A Taco Truck Too Far? Texas Data Points from the Week in Politics – September 2, 2016

As the Labor Day weekend and the symbolic start of the Fall election campaign season nears, the Texas Secretary of State made public appearances extolling the virtue of voting – not to mention demonstrating that the state was following up on the court-approved agreement with plaintiffs in the running court battle on the state’s voter ID law (which the court’s have nixed for this election). The candidate for Travis County Sheriff in that election made news with a campaign promise that would make Austin a sanctuary city, adding to the pile of immigration-related news, including Texas’ appeal of the dismissal of the state’s lawsuit against the federal government over Syrian refugee resettlement, and Donald Trump’s sudden dash across the border and back Wednesday, a day that also found him traversing the spectrum of stances on relations with Mexico and immigration policy.  

1. “Our role is not necessarily to increase the vote,” said Secretary of State Carlos Cascos to a group of UT-Austin students on Wednesday as the state began its court mandated voter education drive as a result of Texas’ recently overturned voter ID law. No one could blame Cascos for setting low expectations, as political scientists would say: voting is a marginal decision for most people when one considers how unlikely any one person’s vote is to change the outcome of an election. And as the Texas Tribune’s Ross Ramsey notes, “With 202 state and federal legislative seats on the ballot, there are just 10 races that, based on past results, could flip a Republican seat to the Democrats. There are none, on that same basis, likely to flip from the Democrats to the Republicans.” So in the context of a deeply Republican state and very well drawn districts (for incumbents), it’s not entirely surprising that voter turnout is so low (and of course, there are other factors at play, like the state’s large minority and low income populations, in addition to the effects of laws like Texas’ now defunct voter ID requirements as well as voter registration rules). But at the same time, Mark Jones of Rice University, in a collaboration between the James A. Baker III Institute for Public Policy and The University of Houston Hobby Center for Public Policy, found that in one of those few competitive districts, CD-23, in 2014, “a pivotal number could have voted but did not because they did not believe they had one of the seven state mandated forms of identification required when voting in person.” Whether or not voter education will actually increase participation is an open question, but in a state of roughly 14 million registered voters, it’s hard to imagine how spending $2.5 million to educate them will have much of an impact. In fact, the spending mandated this cycle in the state’s agreement with plaintiffs in court proceedings over the voter ID case reportedly is comparable to what has been spent in 2013 and 2014, per the Texas Tribune. John Mortiz, back in the press corps, posted an excerpt of the Secretary of State talking to reporters at UT Austin.  Have a look...


2. 2010 called and they want their issue back. Austin is expected to become Texas’ first actual sanctuary city (that’s right, despite years of talk, Texas doesn’t actually have any “official” sanctuary cities) with the extremely likely election of Constable Sally Hernandez (D) to the office of Travis County Sheriff. Hernandez has promised to end cooperation with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) in Travis County jails. Those generally in favor of ending cooperation with ICE cite concerns about racial profiling and increased distrust of police among minority communities leading to less reporting of crimes and cooperation with investigators. But these concerns don’t manifest broadly in Texas public opinion: 59 percent of Texas voters, including 87 percent of Republicans, disapprove of sanctuary cities; and concerns over immigration and border security regularly top the list of the most important problems facing the state – among a host of other attitudes also making news this week (see below). Needless to say, should Hernandez proceed as planned, expect the chances of sanctuary cities legislation to increase (more) in the 2017 session.

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Approve of sanctuary cities21%
Disapprove of sanctuary cities59%
Don't know/No opinion21%

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Approve of sanctuary cities36%14%6%
Disapprove of sanctuary cities34%62%87%
Don't know/No opinion30%24%8%

3. Sue me, sue you blues. Texas is appealing the dismissal of its lawsuit against the federal government over the resettling of Syrian refugees in the state. Back in June, a District Court ruled that Texas did not have grounds to sue the federal government over this issue. Regardless of the legal wrangling that will continue over this (since suing the federal government seems like the first bullet point in the job description of the Texas AG), in a survey question sure to elicit a fair amount of socially desirable responses, 42 percent of Texans were still open about the fact that Syrian refugees would not be welcomed in their community in the February 2016 UT/Texas Tribune Poll, including 63 percent of Tea Party Republicans.

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Yes, welcomed28%
No, not welcomed42%
Don't know/No opinion30%

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categoryDemocratRepublicanTea Party
Yes, welcomed42%18%13%
No, not welcomed29%55%63%
Don't know/No opinion29%27%25%

4. Donald Trump's Hump Day, Part I: South of the Border. Donald Trump had a big Wednesday that started with his short strip to Mexico City to meet with President Enrique Peña Nieto. Initial reports of the meeting dwelled on Trump’s restraint and the veneer of diplomacy. All this was dashed by day’s end, and by the next day Peña Nieto and Trump were in a Twitter war as Mexicans panned the move and Trump seemingly lied about whether or not they had discussed wall building on the border – to say nothing of Trump’s decidedly less diplomatic tone later that day in Phoenix. It’s impossible to know what Trump hoped to accomplish with this particular combination of moves, especially given that attitudes in the U.S. toward Mexico as a country can be summarized as admiring Mexican culture, but mostly defined by perceptions of corruption, danger and instability related to the drug trade, as captured in national polling conducted by ViaNovo and GSDM in the U.S. in 2012 and 2016. (Disclosure: we consulted on these surveys.  Highlights available as a pdf here.) 

Demographic differences in attitudes towards Mexico

5. Donald Trump's Hump Day, Part II: North of the Border. Trump’s much anticipated immigration policy speech in Phoenix presented a 10-point plan that drove several of the Hispanic elites Trump had been courting with his “softening” feint to head for the exits (and to talk to reporters as they did so). Jonathan Tilove tracked responses among Hispanic Trump supporters in Texas in the Austin American Statesman, including the contortions of Rick Figueroa, who was one of the warm-up speakers for Trump’s Travis County Expo appearance last week. As Tilove writes: “‘It was a leadership mistake. It was a political mistake. It was a moral mistake,’ Figueroa tweeted. But Figueroa wrote, ‘With all his flaws, Mr. Trump is still a better choice than Hillary Clinton.’” The national news media went into yet another “what-the-hell-is-he-doing?” frenzy at the latest implausible plot twist, but one thing is for sure: however much Trump’s return to the basics on immigration, deportation, and the border drives GOP elites into manic depression, there is an audience among Texas GOP voters for Trump’s return to the nativist roots of his campaign. We don’t have polling data on all 10 items, but the polling data we have on some of the items – sanctuary cities (see above), comprehensive immigration reform, the wall, the deportation of undocumented immigrants in the U.S., cancelling the Obama Administration’s executive actions (writ large) – suggest that Trump said things that the base of the Texas GOP wants to hear. Nonetheless, being down on taco trucks might be pushing the limits. (Note to self: fav/unfav on tacos. If you see this in the next PPP poll, you read about it here first.)

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Strongly agree12%31%40%
Somewhat agree13%25%32%
Somewhat disagree20%17%15%
Strongly disagree47%20%9%
Don't know/No opinion8%6%4%

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Strongly support49%16%9%
Somewhat supoort25%39%20%
Somewhat oppose10%13%23%
Strongly oppose6%19%39%
Don't know10%14%10%

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

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The U.S. Congress, the legislative branch3%3%27%
The President, the executive branch35%12%4%
The U.S. Supreme Court, the judicial branch31%36%26%
Don't know31%49%43%


h/t Matthew Yglesias for thinking things through.