Texas Data Points from the Week in Politics, October 13, 2017

Speaker of the House Joe Straus continued his efforts to shift his party’s agenda into the realm of economic development and to re-engage the business sector. Meanwhile, over at the White House, apparently tired of Congress’s inability act on the ACA, Donald Trump used executive power to launch a frontal assault on Obamacare this week, with extremely uncertain political and policy results to come. Texas Governor Greg Abbott also expressed some very public frustration with Congress, who as a group had a pretty tough week even as they uncharacteristically tried to do their jobs by moving another disaster relief bill, which was passed by the House. One of those members, Texas Senator Ted Cruz, outraised his expected Democratic opponent, though also got word that he may have a primary challenger. And lest you think Congress deserves some sympathy, their response to the Las Vegas shooting devolved into the usual puddle of avoidance and utter predictability from all involved.

1. Joe Straus named a committee to study economic competitiveness in the state this week, another in a series of Straus actions in this vein that sends multiple signals to the Texas political class, especially the Republicans therein. The move attempts to keep economic development at the center of the GOP agenda while others, especially the Lt. Governor, continue to push socially conservative issues. It’s also another high-profile effort to remind the business entities and trade groups to mobilize and help him in this effort. It also signals that he’s not rolling over for his detractors and political opponents, given his directness in criticizing the bathroom bill as well as choosing State Rep. Byron Cook, the bete noire and main political target of GOP dissident interest groups, to chair the committee. This positioning can also be viewed in the large sweep of Texas political history as a move meant to maintain the GOP as the comfortable home for business interest in the state who, while certainly not ready to defect to the Democrats, have been known to grumble that the party has become less reflexively accommodating to big biz as they have come to expect. Whether this reflects an astonishing degree of entitlement or a real threat to the business sector’s position in the party perhaps varies from case to case, or may just be in the eye of the beholder. Either way, Straus continues to mount a sustained effort to mobilize these powerful actors as a counterweight to the combative ideological right wing of the party he’s been a member of for his whole adult life. 

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categoryDemocratRepublicanTea Party
Very important17%32%47%
Somewhat important15%22%23%
Not very important9%17%13%
Not at all important48%25%17%
Don't know/No opinion10%4%1%

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categoryDemocratRepublicanTea Party
Strongly agree4%44%57%
Somewhat agree18%42%32%
Somewhat disagree23%6%7%
Strongly disagree45%2%1%
Don't know10%6%2%

2. After applying a scalpel to the near consensus among Texans that women should have access to birth control last week through the invocation of religion, the Trump administration took a meat cleaver to the core of the Affordable Care Act on Thursday afternoon. The political fallout from Trump’s extreme efforts to follow through on his campaign rhetoric remains to be seen. Like much national polling, our polling in Texas shows that while the ACA is still viewed in symbolic partisan terms in isolation, the slightest probing of attitudes suggests that many GOP partisans want the thing called Obamacare repealed, but with the ultimate policy goal of some kind of “replacement.” As James Hohman points out in the Washington Post’s Daily 202, Trump’s rhetoric, and now his executive action, make whatever happens to the ACA something he owns. The “Pottery Barn rule” is a pretty tired turn of phrase, but it does fit here.

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Very favorable30%5%1%
Somewhat favorable48%12%5%
Neither favorable nor unfavorable10%11%6%
Somewhat unfavorable5%5%12%
Very unfavorable3%60%73%
Don't know/no opinion4%7%2%

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Repeal it18%53%83%
Don't Repeal it67%25%7%
Don't know15%22%10%

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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%

3. The U.S. House of Representatives passed a disaster relief bill that provided $36.5 billion in disaster relief funds for Puerto Rico and other states hit by natural disasters in recent weeks. (Jonathan Tilove provides a helpful list of what was in the bill in Thursday morning’s First Reading in the Austin American Statesman.) Along the way, Governor Greg Abbott grabbed some headlines and probably added to his Smaug-like horde of political capital by criticizing the Texas Congressional delegation for not keeping the Lone Star state at the front of the line. As we wrote in a blog post earlier this week, from Abbot’s even-higher-than-Cruz’s mountain of support, taking a poke at Congress is an easy shot at an already battered target. Abby Livingston filed an interesting piece in the Texas Tribune, based on interviews in Congress that posits that responses to Abbott’s shots fell into two camps. One faction was quietly appreciative that Abbott stuck up for the state in a way that would be hard for them do without appearing callous toward Puerto Rico; and another who expect that more aid will be coming and didn’t like being taken to the woodshed.

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Approve strongly27%
Approve somewhat18%
Neither approve nor disapprove12%
Disapprove somewhat9%
Disapprove strongly29%
Don't know4%

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Approve strongly2%20%53%
Approve somewhat7%13%30%
Neither approve nor disapprove14%19%8%
Disapprove somewhat12%14%5%
Disapprove strongly58%30%3%
Don't know6%5%2%

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Approve strongly2%
Approve somewhat13%
Neither approve nor disapprove15%
Disapprove somewhat24%
Disapprove strongly43%
Don't know4%

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Approve strongly1%0%2%
Approve somewhat3%9%23%
Neither approve nor disapprove12%19%19%
Disapprove somewhat19%25%27%
Disapprove strongly59%44%27%
Don't know5%3%3%

4. Ted Cruz outraised Beto, and may have a primary challenger. The news media, eager to find some storyline beyond the obvious in Ted Cruz’s 2018 re-election race, reported that Cruz outraised presumed Democratic candidate Beto O’Rourke in the last reporting period. They also reported that a potential primary challenger is “prayerfully considering” contesting Cruz’s nomination, per Bud Kennedy’s story in the Dallas Morning News. Cruz occupies the high ground of high name recognition and sky-high job approval among Republicans going into an off year election. It’s bad form to call elections before voting, and O’Rourke is an unusually attractive candidate for a Democrat running in Texas. But it’s a big, steep hill to challenge Cruz in either March or November, the power of prayer and youth notwithstanding.

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Approve strongly21%
Approve somewhat17%
Neither approve nor disapprove12%
Disapprove somewhat9%
Disapprove strongly35%
Don't know6%

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Approve strongly3%15%41%
Approve somewhat4%16%29%
Neither approve nor disapprove9%15%13%
Disapprove somewhat9%12%8%
Disapprove strongly66%36%5%
Don't know8%5%5%

5. The early part of the week, at least, saw continuing discussion of the Las Vegas shootings, albeit in a way that reverted to the usual pattern of directing that discussion toward anything but a conversation over limiting access to guns or regulating ownership. We blogged about it earlier in the week – the graphic below illuminates the recourse to talking about mental health instead.

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Mental health system30%
Current gun laws13%
Drug use4%
Violence in popular culture8%
Internet extremism7%
Security at public buildings7%
Inflammatory politlca language3%
Unstable family situations13%
Media attention on perpetrators10%
Don't know/No opinion7%

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Mental health system25%30%34%
Current gun laws28%9%2%
Drug use3%4%4%
Violence in popular culture7%6%9%
Internet extremism8%4%6%
Security at public buildings4%13%7%
Inflammatory politlca language2%1%3%
Unstable family situations9%14%16%
Media attention on perpetrators7%10%12%
Don't know/No opinion6%10%6%


In brief

Texas executed Robert Pruett this week. Public opinion on the death penalty in Texas has been largely unchanged for the life of the UT/Texas Tribune Poll, though it has been a while since we've polled on the issue. See here for a compendium of results. 

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Polling DateSupportOppose
February 201078%18%
September 201078%18%
October 201174%21%
May 201273%22%
February 201575%19%
June 201865%25%
April 202163%25%
December 202265%24%
December 202369%23%

The House Public Education Committee held hearings on Harvey’s impact on public schools. Superintendent after superintendent testified to Chair Dan Huberty’s committee about damage, delays, and other serious woes after a week in which TEA head Mike Morath estimated, per Aliya Swaby’s piece in the Tribune, “The total cost to the state could be more than a billion dollars."

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Too much10%
Too little47%
About the right amount27%
Don't know/no opinion15%