The June 2017 University of Texas/Texas Tribune Poll underlined both the Lt. Governor’s success at getting his name out there, but also the continuing strength of a better known Governor. An increase in the salience of legislative efforts to regulate transgender people’s access to bathrooms among conservatives in the GOP is a testament, though, to Patrick’s ability to capture the imagination of his base. Or maybe it’s hearts and minds, judging by some of the patterns of support for another conservative cause, so-called conscience exemptions. You don’t need to practice much pattern recognition, though, to pick up on the odd fact that, for all the declarations that some people in the legislature let conservatives down in the 85th, the Tea Party faction seems pretty pleased with the achievements of the legislature and its leadership. One thing no one seems interested in is throwing legal voters in jail, even if they fail to use their photo id when they vote. Seems there are limits after all.
1. Dan Patrick has raised his profile, but not higher than Governor Abbott’s. Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick has been extremely visible since (at least) the 2016 Presidential Election cycle – first on behalf of Texas Senator Ted Cruz, then on behalf of President Trump, then on behalf of his own efforts to shape the agenda of the 85th Legislature. Whatever you think about the Lt. Gov. and his intentions (and if you’re reading this, you probably think about this a lot), this all makes a certain amount of sense if you look at his polling numbers. Results going back over a year showed that approximately 40 percent of Texas voters were unable to provide a positive or negative opinion of the presiding officer of the Texas Senate. But all his work appears to be paying off in the form of higher statewide recognition according to the June 2017 poll. Only 29 percent no longer register an opinion of Patrick, down 8 points from February. This growth in name ID is a mixed bag (which is not uncommon). Approval among Texas Republicans stands at 64 percent, up 5 points since February, while disapproval among Texas Democrats stands at 63 percent, up 8 points since February. Meanwhile, he garners support from 78 percent of Tea Party identifiers, which remains relatively unchanged from the 75 percent back in February.
|Neither approve nor disapprove||17%||25%||17%|
|Neither approve nor disapprove||14%||20%||10%|
While this is all good news for Patrick, the person whom Patrick’s star is continuously, if potentially unfairly, compared to is doing even better. Governor Abbott is unknown by only 16 percent of the electorate, and has positive job approval ratings among a plurality of Texas voters (45 percent). His approval among Republicans is overwhelming at 83 percent, and even more so among Tea Party Republicans at 90 percent.
|Neither approve nor disapprove||14%||19%||8%|
|Neither approve nor disapprove||13%||9%||6%|
2. Message received on bathrooms. The sunset problem and the extremely long list on the special session call notwithstanding, it’s hard not to view the major catalyst for the grim party that starts July 18 as the failure to pass some form of a bathroom bill out of the Legislature. This is also the issue that most clearly pitted the Lt. Governor and the Speaker of the House against one another, prompting dueling press conferences and the Lt. Governor’s call to Texas Pastors and Christians more generally to mobilize in favor of SB6. It appears that the GOP base has heard his call. In February, only 39 percent of Tea Party Republicans said that it was important the the Legislature address transgender bathroom access, in June, that share jumped to 70 percent. Among Texas voters who believe that the bible is the literal word of god, ratings of importance for bathroom legislation jumped from 54 percent to 66 percent, and among those who say that religion is extremely important in their life, importance ratings jumped from 49 percent to 59 percent. Patrick may not have surpassed Abbott in name recognition or approval level, but this movement is certainly a testament to his efforts.
|Not very important||14%|
|Not at all important||33%|
|Don't know/No opinion||9%|
|Not very important||9%||17%||13%|
|Not at all important||48%||25%||17%|
|Don't know/No opinion||10%||4%||1%|
3. Maybe it’s not brainwashing after all! Throughout the legislative session, multiple attempts were made, often successfully, to attach ‘religious freedom’ amendments to bills aimed at allowing those Texans who hold a sincerely held religious belief to escape rules or regulations often intended to limit or prohibit discrimination. The specifics of these amendments were too numerous to poll on, but the general concept was not. We asked Texans whether or not they agreed or disagreed with the following statement:
A sincerely held religious belief is a legitimate reason to exempt someone from laws designed to prevent discrimination.
Overall, a slight majority of Texans disagreed with this statement (51 percent). Democrats were very likely to disagree (68 percent) while Republicans were somewhat ambivalent, with 45 percent expressing agreement and 34 percent disagreeing. But maybe most interestingly was the impact of a college degree on attitudes. People tend to think of college as a liberalizing influence, and among Texas Democrats, this appears to have been the case, with 77 percent of college educated Democrats disagreeing with this statement compared to 63 percent of those without a college degree. But among Texas Republicans, those without a college degree were split (39 percent agreeing and 39 percent disagreeing), while those with a college degree were more likely to agree that a sincerely held religious belief is a legitimate reason to exempt someone from laws aimed at prevent discrimination (55 percent agree, 28 percent disagree).
4. You’d never know it from listening to ⅔ of the Big Three, but the Tea Party is very happy. Despite a special session call seemingly designed to appease the desires of the most conservative corners of the GOP coalition, it’s worth noting that Tea Party identifiers (often a good proxy for the attitudes of the most likely GOP primary voters) are the group most satisfied with the legislature, the output of the most recent legislative session, and the state leaders most responsible. Job approval of the Texas Legislature among Tea Party identifiers came in at 75 percent, 6 points higher than at the end of the 2015 Session, and the highest of any political sub-group (and the only group to be more satisfied this year compared to 2015). An overwhelming share of Tea Party Republicans approved of the job Greg Abbott (90 percent), Dan Patrick (78 percent), and Joe Straus (44 percent, a plurality – he is far less known) are doing. Additionally, on 8 of the 11 high profile policy proposals that the Legislature debated (and in many cases passed), Tea Party Republicans were the most supportive group in 8 of them, including the 5 that had less than majority support from Texas voters overall. While the Tea Party wave of 2010 seems like a long time ago, their influence, no matter how you classify or name them, is still being felt in 2017.
|Neither approve nor disapprove||18%|
|Neither approve nor disapprove||14%||21%||12%|
5. It’s all about the integrity of the process. In a mad dash at the end of the session, the Legislature passed amended voter ID rules in the face of a court ruling that had thrown out the previous rules just prior to the 2016 Presidential Election. The Legislature extended most of the judge’s order for the 2016 Election, allowing voters to identify themselves with a bank statement, utility bill, or paycheck if they sign an affidavit claiming a reasonable impediment to obtaining one of the listed forms of ID. BUT, if those voters falsely claimed a reasonable impediment, their otherwise legal vote (remember, these are registered voters voting as themselves) could face up to 2 years in prison for their vote (down from 10 years in the original Senate version). Overall, a slight plurality of voters think that Texans who falsely claim an impediment should be punished (40 percent to 38 percent), with a majority of Republicans 60 percent agreeing and a majority of Democrats (58 percent) disagreeing. But when it comes to the punishment, the majority of Texans who think there should be one think it should be a fine (62 percent). Only 11 percent agreed that it should be a jail term of up to 2 years, and only 7 percent said it should be a jail term of up to 10 years. This was not influenced by partisanship, 61 percent of Republicans think the punishment should be a fine, 18 percent say it should be some sort of jail term.
|Should penalize that voter||40%|
|Should not penalize that voter||38%|
|Should penalize that voter||18%||46%||60%|
|Should not penalize that voter||58%||30%||21%|
|A fine, like a traffic ticket||62%|
|A jail term of no more than 2 years||11%|
|A jail term of no more than 10 years||7%|
|Don't know/No opinion||20%|