A Side Order of Polling Data to Go with Ross Ramsey’s Main Dish on Speaker Straus

Ross Ramsey made all the Monday morning clips with a column that puts the Speaker of the Texas House’s position as “the most powerful official in Texas who doesn’t have to run statewide” in the context of the current agenda signaling by the other two most powerful figures that do have to run statewide, the Governor and the Lt. Governor. Ramsey invokes the insidery nugget from former Speaker Pete Laney, “who said once that he’d know he was in trouble if his name ID rose above 10 percent.”  One of us would wager the Speaker has said that more than once, but we’re not here to do Gardner Selby’s job.

More to the point, Ramsey continues to point out that Speaker Straus “is enjoying the same kind of non-notoriety Laney sought. Most Texans don’t know his name.”  While Speaker Straus has surpassed the Laney threshold, multiple UT/Texas Tribune Polls do meet the non-notoriety threshold. Most recently and to Ramsey’s point, 21 percent of Texans approved of the job as performed by the current Speaker while 23 percent disapproved. Meaning that 56 percent chose either neither or don’t know.  

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Approve strongly5%
Approve somewhat16%
Neither approve nor disapprove30%
Disapprove somewhat9%
Disapprove strongly14%
Don't know26%

The Speaker’s numbers were closer to the Laney ideal two years ago, which is probably to be expected. There may be an inevitability to becoming at least somewhat more well-known (or less unknown?) after you've been around a few terms. Armed with fresh polling numbers from the UT/Texas Tribune Poll at the kickoff of the 2015 session, we noted at the time that Straus was even further below the radar (though we failed to name check Speaker Laney), when his favorability ratings were 12 percent favorable and 14 percent unfavorable, leaving the impression that 74 percent didn’t have many ideas about him. The approximation of the Speaker’s name recognition is likely somewhere between the clear positive or negative positions taken in the favorability ratings and those in job approval ratings, which mention his position and likely trigger other associations, like partisanship or the desire to express an opinion because some respondents feel like they should have one – even if they don't.  

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Very favorable3%
Somewhat favorable9%
Neither favorable nor unfavorable25%
Somewhat unfavorable7%
Very unfavorable7%
Don't know/no opinion49%

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.