Back to Our Regularly Scheduled Program: Texas Public Opinion and the Politics of the Border Security–Government Shutdown Imbroglio

If politics in the state capital seem to have taken an oddly agreeable turn in the interim between the November elections and the commencement of the 86th Texas Legislative Session in January 2019, the resurgence of the politics of border security in negotiations between the White House and Congressional Democrats over a continuing resolution to fund the federal government remind us that the nativist sentiment among the Republican base is never far from the surface. Whether they reappear in state politics too, after an interlude of good feelings about the need to address public school financing and forego more divisive policy issues, will depend on the choices of the major players in the legislative process – and, to a difficult to predict degree, upon national atmospherics shaped largely by the White House. 

For today, though, the intense views on border security and immigration that have been the most reliable features of GOP attitudes both nationally and in Texas are at center stage as Donald Trump plays chicken with the Democratic congressional leadership over his demands for $5 billion in funding for his border wall (presumably the share the Mexican government has not yet paid for).

James Hohman did a good job of looking at partisan patterns in public opinion around the wall and national security in this morning’s Daily 202 in The Washington Post, pegged to recent a NPR/PBS NewsHour/Marist Poll, (pdf here). Hohman (and those numbers) foreshadowed the public dustup between Trump, Nancy Pelosi, and Chuck Schumer later in the day.

Below we’ve assembled multiple items that illustrate both the partisan differences as well as the intensity and direction of GOP attitudes on these issues in Texas.  The attitudes captured in these items offer some insight into why the president seems to expect both his base and GOP members of Congress to go along with his willingness to trigger a government shutdown in order to get funding for his wall – and why Congressional Democrats are unwilling (and unlikely) to give him what he wants.

For Texas Republicans, immigration and border security are the most important problems facing Texas. As we’ve frequently observed, one of the most consistent results over the life of the University of Texas/Texas Tribune Poll is the salience of immigration and border security for Texas Republicans. These issues are the focus of Republican attention, and focus that attention without highlighting any fractures within the Republican coalition.

Loading chart...
Border security2%11%29%
Health care15%8%4%
Political corruption/leadership17%4%2%
The economy3%5%3%

Loading chart...
Border security1%8%30%
Health care14%11%5%
Political corruption/leadership20%8%2%
The economy3%4%3%

Loading chart...
categoryDemocratRepublicanTea Party
Border security1%25%34%
Health care16%5%1%
Political corruption/leadership18%1%2%
The economy4%3%3%

Both prior to the 2016 election and after Trump entered the White House, Texas Republicans (save Rep. Will Hurd, who represents much of the border) expressed support for a wall on the border with Mexico, and Democrats largely opposed it. At the height of Trump’s use of the wall as a crowd pleaser in debates and at rallies, including the clearly absurd promise that Mexico would pay for it, there was much debate about whether his supporters believed him, or whether there was some mixture of the literal and symbolic at work. 

Loading chart...
Strongly support6%31%60%
Somewhat support5%13%18%
Somewhat oppose10%16%8%
Strongly oppose72%29%10%
Don't know/No opinion6%11%4%

Loading chart...
Strongly support10%41%54%
Somewhat support11%18%22%
Somewhat oppose9%3%9%
Strongly oppose64%27%8%
Don't know/No opinion7%11%7%

The backdrop for Republican Elected Officials, especially in Texas, is a Republican electorate with a deep embrace of any policy intended to curb, or push back on illegal immigration. A regularly recurring item in UT/TT polling asks Texas voters whether “undocumented immigrants currently living in the United States should be deported immediately.” While this discussion has bubbled up time and again over the last decade, usually during campaign season, it has often been laughed off as technically infeasible. That doesn’t mean it’s not popular, with a majority of Republicans strongly agreeing with this approach, and another third merely somewhat agreeing.

Loading chart...
Strongly agree11%35%51%
Somewhat agree12%22%30%
Somewhat disagree26%21%13%
Strongly disagree50%21%6%

And these restrictive attitudes are not limited to illegal immigration. A majority of Texas Republicans say that we let too many people immigrate to this country legally.

Loading chart...
Too many19%49%66%
Too few34%15%6%
About the right amount30%16%21%
Don't know/No opinion17%19%6%


Video of the White House meeting via Live On Air News on YouTube.



And Andrew Harnik of the AP captured this image of Pelosi and Schumer leaving the White House today.