The Texas Public Opinion Context of the 2018 Government Shutdown

The failure of the president and congressional leaders to avoid a shutdown of the federal government is being accompanied by nearly-ubiquitous efforts to cast blame for the shutdown, summarized neatly if not entirely comprehensively in the competing #trumpshutdown and #Schumershutdown hashtags.

The terms of the blame game are less obvious and certainly more multifaceted than the base impulse to point fingers.  They are embedded in expectations about voters’ responses to explanations offered for the breakdown in the bargaining process, to the actors and institutions involved, and claims about the possible impact of the shutdown.

With the 2018 primary season underway in Texas and the general election less than nine months distant, the politics of the shutdown dominating national news coverage injects another potential catalyst in an election season already roiled by the impact of Hurricane Harvey, Donald Trump’s disruptive presidency, continued factional conflict in the Texas GOP, the unpredictable discussion of gender roles and the harassment of women, and the fallout of an unusually high number of Congressional vacancies.  

Without undertaking judgments about the various attempts to frame the shutdown with assignations of blame, we’ve rounded up a set of polling results from (mostly) recent University of Texas / Texas Tribune Polls to illuminate how the political rhetoric surrounding the 2018 shutdown of the federal government is landing among the Texas electorate. 

Attitudes on Illegal immigration writ large.  Early responses from various corners of the GOP, including Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, to the failure of efforts to avoid a shutdown cast the Democrats as being willing to shutdown the government in order defend illegal immigrants. This tact is on flamboyant display in the video released by the Trump campaign organization over the weekend and played repeatedly on the Sunday morning news shows. There is a significant GOP audience for efforts to cast Democrats as defending illegal immigrants at the expense of the greater good.

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Hurricane recovery10%9%13%
Border security3%16%22%
Political corruption/leadership19%10%2%
Health care9%1%5%

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Strongly agree25%
Somewhat agree19%
Somewhat disagree21%
Strongly disagree30%
Don't know/No opinion5%

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Strongly agree9%32%36%
Somewhat agree11%19%28%
Somewhat disagree21%24%21%
Strongly disagree53%22%12%
Don't know/No opinion6%3%3%

Attitudes toward DACA. The Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program has been at the center of the debate over the shutdown. One of the more surprising results of the October 2017 UT/Texas Tribune Poll was the lower level of GOP opposition to DACA compared to our baseline measurements of opposition to the continued presence of undocumented immigrants in the United States.

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Don't know/no opinion7%10%13%

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Don't know/no opinion11%

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Don't know/no opinion10%13%13%

Attitudes toward “building a wall” on the border with Mexico. Without plunging into the questions that have surrounded Trump’s wall since the campaign (Is it literal or a metaphor? Do his supporters or opponents make the distinction?), the wall is inextricably associated with President Trump in the minds of the mass of voters and elites alike. In the absence of upfront money from Mexico, the presidents's demands for Congressional funding have been a recurrent feature of budget negotiations, though he recently revealed a much less literal view of the wall than most of his previous constructions. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer says he offered multiple-years of funding for a wall as part of a deal proposed to the president in a Friday meeting with the president.

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Strongly support10%41%54%
Somewhat support11%18%22%
Somewhat oppose9%3%9%
Strongly oppose64%27%8%
Don't know/No opinion7%11%7%

Congressional job approval. As the two chambers fight with each other and the president, at the same time managing their intra-party factional conflicts, they enter this imbroglio in the midst of a long streak of dismal job approval ratings nationally and in GOP-dominated Texas. Herein lay one of the potential hazards for Texas candidates, particularly Repoublicans.Donald Trump’s approval numbers may or may not hold in the wake of the breakdown, with the smart money being it probably doesn't have much impact on his long term prospects.  Members of Congress -- and candidates lower on the ballot in a midterm election -- are much more politically exposed in the near- and middle-terms.

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Approve strongly2%0%1%
Approve somewhat6%9%15%
Neither approve nor disapprove13%17%17%
Disapprove somewhat24%19%25%
Disapprove strongly51%51%39%
Don't know4%4%2%

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categoryLean DemocratNot very strong DemocratStrong Democrat
Approve strongly0%0%4%
Approve somewhat8%10%2%
Neither approve nor disapprove8%19%12%
Disapprove somewhat21%26%24%
Disapprove strongly61%40%53%
Don't know2%4%5%

Donald Trump job approval.  The president’s job approval numbers largely have remained stable in Texas, though over the summer the intensity of support for him weakened delectably.  Members of Congress have struggled to cope with the president’s inconstancy, but Texas Republicans largely approved of how he has dealt with Congress.

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Approve strongly3%31%47%
Approve somewhat2%24%31%
Neither approve nor disapprove3%9%6%
Disapprove somewhat8%10%7%
Disapprove strongly84%25%8%
Don't know1%1%1%

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Approve strongly27%
Approve somewhat18%
Neither approve nor disapprove5%
Disapprove somewhat8%
Disapprove strongly42%
Don't know1%

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Approve strongly3%23%26%
Approve somewhat1%13%31%
Neither approve nor disapprove9%22%19%
Disapprove somewhat20%12%10%
Disapprove strongly63%19%8%
Don't know4%10%6%

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Approve strongly17%
Approve somewhat16%
Neither approve nor disapprove15%
Disapprove somewhat14%
Disapprove strongly32%
Don't know6%

Military favorability. Messaging by GOP elected officials (including the president) have bemoaned the impact of the shutdown on the military, with particular emphasis on the fact that military personnel would temporarily go without pay.  The widespread, bi-partisan favorable views of the military made this a talking point for leaders in both parties as the debate unfolded over the weekend.  Nobody wants to be seen as treating the troops -- or national security -- cavalierly for political ends.

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Very favorable35%39%66%
Somewhat favorable32%22%23%
Neither favorable nor unfavorable19%18%7%
Somewhat unfavorable8%5%1%
Very unfavorable3%10%0%
Don't know/no opinion3%7%2%

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Very favorable50%
Somewhat favorable26%
Neither favorable nor unfavorable13%
Somewhat unfavorable4%
Very unfavorable3%
Don't know/no opinion3%

Views of the federal government.  Overall, Texans’ poll responses in items assessing the federal government convey tepid views of the national government. There has been some partisan scrambling of these views since the presidency changed hands, but there remains a great deal of ambivalence, to say the least. Expect this to be a fallback for GOP candidates in the upcoming elections. While Republicans are unlikely to outrightly repudiate Trump in the short-term, the tried-and-true strategy of reminding GOP voters that we do things differently in Texas remains the go-to approach for Republican candidates in both primaries and even the general election. if the president were to allow the content, it would be something of a one-armed hug.

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The U.S. Congress, the legislative branch8%5%3%
The President, the executive branch2%32%47%
The U.S. Supreme Court, the judicial branch54%27%24%
Don't know36%36%25%

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categoryFavorable Attitude
Texas State Government47%
Local Government47%
Federal Government23%

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Texas State Government22%30%85%
Local Government45%34%52%
Federal Government23%11%27%