Texas Data Points from the Week in Politics - February 12, 2016

The post-New Hampshire exits of Carly Fiorina and Chris Christie are unlikely to cause major movements in Texas, but the struggles of Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders to expand their appeals to young people and racial and ethnic minorities, respectively, will be major factors in the Texas Democratic Primary. Down ballot in Texas, this week saw the factional conflicts in the Texas GOP continue to approach the boiling point as candidates released videos and oppo hits as March 1 approaches. Attorney General Ken Paxton, of course, isn’t worried at all about the indictments piling up against him, but nonetheless is probably glad that he’s not on the ballot right this minute. Amidst all the complex cross currents in Texas right now, The New York Times op-ed page is pretty clearly not very concerned about the details. Proceed for relevant Texas data and a few thoughts on the week in politics. 

1. With New Hampshire in the books, the expected thinning of the GOP field has commenced. So far, the formal Republican bloodletting that continued with New Hampshire this week has only removed two more candidates, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie and businesswoman Carly Fiorina. California based Fiorina was polling slightly better than New Jersey’s Christie in Texas in November 2015 University of Texas/Texas Tribune Polling, but that only amounted to 5 percent between them. Both did a little batter as second choices. Unfortunately for them, voters only get one choice. Aside on the topic: the Hunger Games take offs on candidates dropping out are getting really tired. You know who you are.

2. After an extremely narrow victory in Iowa and a crushing loss in New Hampshire, most pundits and strategists agree that the Clinton campaign must be ecstatic to be moving on from the...um...less diverse electorates in those two states and on to electorates that the Clintons have a legendarily long history with. This change in electoral composition is what is being referred to as Clinton’s "firewall," an acknowledgment both of her strength among non-white voters, and of Sanders’ weakness with this same group. These expectations appear to be reinforced here in Texas, where November polling showed Clinton leading Sanders among African Americans 73 percent to 14 percent, and among Hispanics 65 percent to 26 percent. Sanders’ huge victories among young voters in the early states seems less likely in Texas, where 18-29 year olds favored the Vermont Senator by only three points over Clinton in that same poll (47 percent to 44 percent), but a lot has changed since November, and we should expect Sanders support to have gone up in the intervening months. We’re working on this now...nod’s as good as a wink.  

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Hillary Clinton52%73%65%
Bernie Sanders43%14%26%
Martin O'Malley1%2%1%
Lawrence Lessig1%0%0%
Don't know3%11%9%


Just as last week saw the media focusing on Clinton and young women (thanks, Madeline Albright and Gloria Steinem), this week has seen the mediaverse focused on Bernie and race, from the we-put-the-b-in-sub-tul Fox News story on Bernie Sanders playing basketball to images of Sanders having breakfast with Al Sharpton at Sylvia’s. Expect the media deconstruction of the Democratic coalition to continue, with more image overload.




3. While an anxious nation increasingly keeps its eyes glued on the weirdest presidential primary in living memory, most of the attention of folks who follow Texas politics for a living is focused on a few state house and senate primary races. Legislative primary races inevitably and thus obviously involve local factors: Which candidates are known in what parts of the district? Who do they know and what is known about them? How good a feel do they have for what matters in their district? But just as inevitably, especially in the modern age, factional politics in the legislature, which interest groups get involved and how much, and the degree to which statewide or even national issues are at play, provide overlays for the essentially local nature of these races. The most talked about races at lunches and cocktail hours in the Capitol district in Austin are those pitting candidates associated with the current leadership in the Texas House against challengers supported by dissident Republican groups like Empower Texans. While these races are essentially local in their nature, at this moment they are very strongly inflected by elite conflicts. As far as the Republican primary electorate is concerned, once local factors are accounted for, the most conservative candidate is the best, as suggested by the passive support for the influence of the Tea Party even among Republicans who don’t choose to identify with the Tea Party label. In practice, this is why Charlie Geren is shooting off cannons while reminding voters about the Constitution and border security.

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categoryDemocratRepublicanTea Party
Too much influence66%27%2%
Too little influence11%17%81%
The right amount of influence8%36%16%
Don't know16%21%1%

4. Attorney General Ken Paxton can add a Texas State Bar investigation to his growing list of troubles .  It came to light this week that the organization will investigate Paxton’s decision to issue an opinion telling county clerks that if they had a religious objection, they could opt out of issuing marriage licenses to same sex couples, even after the Supreme Court pretty much said otherwise. It turns out, lawyers aren’t supposed to advise people to break the law, because, as someone technically knowledgeable about the law, their job usually involves advising people how to do the opposite. Maybe more importantly for the AG, this kind of behavior can lead to disbarment (lucky for Paxton, the AG doesn’t have to be a lawyer!). When issuing his opinion, Paxton was no doubt thinking about the voters who elevated him out of a crowded primary field rather than the pesky law.

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categoryDemocratRepublicanTea Party
Gays and lesbians should have the right to marry66%29%13%
Gays and lesbians should not have the right to marry24%53%73%
Don't know10%17%14%

5. Maybe The New York Times op-ed page needs a Texas ombudsmen to help screen out inane writing about the Lone Star State? The week started with an op-ed in the Times by Texas Monthly executive editor Mimi Swartz to the effect that Ms. Swartz doesn’t know many people in Houston who like Ted Cruz, especially among those who think fondly of the Bush family. One of us went on at length about this elsewhere, but suffice it to say that Swartz’s implication that the Friends of the Bushes are representative of the attitudes of Houston writ large seems to ignore the 69,321 Harris county voters who picked Cruz over Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst in a crowded Senate primary field, as well as the 582,328 who voted for him in the general election in Harris County, and the 71 percent of Texas’ Republican voters who have a favorable view of the Senator, and...well, you get the picture. For the record, the rap on the Swartz piece isn’t that Ted Cruz is likeable after all; it’s that The New York Times shouldn’t be printing efforts to pass off society reporting about Bush supporters in Houston as informative political opining.

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Very favorable2%15%46%
Somewhat favorable6%16%25%
Neither favorable nor unfavorable15%14%9%
Somewhat unfavorable10%14%9%
Very unfavorable59%29%6%
Don't know / No opinion8%12%6%

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Approve strongly2%19%49%
Approve somewhat8%15%26%
Neither approve nor disapprove15%14%7%
Disapprove somewhat9%10%8%
Disapprove strongly57%30%4%
Don't know9%12%7%