The Texas Public Opinion Landscape as Texas Kicks Off the 2018 Primary Season

With NPR referencing Texas' first in the nation primary and Chuck Todd using last weekend’s Meet the Press “Data Download” segment to develop his “hunch” about a Democratic wave in Texas based on early voting totals, the Texas primary elections will be in the spotlight this week. The eve of primary election day seems a good time to review the non-trial ballot polling data from the February University of Texas / Texas Tribune Poll. We asked several questions unrelated to the horse races – about which attitudes were fairly underdeveloped when we were collecting data, as expected – that provide some information about the political terrain upon which the primaries will be fought by a small sliver of the Texas electorate.

Primaries often involve the candidates differentiating themselves for the ideological factions within their political party, with the assumption being that the most ideologically committed voters are also the most likely to turn out. In the February 2018 UT/Texas Tribune Poll, we asked partisans to assess the ideological position of their elected officials. Both parties show signs of divisions between their more ideologically committed, partisan factions and their less committed comrades. A larger share of strong Democrats want their party to be more liberal compared to the strong Republicans who want rightward movement from their party, but the GOP fight has been much more manifest in elections and coverage because Republicans have so much of the field occupied – there's more to fight over, and more at stake given their overwhelming dominance of elected offices.

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categoryLeaning conservativeSomewhat conservativeExtremely conservative
Conservative enough46%62%49%
Too conservative30%7%2%
Not conservative enough18%25%46%
Don't know/No opinion6%7%3%

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categoryLean RepublicanNot very strong RepublicanStrong Republican
Conservative enough41%45%58%
Too conservative20%27%5%
Not conservative enough36%15%32%
Don't know/No opinion3%13%6%

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categoryLean DemocratNot very strong DemocratStrong Democrat
Liberal enough34%33%42%
Too liberal8%6%4%
Not liberal enough37%36%38%
Don't know/No opinion20%25%15%

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categoryLeaning liberalSomewhat liberalExtremely liberal
Liberal enough46%41%36%
Too liberal2%1%0%
Not liberal enough26%46%60%
Don't know/No opinion26%12%4%

When we also asked partisans how favorably they view their party, there was evidence here of a mild enthusiasm gap between the parties. A larger share of Democrats than of Republicans viewed their party very favorably (28 percent versus 18 percent), though the overall favorable ratings were comparable. The gap was even more pronounced among those who identified themselves as strong partisans, per the figures below: 45 percent of strong Democrats had a very favorable view of their party while 29 percent of strong Republicans had a very favorable view of the GOP. But there was little sign of widespread disaffection in either party: only two percent of Democrats and three percent of Republicans expressed very unfavorable views of their respective parties. The big increases in the Democratic primary also suggest an enthusiasm gap, perhaps even amplified by the first significantly competitive Democratic gubernatorial primary since 1990 (!), along with a big uptick in Democratic candidates contesting seats in Congressional and legislative races. But the implications for November remain unclear. Much less discussed is that Republican in-person, early voting turnout is also up over 2014, even if not nearly as much as Democratic turnout. As much as Democrats are trumpeting their increased turnout as a sign of an enthusiasm gap, which very well may exist, there’s no indication from the early voting data that Texas Republicans are significantly less enthused than in past elections that have yielded them across-the-board wins statewide and significant legislative and congressional majorities. Polling data, so far, buttresses this caution in over-interpreting the early voting numbers. Obviously, we’ll know something more Wednesday morning – though (#spoileralert) even those numbers will only provide more data for still more projection and speculation about which reasonable people will have significant disagreements.

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categoryLean RepublicanNot very strong RepublicanStrong Republican
Very favorable5%11%29%
Somewhat favorable40%56%59%
Neither favorable nor unfavorable27%12%6%
Somewhat unfavorable22%9%5%
Very unfavorable4%5%1%
Don't know/no opinion3%7%1%

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categoryLeaning conservativeSomewhat conservativeExtremely conservative
Very favorable9%14%30%
Somewhat favorable41%54%44%
Neither favorable nor unfavorable18%14%9%
Somewhat unfavorable17%9%9%
Very unfavorable12%7%6%
Don't know/no opinion4%2%1%

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categoryLean DemocratNot very strong DemocratStrong Democrat
Very favorable12%12%45%
Somewhat favorable52%52%42%
Neither favorable nor unfavorable17%18%8%
Somewhat unfavorable14%9%2%
Very unfavorable3%1%1%
Don't know/no opinion2%8%2%

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categoryLeaning liberalSomewhat liberalExtremely liberal
Very favorable14%27%38%
Somewhat favorable54%49%42%
Neither favorable nor unfavorable9%9%10%
Somewhat unfavorable13%11%8%
Very unfavorable3%2%1%
Don't know/no opinion6%2%2%

While it’s difficult to say ahead of time exactly what really motivates voters as they walk into the voting booth, we have a lot of information about what voters think is important to the state as Election Day looms. On the GOP side, the data does suggest why GOP candidates from Lt. Governor Dan Patrick, not facing any especially potent opposition, all the way down to state legislative candidates, are invoking immigration policy in their messaging and advertising. For Democratic candidates, their voters' attention to issues is being distributing widely, reinforcing the impulse for Democrats to embrace the nationalization of the election, even in the primary, in the form of running against the one thing that unifies Democrats in this political moment: their negative views of the Republican President and everything about, and associated with, him. As we’ve written elsewhere: expect the general election to be about mobilization, not persuasion, for both parties, though it’s fair to say that a lot might happen between now and November.

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Border security2%12%25%
Political corruption/leadership16%11%2%
Health care11%6%4%
Hurricane recovery5%0%5%

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Political corruption/leadership31%14%13%
Federal spending/national debt4%5%9%
Health care9%6%3%
National security/terrorism3%3%8%
Border security0%3%10%

If there is a Trump factor, what might it look like? Democrats continue to hold intensely negative views of President Trump, as we wrote when early voting started, and there’s not much reason to believe that subsequent events have mitigated matters. But it’s perhaps less appreciated that Republicans are sticking with the President with little indication of any widespread attrition. While we have no hard data to support such an analysis, it’s hard not to have developed the impression that skepticism about the president is much more widespread among Republican political professionals than it is among the GOP base. (Consider the source when someone tells you, “I know a lot of Republicans who can’t stand Trump!”) We wrote about “Trump’s Shadow” shortly after the release of the most recent UT/Texas Tribune Poll. There are a lot of data graphics on our version of that piece, which originally appeared in TribTalk, but find a brief taste below.

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Approve strongly4%33%56%
Approve somewhat4%16%27%
Neither approve nor disapprove7%12%5%
Disapprove somewhat9%11%5%
Disapprove strongly76%26%6%
Don't know1%1%0%

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Approve strongly2%1%3%
Approve somewhat5%12%30%
Neither approve nor disapprove15%26%15%
Disapprove somewhat18%26%26%
Disapprove strongly57%36%23%
Don't know3%0%3%

Whatever the magnitude of the Democratic surge, Republican women continue to play a significant role in the GOP’s effort to hold the fort in Texas. Their mutually reinforcing support for Trump and apparent lack of activation in response to the gender politics that appear to be mobilizing progressive Democrats suggest that speculation that Republican women might be moved to reconsider some of their political allegiances is not likely to pan out – at least for now. When it comes to Trump, as we wrote in our “Trump’s Shadow” round-up: Among Republican men and women in Texas, there is no gender gap in views of Trump: 87 percent of GOP men approve of his job performance along with 79 percent of GOP women. While only 15 percent of GOP men have a favorable view of the #MeToo movement, that share only climbs to 17 percent among GOP women. Only 36 and 37 percent of GOP men and women, respectively, agree that the national attention to sexual harassment and discrimination is going to improve the lives of most women. In short, mobilization over the issues of gender and politics appears, so far, to live in one of the two major partisan universes -- and it's unlikely to lead to large partisan shifts.  Small ones, however, might matter in particular non-stateside races.