Amended Endorsements & Endorsed Amendments: Texas Data Points from the Week in Politics – September 16, 2016

In a week that found Governor Abbott a little more committed to Donald Trump, the legislature continued to hold hearings that provide glimpses at possible agenda items as the universe around the state capitol comes to terms with the fact that Legislature will be back in session in less than four months. Two issues were on display this week that defy conventional coalition politics – a familiar one of finding a way to subsidize private schools with public funds, and the more esoteric subject of holding a Constitutional Convention to consider changes to the U.S. Constitution. Ted Cruz also made his way back into the news this week by being nice to some of his GOP colleagues and being not so nice to the Obama Administration. A new statewide poll grabbed headlines by finding Trump leading Clinton in the first major poll to switch over to focusing on likely voters.

1. He even said his name. After months of, how shall we say...reticence to openly embrace the GOP nominee (and in one case, outright repudiating him), Greg Abbott made clear that “this election is a binary choice,” and that “there is a huge contrast that will set America on a complete polar opposite direction depending on the outcome of this election.” Okay, so not really a full-fledged endorsement of Trump so much as an evaluation of the alternative, but for Abbott, simply mentioning Trump’s name appears to be a step in the direction of supporting his party’s nominee. Why this has been such a slowly developing relationship is not terribly surprising, Abbott’s job approval numbers in the June 2016 UT/Texas Politics Project poll dwarfed Trump’s favorability numbers among Republicans – and, a majority of Texans who say that they’re supporting Trump also say that they’re doing so because they don’t want Clinton elected president, not because they want Trump elected.  So the governor is hardly alone in this approach.

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Approve strongly2%13%39%
Approve somewhat10%21%34%
Neither approve nor disapprove21%20%16%
Disapprove somewhat15%17%4%
Disapprove strongly45%22%3%
Don't know6%7%5%

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Very favorable4%18%26%
Somewhat favorable3%12%27%
Neither favorable nor unfavorable5%16%13%
Somewhat unfavorable5%10%14%
Very unfavorable80%41%18%
Don't know/no opinion2%4%1%

2. The Senate Education committee goes long on ESA’s – and if you don’t know what that abbreviation stands for, you better figure it out. As the Texas Tribune’s Kiah Collier reports, “Republican state senators bolstered their case for a private school choice program Wednesday during a marathon hearing of the Senate Education Committee, debating not whether to help Texas families pay for private, religious or home school but how.” While the Lieutenant Governor has made it clear that creating a school voucher school choice program is one of his top priorities (under whatever method or name has the best chance of passage it appears), when we asked Texans to estimate the effectiveness of a range of educational policy proposals, a school voucher program was seen as the least effective of the policies/programs listed, though it did rank higher among Republicans than among all Texas voters.

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Increasing the pay of public school teachers66%
Increasing opportunities for online learning66%
Reducing the number of standardized tests students must take63%
Allowing more localized control over curriculum and standards62%
Increasing funding for the public school system61%
Making it easier for charter schools to open and operate 58%
Expanding state-funded, pre-kindergarten programs54%
Creating a school voucher program49%

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Increasing the pay of public school teachers81%64%56%
Increasing opportunities for online learning69%68%65%
Reducing the number of standardized tests students must take69%51%61%
Allowing more localized control over curriculum and standards48%52%78%
Increasing funding for the public school system85%57%44%
Making it easier for charter schools to open and operate 44%51%71%
Expanding state-funded, pre-kindergarten programs78%56%34%
Creating a school voucher program35%40%64%

3  Not sure what the conventional wisdom is here. In other efforts to shape the agenda for the 85th Legislature, the Select Committee on State and Federal Power and Responsibility met Tuesday and heard testimony on a pet project of Governor Abbott’s, the calling of a convention of the states to consider amendments to the United States Constitution. The idea was a centerpiece of a report issued by the Governor’s office in January, as well a suggestion in Abbott’s book Broken But Unbowed. Even before you hit The Quorum Report paywall, Scott Braddock was characteristically quick to point out that the idea had been supported by the group Citizens for Self Government, upon whose board (cue sinister music sting) dissident-conservative-patron-saint Tim Dunn sits.  Nicole Cobler described “a packed room mostly filled with constitutionalist convention supporters” at Tuesday’s hearings, but there are signs out there that the Governor and his allies in this cause still have some work to do. Per the same story, committee chairman Phil King (R-Weatherford) “seemed to support a renewed effort in the next session,” but also characterized it as “heavy lifting for each state.” Conservatives raised fears of a “runaway convention” subverted by liberals, which the Governor and his allies have said are overblown. When we asked Texans about a constitutional convention in a broad sense in the June University of Texas/Texas Politics Project Poll, the results were literally, if not ideologically, conservative in the sense that the majority – 55 percent – found the Constitution fine as is. The wording is worth including in full: "Would you say the United States Constitution has held up well as the basis for our government and laws and is in little need of change, or would you say that we should hold a new constitutional convention to update the Constitution?"  Most interesting and confounding for the conservatives pushing change: support for revising the Constitution was stronger among liberals and Democrats than among conservatives and Republicans. Wouldn’t it be interesting to see how much this shifted if one attached the Governor’s name to it? We bet someone has done this.

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Held up well55%
Hold a new constitutional convention26%
Don't know/No opinion19%

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Held up well49%42%68%
Hold a new constitutional convention37%27%20%
Don't know/No opinion14%31%11%

4. No, really, I’m a team player. Ted Cruz played nice with the GOP caucus this week, and also defended the internet’s honor against the alleged depredations of the Obama administration. Given Cruz’s outspoken position over net neutrality and keeping government regulation away from the internet, it is certainly an interesting turn that Cruz is angling another potential government shutdown over the ceding of federal government regulations over domain names. But hey, after a rough summer, maybe he’s reflecting on the heady days of 2013, when, after his first orchestrated government shutdown over a much less obscure issue, Obamacare, he actually saw a favorability boost here at home. Maybe it works again?

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categoryDemocratRepublicanTea Party
Very favorable2%32%70%
Somewhat favorable8%24%18%
Neither favorable nor unfavorable11%14%7%
Somewhat unfavorable9%7%1%
Very unfavorable52%6%2%
Don't know/no opinion18%18%2%

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categoryDemocratRepublicanTea Party
Very favorable3%22%72%
Somewhat favorable6%30%20%
Neither favorable nor unfavorable12%20%4%
Somewhat unfavorable5%12%2%
Very unfavorable70%8%0%
Don't know/No Opinion5%9%1%

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categoryDemocratRepublicanTea Party
Very favorable1%23%51%
Somewhat favorable6%22%19%
Neither favorable nor unfavorable9%18%16%
Somewhat unfavorable14%19%6%
Very unfavorable65%15%7%
Don't know/no opinion4%5%1%

5.  This is adult talk, but totally SFW. This week, the Texas Lyceum released their annual poll of Texas adults (that’s broader than a registered voter or likely voter sample) in order to foster public discussion and generally strive for the greater good of Texans. Josh Blank and Daron Shaw worked on the poll, which joined the flurry of polling in the presidential race with a result that showed Donald Trump leading Hillary Clinton among likely voters by seven percentage points in a four-way trial ballot, 39 percent  to 32 percent, with Gary Johnson at 9 percent and Jill Stein at 3 percent. (The LV sample n=502, interviewed over landlines and cell phones, with a MOE of +/- 4.37; if you’re interested in the MOE of the top two candidates….well, you have something in common with Nathan Bernier at KUT.) We’ll post early next week on other interesting takeaways from this most excellent exercise in the measurement of public opinion in Texas, including ridesharing, immigration, and more.