavorable6%4%15%
Don't know/no opinion49%42%40%

But most significantly, he remains, largely, a non-quantity with both groups. His combined "neither favorable nor unfavorable" and "don't know/no opinion" totals are high among non-Tea Party Republicans (72 percent) and also among Tea Party identifiers (64 percent).

In an August 2013 piece originally published in the Texas Tribune, Josh Blank and I wrote about the implications of the lack of public attention to Straus reflected in that June 2013 poll. "Unless and until he decides to run for higher office, the old school approach says this is exactly how you want it if you’re the Speaker of the House," we wrote, "keeping a degree of anonymity in the eyes of the general public so that you can focus on the constituency that elected you speaker, i.e. the other 149 members of the House. "  Straus' easy reelection as speaker by that body last month, even as his profile remains low among the general public, indicates that his opponents' efforts to make ousting him a cause célèbre among insurgent conservatives has found little purchase among either the public or, more importantly, the broader GOP primary constituency that has been the intended audience of these efforts. His recent willingness to push back against the forces that have dogged him since the early days of his speakership raises the question of how far he intends – and will be able – to stretch that old school approach.