The Legislative Success of the Anti-Straus Voters in 2015 and Their Gambit on the Speaker Vote in 2017
The only somewhat interesting question amidst the opening ceremonies of the of the 85th Legislature is whether the House of Representatives will re-elect San Antonio Republican Joe Straus Speaker of the House by acclaim or by a record vote. The latter would require House dissidents who have endeared themselves to conservative activists in the interest group universe and in their districts by criticizing Straus to make a tough choice. Voting for Straus as Speaker on the public record creates a potential liability among the anti-Straus interest groups who are active participants in GOP primary elections. A recorded vote against Straus provides a public sign of opposition and invites being marginalized by the leadership in things like committee assignments and the treatment of their bills – which also potentially affects a member’s reelection prospects.
The first week of the New Year brought with it an unsurprising uptick in political signaling in the run-up to the advent of the 85th Texas Legislature. Speaker Straus gave an interview that sent some selected signals to both legislative chambers, while the Lt. Governor, having released a few lists of priorities before the holiday break, zeroed in on bathroom access Friday. In more indirect moves, Attorney General Ken Paxton released some strong fundraising numbers and an Austin-resident, ABC pundit, and scold of the two parties confirmed rumors that had circulated all through the fall that he was considering running in 2018 as an independent for the Texas Senate seat currently held by Ted Cruz. On the national front, the Senate Armed Services Committee held hearings in which testimony confirmed (along with a newly released report) that US intelligence agencies largely agreed that Russia intervened in the US election with the goals of de-legitimizing the process in the eyes of the world (and, presumably, Americans, it would seem), and also to aid Donald Trump.
Nonetheless, pre-election polling in Texas reveals a group of conservative voters who do report feeling left behind by changes in the economy, while also holding attitudes that cohere with broader elements of Trump’s rhetoric-- and, crucially, with the appeals of the most conservative factions of the Texas GOP. The beginning of the Trump presidency will come 10 days after the opening gavel of the 85th Texas Legislature. While the internal dynamics of the state’s political system traditionally drive most policy and politics in the session, Trump’s ascension to the presidential bully pulpit, at the head of one-party rule in Washington, markedly changes the national context and its possible impact.
Public Opinion in Texas at the Intersection of the Agendas of President-Elect Trump and the 85th Legislature
Whether one takes President Trump literally or seriously – or both or neither – the advent of unified government under the auspices of a Republican Congress and a Republican President (nominally, at least) will shift the context within which the 85th Texas Legislature meets to pass a budget and create laws and public policy for the state. After 8 years and four sessions of counting on having a Democratic president and his policies to use as default examples of bad policy and government failure on most every issue, the Republican leadership in Texas now finds the federal government, and their national party, led by a President who on many of the most salient issues to Texas Republicans took positions strikingly similar to those they have used to win a host of lesser offices in recent years.
Given the overall range in which the Speaker’s approval and favorability have moved, which you can peruse in search results for the speaker at the Texas Politics Project data archive, “non-notoriety” seems to be a good label for where the Speaker is dwelling, though we’ll be watching to see if he stays in range of the slightly more recognized when we do our usual poll in the early days of the 85th Legislature.
As Thanksgiving weekend 2016 came to an end, one of the more stinging tropes of the final weeks of the presidential campaign had suddenly re-emerged: The specter of rigged elections once again haunts America. With newly-voiced concerns about the integrity of the just-completed elections re-surfacing on both the left and the right, polling results from the October 2016 University of Texas / Texas Tribune Poll suggest the existence of receptive partisan audiences for recount calls and aggressive if unsubstantiated Tweets from the President-elect.
While Republicans still outnumber Democrats in the electorate that we should expect to show up in a presidential election in Texas, going into Election Day, there are signs of a shift toward a historically smaller GOP margin of victory in the contest between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton for the state's electoral votes. The October 2016 University of Texas / Texas Tribune Poll also provides some insights into the different levels of unity among Democratic and Republican voters that also portends a better year for Democrats compared to a number of election cycles, though not an outright upset.
In a TribTalk piece this week looking at Donald Trump’s support in Texas as reflected in the most recent University of Texas/Texas Tribune Poll, we wrote that “If Trump has a woman problem of his own making, it's not with GOP women in Texas — at least when compared to their brothers, husbands, boyfriends, and fathers.” This conclusion was based on a look at our sample of 269 GOP women, within a larger sample of 1200 registered voters. The perhaps counter-intuitive take away from that brief discussion is that their party loyalty makes Republican women one of Donald Trump’s central assets in Texas, even if there has been some attrition in their support, likely due to the pile of evidence suggesting that he has treated many women very badly, and been recorded talking about it in very crude terms.
The picture painted by Texans' views of Donald Trump compared to Mitt Romney at this stage in the 2012 campaign clarifies why the presidential race has become much closer than anyone anticipated. The polling data also shed light on the nature of Trump's coalition and suggest that the attitudes sustaining Trump's candidacy in Texas will continue to play a role in GOP politics in Texas, regardless of the future of the candidate himself.