Texas Data Points from the Week in Politics (September 25)

Between the media saturation accompanying the Pope’s visit and the Boehner resignation, the events of Monday seem far away.  Nonetheless, we’ve reached back that far to use some visualizations of polling data to connect Texas public opinion to aspects of important political stories this week:  Speaker Boehner’s exit, Pope Francis’s speech to Congress, Jeb Bush’s comments on immigration in Houston, the legal and political wrangle over HHS spending on therapy for poor and disabled children, and Governor Scott Walker’s departure from the Republican presidential nomination race.

1. Speaker of the House John Boehner throws in the towel – with congressional approval numbers like this, which masochist would really want his job?

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categoryDemocratRepublicanTea Party
Approve strongly4%3%1%
Approve somewhat13%19%10%
Neither approve nor disapprove15%27%11%
Disapprove somewhat20%29%34%
Disapprove strongly47%22%43%
Don't know1%1%0%

Well, several, probably, even though Boehner has experienced a frequently miserable tenure since being elected Speaker after the Republican takeover of the House in 2010, the election in which the Tea Party became a household name – at least in households with a political reporter or a relative with esoteric interests. From the outset, both left and right subjected Boehner to constant criticism – for overly catering to the conservative insurgents in his caucus on the one hand, and for not being conservative enough, on the other.  But most importantly, the most conservative elements of his caucus disliked him from the start, and he steps down amidst active (and public) plotting against him by what an NPR report calls "renegade conservatives." (We're betting that Boehner calls them something more colorful in private.) In Texas, the Congress of which Boehner was one of the figureheads was deeply unpopular, even with Republicans in control. Congressional approval in the June 2015 University of Texas/Texas Tribune Poll was scarcely less dismal among Tea Party Republicans than it was among Democrats. That was a bummer for Boehner.  While Congressional approval has crept up ever so slightly in recent polls – from 8 percent in October 2013 to 15 percent in June 2015 in Texas, with similar movement nationally – the trek from being reviled to being merely disliked doesn't make Boehner's job look any more palatable.

2.  Pope Francis takes the U.S. by storm, quoting himself in calling for a "culture of care."  

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Strongly support32%50%63%
Somewhat support29%21%25%
Somewhat oppose17%5%5%
Strongly oppose15%10%3%
Don't know7%14%3%

As you may have heard, the Pontiff visited the United States this week. In an address to Congress (the first ever by a Pope), the political content of which was much anticipated, the socially-minded Pope Francis focused on climate change, immigration, and tolerance, but was more oblique on the non-immigration issues of interest to conservatives, making explicit mention of neither abortion nor same-sex marriage. His speech to Congress included a fascinating rhetorical zig zag, with a riff on the Golden Rule (Papal fn: "Mt 7:12") culminating with a direct statement -- "The Golden Rule also reminds us of our responsibility to protect and defend human life at every stage of its development"  -- that had most listeners anticipating a turn to abortion. Instead, he turned to supporting efforts to abolish the death penalty. As the graphics below suggest, Texas conservatives would have been much more appreciative of a statement of Catholic doctrinal opposition to abortion than his decision to "offer encouragement to all those who are convinced that a just and necessary punishment must never exclude the dimension of hope and the goal of rehabilitation."

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By law, abortion should never be permitted.8%8%20%
The law should permit abortion only in case of rape, incest or when the woman's life is in danger.18%34%36%
The law should permit abortion for reasons other than rape, incest, or danger to the woman's life, but only after the ne12%11%22%
By law, a woman should always be able to obtain an abortion as a matter of personal choice.59%42%18%
Don't know4%6%4%

3.  Jeb! Bush supports amnesty immigration reform in meeting with the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce in Houston.  

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categoryLeaning conservativeSomewhat conservativeExtremely conservative
Strongly agree41%48%62%
Somewhat agree33%35%19%
Somewhat disagree19%12%8%
Strongly disagree6%5%8%
Don't know1%1%3%

Jeb Bush visited Texas Monday, making comments on immigration likely to cement his position as a candidate very unlikely to be embraced by the grassroots conservatives who have been driving Republican primaries in this state. Per reporting from The Texas Tribune, Bush told the Hispanic Chamber, "We don't need to build a wall. We don't need to deport everybody that's in this country [illegally]...That won't solve the problems. Giving people the chance to earn legal status will be a far better approach."  If you follow the UT/Texas Tribune Poll or writing about it at all, you know how these views are likely to go over with GOP primary voters, especially the Tea Party activists calling for a special session to push sanctuary city legislation. 


4.  Fighting involving all three branches of Texas government continued this week over the Texas Health and Human Services implementation of a legislatively-mandated $350 million cut in funding therapy services for poor and disabled children.  

The Texas Tribune and the Texas press corps also reported that the "seemingly simple goal to reduce payments has been complicated by some ambiguous language in the state budget, which directs the health commission to consider “access to care" when applying the cuts.” The cuts have landed the state in court as a result of legal challenged by providers and the families of clients. Many Democratic and even some prominent Republican legislators have come out against the cuts, while, as Bob Garrett of the Dallas Morning News wrote: "Gov. Greg Abbott and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick...have stayed out of the fray." These decisions likely reflect Republican preferences that haven't changed since the beginning of the 2015 Legislative Session, with Texas Republicans focused on cutting state government spending while increasing border security funding (with little support among them for expanding Medicaid in any shape, manner, or form).

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Increase K-12 funding22%10%9%
School voucher program3%4%7%
Limit government - no new spending/taxes8%24%25%
Lower property taxes13%6%14%
Lower business taxes1%3%5%
Funding for transportation6%7%4%
Continue border security funding9%17%27%
Expand state-funded, pre-k2%2%1%
Expand Medicaid funding under ACA29%12%4%

5.  Scott Walker becomes (ahem) the second candidate to quit suspend his campaign for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination.

This seems like it happened a thousand years ago and we can barely remember what Scott Walker looks like or that he was the governor of...Michigan, right?  We put up a quick blog post about Walker's numbers, but suffice it to say that he peaked early. Timing was such that we caught him when he seemed like a shooting star in February, and picked him up plummeting earthward in June. Here's looking at you, Bobby Jindal.