Data points - some very sketchy - from the week in Texas Politics (August 21, 2020)

While national politics focused on Democrats’ virtual convention and how it would promote the Joe Biden-Kamala Harris ticket, the top three figures in Texas state government made a show of promising a dubious means of protecting the police from the depredations of municipal efforts to reduce their budgets. The policy was vague and seemingly hard to deliver, at least as discussed, but the show was understandable given the latest news on the pandemic and on the data supposedly informing those decisions. Meanwhile, we have a very interesting opportunity to look at the views of a key group of policy makers toward how their own workplace should be regulated in response to the pandemic as the political class ponders how to conduct the legislative session that commences in January, courtesy of a survey conducted by the House Administration Committee chaired by Charlie Geren (R-Ft. Worth). We also got some new data on the presidential election in Texas, which we had the opportunity to discuss with our colleague Mark Jones from the Baker Institute at Rice University. Read on for these and more data points from another hot week in Texas politics.

1. Virtual consensus at the Democratic national convention. The Democratic Party held their national “convention” this week, making an extended case for the Biden-Harris ticket while prosecuting the case against the incumbent. The tone and approach shifted from night to night, but threaded throughout were appeals to the young and progressive corners energized by issues such as the contemporary reckoning with race and climate change, as well as, to paraphrase Barack Obama’s spoken-word essay at the convention, the existential threat to American Democracy posed by Donald Trump. Layered over the candidate and issue appeals were sustained efforts to remind people of the practical and ethical urgency of voting in the face of the other party’s efforts to prevent people from doing so. These are likely effective calls to action for Democratic audiences in Texas, where 41% of Democrats and 53% of Texans aged 18-29 report that Democratic elected officials are “not liberal enough”; and, not surprisingly, where 87% of Democrats strongly disapprove of the job Donald Trump is doing as president.

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Liberal enough37%
Too liberal6%
Not liberal enough41%
Don't know/No opinion16%

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Liberal enough24%36%37%56%
Too liberal4%8%7%3%
Not liberal enough53%43%42%20%
Don't know/No opinion19%13%14%22%

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Approve strongly2%22%62%
Approve somewhat3%14%24%
Neither approve nor disapprove2%12%5%
Disapprove somewhat6%16%3%
Disapprove strongly87%34%5%
Don't know0%2%1%

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PollApproveDisapproveNeither/Don't know
February 20178%83%10%
June 20175%90%5%
October 20175%92%4%
February 20188%85%8%
June 20188%84%9%
October 20186%91%4%
February 20197%88%5%
June 201911%86%4%
October 20196%90%4%
February 20205%89%6%
April 20207%86%6%
June 20205%93%2%
October 20207%89%4%

2. Sketchy data points, scene 1: Governor Greg Abbott, Lt. Governor Dan Patrick, and Speaker of the House Dennis Bonnen convened at an event in Ft. Worth Tuesday to announce their intention to pass legislation that would punish cities who “defund” their police departments. “Any city in the state of Texas that defunds law enforcement will have their property tax revenue frozen as of that time,” Abbott said, per coverage by Juan Pablo Garnham and Jolie McCullough in The Texas Tribune. Ross Ramsey unpacks just how impractical the proposal looks on the face of it (including probably violating the Texas Constitution), while pointing to the resonance of the approach with “the evolving law-and-order argument of the 2020 general election, taking sides with police after a summer of demonstrations against police violence against people of color.” Initially terrible messaging from some corners of the Austin City Council and a lot of sloppy media headlines about what is actually in the City of Austin’s budget - the $150 million figure trumpeted in headline and social media was the total change in the police budget, but the immediate cut was actually about $20 million – abetted the state leadership’s ability to embrace a welcome distraction. Even setting aside the appeal of talking about anything other than the pressing matters of COVID-19, a sputtering economy, and/or the looming budget crunch, defending the police against threats real and imagined is a slam-dunk for Republican elected officials in the current public opinion environment, as Nicole Cobler illustrated in an Austin American Statesman story that looked at how Central Texas Congressional Republicans Chip Roy and John Carter quickly jumped on the train, and makes characteristically intelligent use of UT/Texas Politics Project polling data showing that 76% of Republicans see black deaths during encounters with police as isolated incidents rather than “signs of a broader problem.” Republican voters overwhelmingly hold positive attitudes toward the police, and are similarly skeptical of the premises of the wisely named “defunding” advocates of redirecting funds in city budgets and revamping law enforcement and related functions.

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CategoryLean RepublicanNot very strong RepublicanStrong Republican
Very favorable45%36%66%
Somewhat favorable38%38%20%
Neither favorable nor unfavorable5%11%6%
Somewhat unfavorable8%11%4%
Very unfavorable3%1%2%
Don't know/No opinion1%2%1%

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A sign of broader problems...88%46%15%
Isolated incidents7%43%76%
Don't know/No opinion5%11%9%

3. Sketchy data points, scene 2. Speaking of avoiding talking about the state of the pandemic in Texas, the big news here late in the week is still more bad news about the state’s data collection and reporting – the basis for much policymaking. Those desperately looking for good news have been emphasizing a decline from the peak of new cases that appears to have occurred around July 16. But the slope of the decline in cases has been more gradual than the rate of increase in June and mid-July, and the official data show a seven-day average of new cases at about where it was in the bad old days of early July – and still find the state with a daily new case rate that is well above pre-Memorial Day levels. All of which is rendered, if not meaningless, at least highly questionable by the news that, per the pithy phrasing of Cayla Harris and Jeremy Blackman in the Houston Chronicle Thursday: 

Over the past week and a half, the state began reporting coronavirus data from a backlog of 500,000 viral tests that officials say accumulated because of coding errors from Quest Diagnostics, Walgreens and CHRISTUS Health — all private entities that process the tests….The result has been an ongoing miscalculation of the “positivity rate,” the rate at which people test positive for the virus.

The doubt cast on the data by reports like this hurt everyone by undermining the ability to make sound judgements based on reliable information about the virus. As Darrell Hale, a Republican commissioner in Collin County put it to Harris and Blackman: “The timing of it is horrible because it’s right at the beginning of opening the schools when you want your data to be as accurate as possible, and it’s not.” Again: it’s no wonder the state’s leader wanted to talk about the City of Austin’s policing budget this week. Have you seen the meme of the headline from the Daily Tar Heel at the University of North Carolina? It fits the COVID-19 testing data collection in Texas.

4. Your call: 116 members answered at least some of Chairman Geren's questions. As the political class that works in and around the Texas Capitol continues to ponder how the 87th Legislature will do business given the likelihood of a continuation of the COVID-19 pandemic, a survey conducted by the House Administration Committee, chaired by Charlie Geren (R-Ft. Worth), provided some insight into what over a hundred house members think the resumption of legislative business in the Capitol should look like. (Of the 150-member body, 116 responded to at least some of the questions.) The results of the survey were circulated last week by Quorum Report, but we coded most of the open-endeds (which weren’t compiled in the circulating draft), made easy-to-digest – and, as always, downloadable - graphics for most of the items and put them all in a blog post. Over 80% of those who responded supported requiring masks, temperature checks for anyone entering the Capitol, daily temperature checks, and designating a members- and staff-only entrance. There was less consensus for suspending public tours of the Capitol (60%), suspending floor recognitions (59%), spacing members out across the floor and gallery, and permitting visitor groups in the gallery (51%). In terms of public contact, 91% said they planned to use Zoom or a similar platform to meet with constituents and advocacy groups, 68% said they would welcome guests or hold meetings in their offices, 61% said they would limit their staff and/or intern hires in response to the pandemic. Interestingly, only 33% said they would limit food and beverage in their offices. So the lobby is still pretty much on the hook. Can one wear a mask while taking a compliance bite? We’ll find out.

Do you plan to...

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ItemPercent responding "Yes"
Use Zoom or any similar platform to meet with constituents and advocacy groups?91%
Welcome guests or hold meetings in your office?68%
Limit your staff or interns?61%
Limit food and beverage in your office?33%

Do you favor or oppose limiting public access to the Capitol to individuals who have business in the building during the pandemic?

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5. By any other name. The recently created Texas Hispanic Policy Foundation, headed by former Republican State Representative Jason Villalba, last week unveiled a poll billed as the first in an extended effort to focus on Hispanic voters in the state. The poll oversampled Hispanics in order to get a more detailed look at the internal characteristics of the population, as well as to integrate the oversample with overall results. Interestingly, they got a results against the trendline in presidential polling in Texas, showing Donald Trump with a 7-point advantage over Joe Biden among registered voters, and a little more than a five point lead among their likely voters (those who reported being “extremely likely to vote”). There are lots of interesting points about the politics of Texas Hispanics in the policy and attitudinal results. Mark Jones of Rice University’s Baker Institute, who oversaw the poll, is serving as the research director for the foundation and promises more installments of data analysis are coming. One interesting data point: In a set of items asking about approval of terminology, Hispanics in the sample give the highest and strongest approval to the term "Hispanic" -- 74.3% approved (39.5% "strongly"); 67.5% approved of "Latino" (27.8% Strongly); only 21.5% approved of the much newer "LatinX" - 7.4% "strongly," with 38.4% neither approving or disapproving. For more detail on the poll and its design, as well as discussion of the 2020 election in Texas, listen to this week's Second Reading podcast, which features a conversation between Dr. Jones, Dr. Joshua Blank, and me.  It can be found in a blog post on the Texas Politics Project site as well as on Spotify, Apple Podcasts, and Stitcher.


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