Texas Data Points from the Week in Politics: “OMG, The New Yorker is Paying Attention to Us!” Edition

The Fourth of July came and went this week, and by Thursday the invocation of self-evident truths had given way to the U.S. Department of Justice deeming Senate Bill 5 a good enough fix to the deficiencies in Texas' voter ID law. The center right and leftward embraced Lawrence Wright's telling of the tale of the 85th Legislature in The New Yorker, which at 20,000 words or so had lots of space for close observations by a good writer, though the actual argument about Texas and the U.S. promised in the hed ("America's Future is Texas") seemingly remains to be made in the forthcoming book. Ted Cruz released his own opus with details to be released later, too, as he continued efforts to combine rebranding, repealing and replacing. Meanwhile, while Cruz attempted to handle the responsibilities that come with being in the party in power in Washington, D.C., the man who bested Cruz in the 2012 presidential primary was set to meet with the President of Russia, who the President seems to think is not as bad a dude as many in his adopted party tend to think. The elites remain largely skeptical, but Trump's voters have shown a willingness to take a second look. You can take a second look at data related to the week's event below.

1. The Justice Department signs off on the Texas voter ID redo. The U.S. Justice Department announced Thursday that the voter id “fix”, Senate Bill 5, passed by the 85th legislature and signed into law by Governor Abbott, essentially eliminated the presence of the discriminatory intent that the federal court had found in the original law. Per Jim Malewitz coverage in the Texas Tribune, the DoJ letter said that “Texas’s voter ID law both guarantees to Texas voters the opportunity to cast an in-person ballot and protects the integrity of Texas’ elections.” Disgusted response from the civil rights community ensued. The voter ID law has taken quite a journey across the public opinion landscape, with fairly consistent support from Republicans and an initial response something like “sure, why not?” among Democrats transforming in fairly short order to “hell, no!” The law was, of course, subject to significant debate in the 85th regular session, particularly over State Rep. Phil King’s provision that provided for jail time for anyone who had an allowed photo ID, but didn’t use it when voting. When we asked about this provision with minimal framing in the June 2017 UT/Texas Tribune Poll, even State Rep. King’s base mostly thought a ticket would suffice.

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Should penalize that voter18%46%60%
Should not penalize that voter58%30%21%
Don't know24%24%19%

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A fine, like a traffic ticket66%75%61%
A jail term of no more than 2 years7%1%13%
A jail term of no more than 10 years7%12%5%
Don't know/No opinion19%12%21%

​2. So the Speaker may have thought what you thought he did about SB6.  The front end of the holiday weekend brought the online release of Lawrence Wright’s long read in The New Yorker about Texas – essentially a leisurely and writerly stroll through the 85th legislative session. The #txlege crowd was all atwitter over a couple of quotes from Speaker Straus (and, of course, the national attention, just admit it). The Twitterati initially seized on Wright’s reporting of Straus’ rejection of the Lt. Governor’s demands on a bathroom bill, “Tell the lieutenant governor I don’t want the suicide of a single Texan on my hands,” which also had the tasty little whodunnit about the unnamed lawyer senator acting as Patrick’s emissary during the exchange. The story also ends with a kicker suggesting Straus isn’t inclined to move much come the special session. “The legislature is not obligated to act upon his agenda items within the thirty-day period," the Speaker said to Wright, "And the Governor would have the option to call as many thirty-day sessions as he would like.” For our money, the more structurally important though not so newsy Straus quote was about his continuing wish, laid out a bit more specifically than usual, that the business groups Wright describes earlier in the article as “loudly protesting” against SB6 repeatedly downgrade their opposition on social issues for their bread-and-butter issues. “I try to be diplomatic but clear—that if you give in on the bathroom bill to preserve a tax break, there’s another equally awful idea right behind it.” While this view, like his views on SB 6, isn’t news if you pay attention, as with the SB 6 comments, the argument is laid out a little more explicitly by the Speaker, who, by the way, Wright describes as “trim and dapper, like an account executive on 'Mad Men'." Just to clarify, Don Draper was a creative director.

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Approve strongly1%2%8%
Approve somewhat14%11%29%
Neither approve nor disapprove21%30%28%
Disapprove somewhat15%11%9%
Disapprove strongly24%24%9%
Don't know25%21%18%

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Very important26%
Somewhat important18%
Not very important14%
Not at all important33%
Don't know/No opinion9%

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Very important19%23%35%
Somewhat important16%8%22%
Not very important9%22%15%
Not at all important44%32%22%
Don't know/No opinion12%14%5%

3. The stuff dreams are made of. Lawrence Wright’s piece was long enough that it gets two points. To continue: The barely underlying nostalgia for (a) Ann Richards or (b) the Golden Age of Texas Politics i.e. the Bush-Bullock-Laney interlude that is a recurring feature of every big picture portrait at Texas Politics really needs a closer look. This nostalgia, here and elsewhere, seems at least partially rooted in not facing up to the fundamentals of public opinion in the state, and how Texans have been filtered by political institutions with remarkable consistency. The casting of Richards and the Bush-Bullock-Lane triumvirate as political heroes in recent Texas political history ultimately obscures the former being exceptional and arguably an electoral fluke, and on ignoring the play of self-interest and, of course, the end results of the latter (i.e. Bush’s record as president). Both Richards’ relatively limited liberal achievements and the surface bi-partisanship of the Bush governorship were short and minor variations in the largely uninterrupted expression of a center-right conservative political mainstream in the state that has dominated the majority party in power one way or the other – checking the center-left impulses of the Democrats as that party came more to resemble their national brethren, then growing as they found natural amplification in a Texas GOP that tracked the respective rightward shift in their own national party. In this context, the tale of the 85th legislature, artfully narrated by Wright, portrays the natural flow from a wellspring of conservative energy (extensively documented in public opinion polling). These conservative forces are amplified by an enfeebled Democratic party, and a Republican majority able and willing to pursue policies that keep them that way – from erecting obstacles to political participation in the name of electoral integrity to stifling the social and organizational vehicles, from labor unions (such as they are) to Planned Parenthood to public education, that might hasten the incorporation of the large number of unengaged citizens in the state. In this sense, Texas politics are and always have been as much or more about political development in tandem with the fundamentals of national politics as they are about providing some kind of model for others.

And yes, it felt ok to just get that out.

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Very favorable20%
Somewhat favorable17%
Neither favorable nor unfavorable12%
Somewhat unfavorable9%
Very unfavorable36%
Don't know/no opinion6%

4. Everyone came back to work after the 4th of July to find Ted Cruz back in the spotlight and declaring independence from his former leadership position in the Party of No. Cruz had floated an alternative approach to the Senate’s effort to find the repeal and replace sweet spot. We wrote about it in a separate post, but, to wit: it’s probably not much of a solution to anything other than Ted Cruz’s reputation as a guy who refuses to play with others, but it probably works for him whether it goes anywhere after the CBO scores it or not. Just getting it moved along is probably enough at this point.  #Tx2018 #2020election

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Repeal the law and replace it with an alternative63%77%65%
Repeal the law and don't replace it35%20%30%
Don't know1%2%5%

​5. Oh yeah, Donald Trump is getting together with Vladimir Putin, the president of the country we ought to be getting along with better because it’s good for the USA (#MAGA) and Obama was too weak to pull it off and they didn’t meddle in the election anyway. In national polling and in both the February and June UT/TT polls, which considered favorability ratings of Vladimir Putin and Russia, respectively, we found evidence that Trump’s comparatively sanguine view of both in the context of traditional GOP attitudes and postures seemed to be sending effective signals to the GOP base. Our colleague Daron Shaw explained this as perhaps an example of “motivated reasoning,” in a post-poll Tribcast a couple of weeks ago (see the work of Milton Lodge and Charles Taber if you’re really trying to avoid work this Friday). Don’t let the social science dilute just how remarkable a turn this is in the broader sweep of history.

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Very favorable4%
Somewhat favorable7%
Neither favorable nor unfavorable27%
Somewhat unfavorable22%
Very unfavorable34%
Don't know/no opinion6%

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Very favorable4%4%4%
Somewhat favorable2%10%11%
Neither favorable nor unfavorable17%27%36%
Somewhat unfavorable19%23%25%
Very unfavorable52%24%20%
Don't know/no opinion6%12%4%