Raging and Pledging: Texas Data Points from the Week in Politics, Sept 11, 2020

The release of recordings of conversations between veteran journalist Bob Woodward and President Donald Trump as part of the Washington Post's rollout for Woodward’s second book about Trump, Rage, dominated coverage of politics, Trump, and COVID-19 this week. Senator Corynyn “in retrospect” opined that President Trump just maybe could have trusted the American people with “accurate information." Meanwhile, as part of his effort to get re-elected, Trump this week released a list of potential nominees for the U.S. Supreme Court that included, among other colorful characters, the junior U.S. Senator from Texas that the president used to call "Lyin’ Ted." Back in Ted Cruz’s home state, his former boss, Governor Greg Abbott, continued to avoid undue attention to COVID-19, channelling the president’s political turn to press a law and order argument with a new campaign pledge for Republicans and citizens (validated with your data), and still more proposals designed to punish cities ostensibly not toeing the blue line. And there’s a lot of stress in the state this week as many kids returned to whatever version of school is on offer in their neighborhood. Don’t panic, just read on for more Texas data related to these events from the week in Texas politics.

1. The President's Man. You may have heard that tapes of on-the-record conversations between Bob Woodward and President Donald Trump prove (along with other indignities) what many suspected all along: The President knew that COVID-19 was a serious problem from the beginning, but continued to downplay the virus to the public (to greatly understate the case). As we wrote back at the beginning of July, cues from Republican leaders have been an essential part of getting Texans, particularly Texas Republicans, to take measures to contain the pandemic seriously...or not. As Trump continued to downplay the virus, the share of Texas Republicans who failed to take the virus seriously, as indicated by both their expressed attitudes and reported behaviors, grew — helping to fuel the increase in cases during the summer peak and the predictable, subsequent uptick in deaths due to the virus. We’ve been over this before, but thanks to the president’s conscious but clearly unsuccessful attempt to win Woodward over to his Trump-centered world, we now have a clearer portrait of how Trump's misdirection of the public fueled the pandemic in the country and in Texas — especially among those Texans who were inclined to believed him.

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Don't trust89%55%11%
Don't know/Unfamiliar5%16%7%

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Medical and health professionals93%66%87%
The Centers for Disease Control (CDC)84%52%63%
Your friends and family62%48%69%
Greg Abbott32%35%85%
Your local elected officials58%38%57%
Donald Trump5%29%82%
Your employer40%25%45%
Religious leaders and clergy28%16%56%
The news media61%20%15%
Social media and online sources22%12%13%

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A significant crisis91%56%48%
A serious problem but not a crisis6%21%43%
A minor problem2%7%6%
Not a problem at all1%6%1%
Don't know/No opinion0%10%2%

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A significant crisis88%52%29%
A serious problem but not a crisis9%29%46%
A minor problem1%7%18%
Not a problem at all0%9%5%
Don't know/No opinion1%4%1%

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Living normally, coming and going as usual5%21%32%
Still leaving my residence, but being careful when I do36%45%45%
Only leaving my residence when I absolutely have to55%30%22%
Not leaving home3%5%1%

2. "In retrospect," no offense intended, but just maybe... In July, the state’s senior senator, former Attorney General, and Texas Supreme Court Justice suggested that the president’s idea to delay the 2020 Election was a mere “joke” intended to rile the press, despite the quick and near-unanimous rejection of the idea from people across the political spectrum, including Texas Republicans like Ted Cruz. This and other instances of Senator Cornyn defending the seemingly indefensible led some to wonder just what it would take for John Cornyn to create some distance between himself and Donald Trump. Why Cornyn would kowtow to the president is pretty clear given Trump’s significantly higher standing in Texas, and in particular, among Texas Republicans (who, like Democrats, won’t be able to vote straight-ticket for the first time this fall). But apparently, playing down the virus might have been a bridge too far for Cornyn:

"I understand the intention that he didn’t want to panic the American people...That’s not what leaders do. But I think in retrospect, I think he might have been able to handle that in a way that both didn’t panic the American people but also gave them accurate information."

Emphasis on "might' here, though. His caution in being too critical of the president's subborning of the coronavirus likely reflects polling numbers showing Cornyn still enjoying a lead outside the margin of error in the few polls of his reelection race, and his opponent M.J. Hegar still not making much of an impression among a large swath of the electorate (in a September Dallas Morning News/UT Tyler Poll, 49% declined to express either a favorable or unfavorable view of her). Still, the greatest danger to Cornyn isn’t a groundswell of enthusiasm for Hegar, but a sudden storm of Democratic support that swamps all boats. Cornyn has previously shown a tendency to tack briefly in the face of some of Trump’s provocations, but the squishiness of Cornyn’s comments suggest he’s not about to change course. For better or worse, Trump is the wind in his sails.

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ApproveDisapproveNeither/Don't Know
November 201543%24%32%
February 201645%20%34%
June 201641%21%39%
October 201644%18%36%
February 201752%13%36%
June 201751%21%27%
October 201746%23%31%
February 201850%18%32%
June 201846%18%35%
October 201870%8%21%
February 201962%14%25%
June 201963%12%26%
October 201961%12%28%
February 202066%10%23%
April 202066%12%22%
June 202065%15%20%
October 202071%11%18%
February 202156%18%24%
March 202157%20%23%
April 202157%18%25%
June 202160%17%24%
August 202151%21%28%
October 202154%21%24%
February 202254%16%30%
April 202253%17%30%
June 202241%34%25%
August 202248%27%25%
October 202255%22%23%
December 202258%22%20%
February 202348%26%25%
April 202350%26%24%
June 202351%24%24%
August 202346%27%27%
October 202343%26%31%
December 202343%27%31%
February 202445%26%30%
April 202451%21%28%

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PollApproveDisapproveNeither/Don't know
February 201781%10%8%
June 201780%13%7%
October 201778%15%7%
February 201883%11%5%
June 201887%7%6%
October 201888%7%4%
February 201988%8%5%
June 201988%8%5%
October 201988%8%5%
February 202087%9%4%
April 202090%7%3%
June 202086%8%6%
October 202090%8%2%

3. Bygones! Meanwhile, over in Texas's other U.S. Senate seat, Ted Cruz is on Donald Trump’s long list to be nominated to the U.S. Supreme Court. James Hohmann at the Washington Post thinks the list could actually countermoblize Democrats this time in addition to the desired effect of mobilizing conservative Republicans, which everyone seems to agree was the effect of Trump’s SCOTUS nominee rollout in 2016. Texas Republicans were certainly interested, per our polling. Cruz and Trump have had a stormy relationship that’s included the President dubbing the junior senator from Texas “lying Ted,” suggesting his father had something to do with the assassination of President Kennedy and that Cruz was ineligible to be president, questioned his faith, and made fun of his wife. For his part, Cruz called then-candidate Trump “a pathological liar”, a “sniveling coward”, “utterly amoral”, and a “serial philanderer”, and, of course, famously failed to endorse him at his 2016 convention. But hey, it’s all cool now, apparently, even if including Cruz on the list *could* be seen as completely instrumental rather than as a nod to Cruz’s jurisprudential genius. Cruz signaled he was humbled to be considered and in an obliquely phrased statement, left his options as open as possible: "It's humbling and an immense honor to be considered for the Supreme Court," Cruz said. "In the Senate, I have been blessed to lead the fight to preserve our constitutional liberties —every day, to defend the rights of 29 million Texans — and I look forward to continuing to do so for many years to come.” That sentence begins with “the Senate”, but inserts a lot of verbal real estate between “Senate” and “years to come.” The widespread assumption is that in 2024, whether Trump wins or loses in November, Cruz is likely to be an automatic candidate for the GOP presidential nomination.

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Approve strongly2%23%57%
Approve somewhat7%14%24%
Neither approve nor disapprove7%15%8%
Disapprove somewhat14%11%4%
Disapprove strongly66%28%4%
Don't know4%9%3%

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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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Ted Cruz37%
Donald J. Trump29%
Marco Rubio14%
Jeb Bush6%
Ben Carson5%
John R. Kasich5%
Rand Paul2%
Carly Fiorina1%
Elizabeth Gray1%
Rick Santorum1%
Chris Christie0%
Lindsey Graham0%
Mike Huckabee0%

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Great president2%6%27%
Good president6%13%31%
Average president14%18%18%
Poor president18%13%9%
Terrible president52%37%11%
Don't know7%12%4%

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Great president3%16%18%
Good president5%13%24%
Average president9%11%17%
Poor president12%13%13%
Terrible president67%41%22%
Don't know3%6%6%

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Improve the American economy21%
Give the Republican Party a good chance to win in November20%
Shake up politics-as-usual15%
Reform immigration policy14%
Fight terrorism10%
Defend my faith and religious values9%
Improve America's standing in the world7%
Work to guarantee equal rights for all groups in society2%
Address economic inequality in the country2%

4. Abbott triples down on law and order (and builds his mailing list). As the Woodward book release was forcing the president to talk about the coronavirus this week, a less encumbered Governor Abbott drew again from the law and order well, posting a YouTube video “calling on every Texan and every candidate for public office regardless of party affiliation to join me in signing a pledge against defunding our police departments,” followed by event in which Abbott signed the pledge and urged other Republicans signal their support on social media. Candidates and Texans were directed to the Governor’s campaign website to sign by submitting their names and contact numbers, making the call to action a combination of continuing efforts to redirect attention away from the coronavirus and the economy, but also a data collection opportunity for the governor’s campaign. Even setting aside the campaign trappings of the governor’s action on this front over the last two weeks, the wording of the pledge itself points to the political nature of the whole exercise. It begins, “I sign this Texas Backs the Blue Pledge to oppose any efforts to defund the police and to show my support for the brave law enforcement officers who risk their lives to protect and serve”; the poster board with the pledge at Thursday’s media event ended helpfully with a hashtag. Both Jolie McCulloch and Cassandra Pollock’s Texas Tribune story and Robert Garrett’s story in the Dallas Morning News explicitly flag that the phrase “defund the police” has become detached from any capacity to reliably convey any policy. As Garrett dryly writes about Abbott, “The terms he used, ‘defund and dismantle the police,' though, are imprecise.” 

Abbott continues to lead Republican candidates into issue territory that unifies the GOP, as the data below illustrate. The political messaging on both sides around so-called efforts to “defund the police” has been a slow pitch over the plate to Republicans, and Abbott – not up for re-election himself until 2022 and loathe to involve the legislature in the state’s coronavirus response – appears all too happy to bang the drum on public safety based on the theory that it might help insulate suburban Republican legislators concerned about their seats in a tough election year. Amidst the maneuvering, two questions loom large: First, can or will Abbott’s efforts to maintain the salience of this issue outweigh the pandemic’s human and economic costs in voters’ minds as the election nears? Potentially working in the GOP’s favor is the possibility of a decline in overall attention to the pandemic, as suggested by some social media data discussed by Neal Rothschild in Axios today. Second, in the medium term, once the campaigns are over, how much does the legislature pick up Abbott’s proposals like freezing property tax revenues for cities and, unveiled Thursday, limiting the annexation powers of cities that cut police budgets (especially during a time in which most local governments, as well as the legislature, will be looking to trim their budgets). Largely relegated to the sidelines and to Fox News appearances during the pandemic, the Lt. Governor’s office has been happy to weigh in with their willingness to lead the Senate in kicking the cities around some more, as McCulloch and Pollock recount (“‘It is time for the state to step up,’ Sherry Sylvester said in a statement to the Tribune”). We’ll see how enthusiastic Governor Abbott is about Lt. Governor Patrick taking the lead on this next spring amidst a budget crunch, year two of the pandemic, and the 2022 election hovering over it all. 

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Very favorable7%22%55%
Somewhat favorable20%22%29%
Neither favorable nor unfavorable19%19%7%
Somewhat unfavorable30%12%6%
Very unfavorable23%17%2%
Don't know/No opinion2%8%1%

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CategoryLean conservativeSomewhat conservativeExtremely conservative
Very favorable35%55%73%
Somewhat favorable40%32%17%
Neither favorable nor unfavorable8%9%3%
Somewhat unfavorable14%2%4%
Very unfavorable2%2%3%
Don't know/No opinion1%1%1%

5. Back to school! (Sort of.) Many kids in the largest school districts in Texas returned to, well, their studies this week — some at school, many at home, and a few in boutique arrangements like private school pods if their families have the means. Back in June, there was a lot of concern about the safety of sending kids to school, but it was unevenly distributed among groups. Democrats were much more likely to think that it was unsafe to send children to school than were Republicans; women thought it less safe than men (part of a broader pattern of women making different calculations about risk than men, as our colleague Megan Moeller noted in a July post on this blog); and in June, at least, there was a lot of caution in the suburbs. Given that there is a patchwork of remote learning, hybrid, and in-person education going on in public schools, we’ll know more about how well founded these perceptions of risk were in the next few weeks (if the state collects and reports the data).

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