Governor Abbott reiterated benchmarks for suppressing COVID-19 in Texas, and kept the bars closed which is likely to be very unevenly received among some of his constituents, though a majority likely remains on board with the overall effort. New numbers from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released sobering data that buttresses Abbott’s cause among the rationally minded. The Texas Black Legislative Caucus unveiled a legislative plan under the title of the George Floyd Act that would introduce some state-level policing reforms, while Donald Trump was admitting pursuing his own checks on some another uniformed public servants, the US Postal Service, in order to impede voting by mail. And there was big news about fall plans for those interested in college football – and public health, though bigness of that news moved in opposite directions depending on what you're more interested in, I'd wager. Read on for data and discussion related to these happenings from the week in politics.
1. You can’t stay here – you pretty much have to go home. In a press conference in Lubbock Thursday, Governor Abbott reiterated his intent to hold the line on opening bars, which are, to paraphrase what the governor called, per Alex Samuels' coverage in The Texas Tribune, leading transmission zones. You can say that again. Nicole Cobler’s story in the Austin American Statesman also has Abbott down on bar reopenings and quotes him reiterating some goals: “We do need to see the positivity rate go back below 10% for a sustained period of time...We do need to see more hospital rooms come available.” In the June 2020 UT/Texas Politics Project Poll, 77% judged going to “a bar or club” unsafe. Only 6% of Democrats thought such visits safe, while 38% of Republicans thought so. Interestingly, given much of the media coverage during the period bars were open, there wasn’t much variance in attitudes by age. So take it easy on the young’ns - party (political) and ideology appear to be much bigger differentiators here than age.
2. Dashboard confessional. While the governor holds the line against both the virus and the skeptics, the Centers for Disease Control this week released a new analysis of “excess deaths” and projections that provides useful if grim insight into the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. The report is particularly helpful in clarifying something that should be obvious by now: The pandemic is probably resulting in fatalities well above the normal level of deaths.(And if you think this is obvious and doesn’t need re-statement, you haven’t been in my Facebook feed this summer.) The data analysis also provides more evidence for the argument that the actual number of COVID-19 deaths is higher in Texas (and in the US) than what we’ve been seeing from official sources. Zach Despart and Stephanie Lamm used the CDC data to make that point in an excellent Houston Chronicle story, and also to reinforce the fact that Texas Latinos have been particularly hard hit by the pandemic. COVID-19 discounters and denialists are unlikely to be persuaded, but CDC released the data with extensive explanations and excellent dashboards that, if one is inclined to think critically, enable close examination and assessment of the data. The figure below was produced by the excellent tool provided by CDC. There are caveats aplenty, but they are discussed forthrightly. And yes, the data will keep changing as we get a better handle on the complex phenomena we’re actually trying to understand and measure, and as we try to get better at it. You know – science.
3. “The dead ends of white supremacy.” That’s a phrase Harold Dutton, chairman of the Texas Legislative Black Caucus used as he and other legislators unveiled the George Floyd Act this week. As Cassi Pollock recounts in her Texas Tribune story, the whole quote is: “We acknowledge that the road to justice in Texas — particularly for Black and brown people in Texas — has been fraught with dead ends, dead ends of white supremacy, racial hatred and bigotry...These dead ends have to go — and particularly the dead ends that relate specifically to law enforcement.” Miya Shay of ABC13 in Houston provides a comprehensive list of the contents of the bill package unveiled at the Zoom event, attended by Rodney Floyd, George Floyd’s brother, which narrows some police uses of force (including chokeholds) and introduces new and amended duties of police to state law, including duty to intervene and duty to render aid. State Rep Senfronia Thompson and state Sen. Royce west are expected to carry the legislation, per both Pollock and Shay. Texans are closely divided on race and policing, along both racial and partisan lines; but this is one small sign among many that what is now generally being called a wave of reckoning with racism in the U.S., particularly when it comes to policing and criminal justice, will also roll through the legislature when (and however) they meet in 2021. Given both partisanship in attitudes toward protests in the wake of George Floyd’s killing and toward Black Lives Matter, expect it to be heated and difficult. But the subject is not going away. (It should be noted that while he likely differs greatly on the specifics, even Greg Abbott has mentioned the need for a “George Floyd Act.” Skepticism is called for, of course, but he did say it.)
|A sign of broader problems...||49%|
|Don't know/No opinion||7%|
|A sign of broader problems...||88%||46%||15%|
|Don't know/No opinion||5%||11%||9%|
|A sign of broader problems...||43%||82%||47%|
|Don't know/No opinion||7%||5%||10%|
4. "Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night
nor Trump…” Evidence is accumulating – including the President’s own admission – that the Trump administration is gutting the US Postal Service in order to obstruct the efficiency of a probable increase in voting by mail, which will be starting as early as next month in some states (see this Axios story by Stef W. Kight and Naema Ahmed for a map with early voting dates). This seems like yet another test of just how far Republicans will follow President Trump (the Post Office?), but you have to hand it to him – he has a knack for picking his spots. It was evident that Texas Republicans have already gotten the message about voting by mail in the June 2020 Texas Politics Project Poll – really, as early as the April UT/Texas Tribune Poll. Trump may have a perverse ability to push a point and get large numbers of Republican voters to follow him to it’s obscene extreme; but he didn’t invent the message that any attempt to ease access to the voting booth is an attack on the integrity of elections. Texas Republicans were way ahead of him, smoothing the way for the current vilification of voting by mail. See differences in partisan views of voting by mail below.
|In-person on election day||14%||15%||28%|
|Don't intend to vote||0%||2%||1%|
|Don't know/No opinion||5%||23%||7%|
5. I recuse myself. A couple of major college football conferences announced they won’t play ball (oh, wait, that’s baseball, right?), and a couple of others seem to be holding the line, including the one with the big Texas teams. I’ve got two degrees from UT Austin, have been a student AND worked at UT in many different guises – and have attended one football game since I first set foot on campus in 1986. Call that perspective or a lack of it, but a lot of other people care. Well, not everyone, as illustrated in polling we did a couple of years ago (in an admittedly shameless act of pandering) on UT and A&M playing football again. More to the point, as of late June, 30% of Texans thought it was safe to attend a sporting event or concert at an outdoor stadium, marked by the partisan gaps we often see on assessments of safety. And it’s not the young people on this one, either.
|Don't know/No opinion||10%|
PLUS: As you might have heard, Joe Biden selected Kamala Harris to be his vice-presidential running mate. Much of the media coverage in the immediate aftermath focused on Harris as the safe, moderate choice, which Josh Blank and I considered in a post earlier this week, with some relevant data.
Honorable mention: The Sunset Commission. Maybe next week. But wow.
ICYMI: Josh Blank and talked about how complicated it is to figure out going back to school this year in this week's Second Reading podcast.