Springing back: Texas Data Points from the Week in Politics, March 16, 2018

On the Texas side of politics, this week felt like a flashback to last Spring, as the anti-sanctuary city law, the bathroom bill, and the general tone of the 85th Legislature all got rehearings. It’s hard not to feel yet again that there are much bigger goings-on nationally, as students not on spring break staged a national walk-out to protest inaction on gun policy, the Democrats won a squeaker in a Pennsylvania special election, and we discovered what many presupposed, that Special Counsel Mueller has some questions about the Trump business empire and its connections to Russians. Read on for Texas public opinion data linked to some of the big stories from the week in politics.

1. SB4 opponents hit a roadblock. The 5th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled this week that most of SB4, the state’s anti-sanctuary cities law, can go into effect while a court case over its legality plays out. This was widely seen as a “punch to the gut” for opponents of the law (per Julian Aguilar’s diligent coverage). While the Appellate judges weren’t ruling on the constitutionality of the law per se in deciding whether an injunction should continue, they may have forecast their general thoughts about the law’s legality. And while the national immigration conversation over DACA continues, an area where the usual Republican impulses towards strict immigration enforcement are somewhat muddled, the content of SB4 remains popular with the state’s voting majority, as seen in polling directly after the 85th legislature passed it as their get-out-of-the-GOP-free card.

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Strongly support11%52%72%
Somewhat support12%16%16%
Somewhat oppose27%11%5%
Strongly oppose38%10%3%
Don't know/no opinion13%10%4%

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Local law enforcement agencies decide policies for their officers70%42%26%
Officers should always be able to question a person’s immigration status15%51%69%
Don't know/no opinion15%8%6%

2. In the least surprising but still widely covered Texas political news of the week, the House Select Committee on Economic Competitiveness issued its interim report and concluded that, per the headline of the press release on the report, as Ross Ramsey points out, “Report reveals lack of education funding, outdated infrastructure and ‘bathroom bill’ threats to Texas economy.” Would that this were the final hyperbolic word on that, but we’ll see. The politics of this are more well-rehearsed than “Our Town,” and public opinion polling suggests that if you’re opposed to more attempts to legislating access to bathrooms, the less said about it the better if you want to change the policy focus. But there’s no point piling on after Ross called the report the equivalent of a “conniption fit” in the hed to that column. 

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Very important24%
Somewhat important19%
Not very important15%
Not at all important36%
Don't know/no opinion6%

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Very important23%22%26%
Somewhat important17%21%20%
Not very important11%20%18%
Not at all important41%34%31%
Don't know/no opinion8%3%5%

3. It’s a walkout! On Wednesday, students across the country garnered massive media attention in a coordinated remembrance of the Parkland, Florida shooting victims and a protest of gun violence in general, but in America’s schools in particular. In Texas, Spring break dampened the turnout some, as Sidney Greene captured in the Texas Tribune, but much of the day’s media coverage was devoted to a remarkable display of civic engagement amongst a group of people, loosely, “the young”, usually defined by their lack of civic engagement. While we don’t survey minors in the UT / TT poll, the youngest age cohort in our polling has consistently shown the most reticence towards expanded gun ownership and/or the loosening of existing laws of any cohort, with recent events unlikely to change that dynamic.

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Less safe53%39%39%37%
No impact12%15%13%15%
Don't know/no opinion10%11%6%2%

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More strict58%51%52%47%
Less strict14%16%12%10%
Left as they are now21%26%32%42%
Don't know/no opinion7%8%4%1%

4. The Democrats win another special one in Pennsylvania. For the most part, special elections conducted outside the normal election calendar in which outside groups spend tens of millions of dollars without the usual resource crunch of a full slate of elections, mean absolutely nothing beyond the direct matter at hand. But Tuesday felt a little different, both because a Democrat won a district where Trump won by over 20 points in 2016, but also because Republicans are beginning to fully embrace the reality of the difficult spot they find themselves in. The Texas elections last week (depending on how you look at them) turned out to be something of a reprieve for Republicans once all the votes were cast, increases in Democratic turnout notwithstanding. But there’s a big difference between a shift in sentiments of voters in a state like Pennsylvania, once described as part of Hillary Clinton’s firewall, and a state like Texas, where Democrats have been in the political wilderness for over two decades. They are not necessarily unconnected – if the increase in Democratic enthusiasm for voting triggered mainly by disgust with Donald Trump is something of a national phenomenon, the differences are bound to show up more quickly in a place where Democrats start from a competitive baseline. The Democrats, however, have a much deeper hole to dig out of in Texas.

5. Things are (still) getting (even) hot(ter). Special Counsel (for now?) Robert Mueller III has subpoenaed the Trump organization for documents related to Russia over the last few weeks, revealing what many have long anticipated: that the president’s business enterprises are entangled in the ongoing Russia investigation. We recently wrote about the fixed partisan attitudes surrounding the Russia investigation, and in particular, about how minds appear to be made about the facts, a troubling result given that the facts are still far from being revealed. The real question at this point is whether attitudes will remain fixed – even were the President to replace the attorney general and fire the special counsel? While this question might appear premature, Trump has always considered examinations of his business empire to be a bright line, and the attitudinal landscape, and in particular, the attitudes amongst Republican voters, might allow enough room for action from a president increasingly predisposed towards it.

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Don't know enough to say17%29%11%

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They're mostly efforts to investigate potential foreign interference in a U.S. election77%33%13%
They're mostly efforts to discredit Donald Trump's presidency9%40%77%
Don't know/No opinion14%26%9%

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Approve strongly45%12%6%
Approve somewhat21%10%8%
Neither approve nor disapprove16%23%15%
Disapprove somewhat5%10%18%
Disapprove strongly5%26%42%
Don't know7%18%11%

6. The Storm Continues. It was revealed this week that 60 minutes will air its interview with Stormy Daniels later this month, while here in Texas, the Dallas Morning News ran a story where Dallas megachurch pastor Robert Jeffress clarified the still strong evangelical support for Trump in light of the recent (let alone the many past) allegations: "Evangelicals still believe in the commandment: Thou shalt not have sex with a porn star. However, whether this president violated that commandment or not is totally irrelevant to our support of him." Jeffress continued, "I think [if] his policy changes or if he were found to be in an adulterous relationship now, that would cause many people a problem." That’s an interesting liturgical use of “or” and “now.” Christian support for the president remains strong here in Texas and we should expect it to stay that way, apparently, as long as the president maintains his steadfast commitment to his policy principals(!), and as long as he doesn’t engage in an extramarital affair...in the future.

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categoryThe Bible is the word of God, to be taken literallyThe Bible is the word of God, not to be taken literallyThe Bible is a book written by men
Approve strongly42%32%15%
Approve somewhat14%21%5%
Neither approve nor disapprove9%5%4%
Disapprove somewhat8%8%7%
Disapprove strongly26%32%69%
Don't know0%1%0%

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categoryExtremely importantSomewhat importantNot very importantNot at all important
Approve strongly39%26%24%17%
Approve somewhat19%19%10%3%
Neither approve nor disapprove6%10%8%2%
Disapprove somewhat8%7%12%4%
Disapprove strongly28%35%46%73%
Don't know1%2%0%1%