Trump's Shadow in Texas as Primary Voting Begins

Amidst the discussion of how much the Texas midterm elections will be nationalized — in effect, a referendum on Donald Trump — the new University of Texas/Texas Tribune Poll provides an opportunity to look closely at Trump’s place in the attitudinal landscape of Texans.

We’ve argued previously that the politics of last year’s legislative sessions and the delivery of conservative legislation, particularly with respect to undocumented immigrants, provided Texas Republicans with a good fallback plan should Trump’s political support collapse. While some legislative incumbents might seek cover for local reasons, poll results suggest that Republican voters’ continuing support for the president make it safe for GOP hopefuls to stay close to Trump in the primaries. Let’s take a stroll through the details.

Texas candidates campaigning as Trump supporters probably bet on the right horse. The president’s statewide numbers remain strong among Republicans, in most measures even strengthening, albeit within the poll’s margin of error. One exception is in urban Texas, which isn’t a concern for most incumbent Republican officeholders. Overall, if you’re an uncomfortable Republican or a hostile Democrat who’s been waiting for the fever dream of Republican support for Trump to break, your nightmare continues. Texas Republicans accept Trump as the figurehead of their party, with 83 percent approving of his job performance, his highest rating in the four surveys we’ve done since he assumed office.

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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%

Republican women are sticking with their president. The timing of the latest poll didn’t catch the news about the alleged affair with the Playboy playmate, but did incorporate the fallout from the alleged affair with the porn star — to the extent that people were paying attention to what was, often, the third or fourth most prominent story about the president at any given moment. 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.

For all the attention drawn to education as one of the drivers of the current political dynamic, the absence or presence of a college education doesn’t seem to impact views of Trump in Texas. Forty-seven percent of those without college degrees approve of the president’s job performance, statistically indistinguishable from the 45 percent of those with degrees. Partisanship does little to suss out what some considered to be the driving dynamic of the 2016 Election, with 85 and 80 percent of non-college-educated and college-educated Republicans, respectively, approving of the president; and 80 and 92 percent of non-college-educated and college-educated Democrats, respectively, disapproving of the president.

The president remains far more popular than the Republican-led Congress that is sometimes his ally, sometimes his foil. Congressional approval increased markedly in the wake of recently enacted tax cuts, from 12 percent in October of last year to 20 percent in the most recent poll, fueled mainly by a 17-percentage-point increase in Republican congressional approval, from 16 percent in October to 33 percent in the latest poll. While the increase is real, it still trails Donald Trump’s job approval by 50 points. A Republican-led Congress contemptuous of executive authority for the last eight years ironically finds itself still riven by internal divisions and unable to act as a counter-weight to an inconstant bargaining partner of their own party in the White House. The president — a unitary actor with a large following and direct connection to the party’s base — needs only to side-eye Congress to remind their shared voters of their persistent contempt for the legislative branch.

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Approve strongly2%
Approve somewhat17%
Neither approve nor disapprove16%
Disapprove somewhat22%
Disapprove strongly39%
Don't know3%

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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%

Trump’s presidency does not appear to have generated a Democratic wave in Texas so far, at least based on partisans’ attitudes toward their own parties. Democrats remain intensely hostile toward the president, and there is some evidence of higher party approval — and intensity — among Democrats. But the gap is not large. Democrats’ net favorability toward their party (favorable attitudes minus unfavorable attitudes) was plus-66, basically unchanged from just prior to Trump’s election. The three-quarters of Texas Democrats with a favorable attitude remains unchanged from the three times we asked it in 2016, plus a fourth time at the end of 2015.

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Very favorable28%5%2%
Somewhat favorable47%9%3%
Neither favorable nor unfavorable13%20%8%
Somewhat unfavorable7%19%14%
Very unfavorable2%35%70%
Don't know/no opinion4%12%2%

The Republican Party, on the other hand, has seen something of a resurgence. Net favorability among Republicans is also plus-66, an increase of 45 points in that measure since October 2016. It’s important to remember that Republicans were bracing for a Hillary Clinton presidency at that time, while facing major questions about the future of their own party. The observed rebound in attitudes makes sense in this context, but also points to a lack of serious distinction in the attitudes of partisans towards their chosen political home.

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Very favorable4%0%18%
Somewhat favorable5%17%52%
Neither favorable nor unfavorable6%22%14%
Somewhat unfavorable17%26%11%
Very unfavorable65%24%3%
Don't know/no opinion5%11%3%

Views of the investigation into Russian subversion of the 2016 elections are now firmly viewed through a partisan lens, with Republicans rejecting established factual elements of Russia’s meddling in the 2016 elections. Deeply partisan dispositions have set in among both Democrats and Republicans. But even-handedness shouldn’t prevent anyone from recognizing that if partisanship has led Democrats to presuppose the president’s guilt with 77 percent saying that the Trump campaign colluded with Russia — it has also led many Republicans to deny basic factual elements about which there is a consensus among people with direct information about the matter.

Support for Trump and the encouragement of this denial of facts are mutually reinforcing, shaping the election dynamic by intensifying both partisanship and, within the GOP, the “for-him-or-against-him” dynamic in some primary races.

To wit, among Texas Republicans, 81 percent deny that Russia influenced the 2016 election, 81 percent deny that the Trump campaign colluded with Russia, 77 percent believe the investigations into Russian interference in the 2016 election are mostly about discrediting Trump’s presidency, 60 percent hold an unfavorable view of the Robert Mueller investigation, and a plurality, 48 percent, hold an unfavorable view of the FBI.

Skepticism of basic facts and suspicion of heretofore respected institutions and processes define GOP attitudes on all dimensions of efforts to investigate Russian activities.

This piece originally appeared in TribTalk.