Texas Data Points from the Week in Politics - January 8, 2016

The holidays were definitely over this week with the primary contests heating up and President Obama making a big push on gun safety and earning a swift, even preemptive responses from Republicans in Washington and Texas. Speaking of Washington Republicans in Texas, Marco Rubio made his first campaign visit to Texas this week in an effort to break into the top tier here.  The DPS officer who pulled over and arrested Sandra Bland, who later died in custody in Waller County, is out of the job and in legal trouble, while federal law enforcement officials are taking a MUCH more measured approach to the constitutionalist occupation of a building on national park land in Colorado – perhaps following a little-noticed Texas precedent. As we were gathering material for this post, Greg Abbott called for a Constitutional Convention – U.S., not state, so if you’re a Texas legislator, it’s ok – and 9 new amendments broadly aimed at reasserting state authority vis-a-vis the federal government and putting new checks on the U.S. Supreme Court. He seems sort of fed up! To borrow a phrase.

(As always, you can toggle features of the graphics on and off by clicking on the legend.)

1. Mapping the 2016 GOP House primary contests via the Ross Ramsey, we mean, the Texas Weekly Hotlist shows yet again how much of the political action in Texas, particularly in the GOP, is in suburban and exurban areas of the major cities. You have to pay for access to see the whole enchilada (sorry, it’s the color scheme), which also ranks two races not on the map in the highest risk category: Debra Lehmann’s challenge from Michael Massengale for Texas Supreme Court Place 3 and the River Walk Rumble Rematch between incumbent José Menéndez and Trey Martinez Fischer in Senate District 26.  We have not adopted Ramsey’s long-used categories of risk because we can’t pull off that folksy thing, but just so you know, his are (in increasing order of competitiveness): “Yellow means there's trouble on the sidewalk. Orange is trouble on the front porch. Red is trouble walking in the door.”  Not sure this actually works for  open seats, but we get it anyway. We’ll try to update this in the future as it changes if no one at the Tribune throws a fit. We like doing stuff with maps.  

Texas Weekly Hot List: GOP Primaries in the Texas House of Representatives (January 2016)

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Somewhat competitiveCompetitiveVery competitive

2. Texas political leaders reflexively used President Obama as a foil on guns. We wrote about this in a piece in TribTalk this week, but to wit: Texas GOP elected officials from the governor on down are reacting as much to the messenger as the message, given that the President’s actions are both what the GOP has called for in the wake of mass shootings – better enforcement of existing gun control laws and a focus on mental health – and the fact that Texans themselves appear rather content with the status quo given a Legislative Session in which the noisiest elements of the party got what they had asked for on the issue. Of course, as soon as President Obama takes action on something, it's not the status quo any more – and in this case, the changes in the background check regime are substantive even if not carried out through legislation.

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More strict36%
Less strict22%
Left as they are now36%
Don't know/No opinion5%

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More strict41%
Less strict18%
Left as they are now36%
Don't know / No opinion6%

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More strict69%28%12%
Less strict6%26%34%
Left as they are now19%32%52%
Don't know/No opinion6%14%2%

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More strict71%47%15%
Less strict6%19%26%
Left as they are now16%29%55%
Don't know / No opinion6%4%5%

3. Marco Rubio made his initial campaign foray into Texas, where he appears ready to continue taking the fight to his new best frenemy, Ted Cruz. Rubio was the choice of 9 percent of potential Republican primary voters in the November 2016 UT/TT Poll, which placed him fourth behind Ted Cruz, Donald Trump, and Ben Carson. Carson has likely faded, and one might hypothesize that the exit of Rick Perry and the feeble showing of Jeb Bush (mired in low single figures) creates something of a potential opening for Rubio as the default “establishment” candidate. But that’s going to be a tough sell given a Texas GOP electorate that has nominated as their standard bearers Ted Cruz, Greg Abbott, and Dan Patrick over the previous two election cycles. But he might raise some money, anyway.  

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Donald Trump27%
Ted Cruz27%
Ben Carson13%
Marco Rubio9%
Jeb Bush4%
Carly Fiorina4%
Rand Paul4%
Mike Huckabee2%
John Kasich1%
Chris Christie1%
Rick Santorum1%
Bobby Jindal0%
Lindsey Graham0%
George Pataki0%
Jim Gilmore0%
Don't know5%

4. The DPS officer who pulled over and arrested Sandra Bland got sacked and indicted this week. We had written previously about Texans’ attitudes toward the police, saying of the racial dynamic:

However, positive attitudes about the police are far from universal, and not surprisingly, when looked at by race, display some important differences. Black Texans don't harbor overly negative attitudes toward the police – at least, among blacks who are registered voters (a potentially important distinction) – but their opinion of the police can best be described as ambivalent. A third of black Texans register neither approval nor disapproval of the police, and among those who express an opinion, more disapprove than approve of the police.

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Very favorable31%10%24%
Somewhat favorable34%19%26%
Neither favorable nor unfavorable16%33%20%
Somewhat unfavorable11%12%17%
Very unfavorable7%25%11%
Don't know/no opinion1%1%2%

5. The standoff in Oregon between armed (if under-provisioned) “constitutionalists”* and the Federal Government would seem to many to be a bridge too far when it comes to expressions of political protest – unless, maybe, if you’re from a certain part of East Texas, as Manny Fernandez's excellent piece in this week's illustrated. But the latent context for taking up arms against the Federal Government, at least here in Texas, is the surprisingly (?) widespread perception that the Federal Government might take its arms up against you. In the June 2015 UT/TT Poll, in the lead up to Operation Jade Helm 15, 43 percent of Texas voters said it was likely that the U.S. military would confiscate their firearms, 44 percent said it was likely that they would impose martial law, and 52 percent thought it likely that they would arrest political protesters. Needless to say, given demonstrated Texas Republican hostility to the federal government, when looked at by partisan identification, Republicans are far more likely to believe this.  This helps explain why there has been a rather muted response on the right to these “protests.”

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Very likely11%21%31%
Somewhat likely14%25%26%
Not very likely20%17%20%
Not at all likely45%20%19%
Don't know11%18%5%

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categoryDemocratRepublicanTea Party
Very likely11%23%44%
Somewhat likely15%25%25%
Not very likely19%23%16%
Not at all likely47%24%14%
Don't know8%5%1%

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Very likely13%20%29%
Somewhat likely18%21%26%
Not very likely18%25%23%
Not at all likely39%15%17%
Don't know12%19%5%

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categoryDemocratRepublicanTea Party
Very likely14%23%39%
Somewhat likely18%25%25%
Not very likely16%26%21%
Not at all likely43%19%11%
Don't know10%6%4%

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Very likely19%26%34%
Somewhat likely19%26%29%
Not very likely22%15%19%
Not at all likely29%15%13%
Don't know10%19%5%

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categoryDemocratRepublicanTea Party
Very likely19%28%45%
Somewhat likely19%28%30%
Not very likely23%23%14%
Not at all likely33%15%9%
Don't know6%6%2%

6. Late breaking: Governor Abbott delivered a speech at a Texas Public Policy Foundation confab in Austin coordinated with the release of a 90-page policy paper calling for the convening of a constitutional convention to add 9 amendments to the U.S. Constitution. That’s going to take a bit to read, but the Amendment summaries, some of which read as the 10th Amendment on steroids, are likely to resonate with the conservative attitudes toward the federal government illustrated in the previous item. It’s a fascinating political move by the governor that merits a serious read and more analysis.  Aside to SCOTUS:  Conservatives are still very mad at over Obergefell v. Hodges.

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categoryDemocratRepublicanTea Party
Very favorable9%5%0%
Somewhat favorable33%14%6%
Neither favorable nor unfavorable26%14%4%
Somewhat unfavorable19%28%16%
Very unfavorable11%39%73%
Don't know/no opinion2%0%1%

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categoryDemocratRepublicanTea Party
The U.S. Congress, the legislative branch6%31%35%
The President, the executive branch43%1%1%
The U.S. Supreme Court, the judicial branch25%28%16%
Don't know27%40%49%