Worst Examples, Best Intentions: Texas Data Points from the Week in Politics: July 15, 2016

The week started with a public memorial service for the police officers killed and injured in Dallas, which included President Obama visiting the state and former President and Texas Governor George W. Bush making a rare public speaking appearance. The news media channeled troubled thoughts about the deep structural politics of last week’s events as the usual partisan politics were largely muted early in the week. There were, of course, exceptions, including a prominent one who holds statewide office here. As the week wore on, it looked more and more like business as usual. The national political press worked itself into a lather about Donald Trump’s choice of Mike Pence as his wing man (and then sniped at his awkward rollout); Dan Patrick and associates got a couple of news cycles coverage out of his attendance at President Obama’s town hall;, and news of internecine political maneuvering in advance of the national GOP convention bubbled out of Cleveland. From Texans' views of their peace officers to their views of the what if anything  the U.S. should be doing in the world, here are some Texas data points from the week in politics.

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Very favorable27%
Somewhat favorable30%
Neither favorable nor unfavorable19%
Somewhat unfavorable13%
Very unfavorable10%
Don't know/no opinion1%

1. Strong undercurrents flow below the surface of Texans' attitudes toward police. As the nation continued to process both the shootings by police in Minnesota and Louisiana, the protests that followed, and then the mass shooting of police officers in Dallas, our polling has suggested that the police are one of the most well-regarded public institutions among Texas voters. In February 2015, 57 percent of Texans had a favorable view of the police, while 23 percent had an unfavorable view (19 percent said neither.) This was the second highest rating among a range of public institutions asked about in the survey, behind only the military (78 percent favorable). Yet within these numbers, there are traces of African American and minority lack of trust in police that have framed this story in the months (and years) prior to the Dallas shootings.

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Very favorable31%10%24%
Somewhat favorable34%19%26%
Neither favorable nor unfavorable16%33%20%
Somewhat unfavorable11%12%17%
Very unfavorable7%25%11%
Don't know/no opinion1%1%2%

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categoryFavorable Attitude
Texas State Government47%
Local Government47%
Federal Government23%

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Texas State Government54%31%40%
Local Government53%30%45%
Federal Government24%30%20%

2. More basic differences in perceptions of discrimination are likely informing this discussion. Much of the aftermath of last week’s events focused on the gulf in racial perceptions of the police, and of how individual police officers perceive and treat different racial groups. Data from the recently released UT/Texas Politics Project Poll illustrates significant differences in perceptions of who experiences discrimination that are instructive in the current moment. Asked to choose whom among a range of groups “faces the most discrimination in the U.S.,” the differences among racial groups is striking. Among African-Americans, 52 percent say their own group experiences the most discrimination, with gays and lesbians and Muslims running a distant second and third place (at 15 percent and 12 percent, respectively). Among whites, the top response was Christians (28 percent), followed closely by Muslims (25 percent). More whites (12 percent) say that their own group experiences the most discrimination than say that African Americans do (6 percent). As the graphs included below illustrate, there are similar differences when sorted by political ideology and partisanship. But one is hard pressed to avoid the takeaway that there are significant attitudinal barriers when asking whites to empathize with black perception of unfair treatment by whites – and conversely, very low expectations among blacks that such efforts are likely to get a fair hearing. 

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African Americans6%52%15%
Transgender people14%10%8%
Gays and lesbians10%15%10%

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African Americans18%21%6%
Transgender people26%10%8%
Gays and lesbians14%12%8%

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African Americans22%18%6%
Transgender people17%11%9%
Gays and lesbians16%7%7%

3. Gun policy trifecta:  concealed carry, open carry, and campus carry all entered public discussion. Public attitudes toward guns got a workout in Texas this week. There was an initial focus on legal concealed carry in the wake of the shooting of Philando Castille in Minnesota (who declared he was CHL holder in the run-up to being shot and killed by police), a complicated matter for those predisposed to support both the police and concealed carry.  The Dallas shooting, which took place in the context of protesters carrying long guns -- one of whom was the subject of a widely circulated image Tweeted by the Dallas Police Department -- then thrust open carry into the spotlight, as well as discussion of the availability of assault weapons. By the end of the week, the focus on guns in the Texas political press then moved to campus carry, when the University of Texas Board of Regents reviewed and with revisions approved UT-Austin’s proposed implementation of “campus carry.” There is little expectation that the Dallas shootings will have any more impact on the Texas Legislature's approach to gun laws than other mass shootings in recent years, regardless of Dallas police chief David Brown’s plea to lawmakers “to do their job.”  There are hints in the extensive polling of attitudes toward guns that Republicans – who, as a lot, are opposed to further gun control – are also not eager to further expand gun rights beyond the post-open carry status quo. But this overall lukewarm response to expanding gun rights didn’t have much effect in the legislature in 2015, when the GOP caucuses in the Legislature instead followed the party’s most intense proponents of gun rights and passed both open carry and campus carry. There are signs that 2nd Amendment fundamentalists will try to drive the legislative agenda in their direction again in 2017: In the wake of the UT Regents’ decision this week to allow implementation of a policy that would grant some faculty and staff the option to ban guns in their offices, some gun rights advocates have signaled efforts to press for new legislation that would undo these limits on collegiate permit holders.  

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More strict31%60%55%
Less strict21%9%13%
Left as they are now42%22%28%
Don't know / No opinion6%10%4%

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Strongly support64%53%42%
Somewhat support18%27%29%
Somewhat oppose7%9%8%
Strongly oppose7%8%13%
Don't know5%3%7%

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More safe22%
Less safe37%
No effect34%
Don't know/No opinion8%

4.  The Texas political press's favorite pas a deux. In their initial responses in the immediate aftermath of the Dallas shootings, Greg Abbott and Dan Patrick were portrayed as a study in stylistic contrasts. The Dallas Morning News editorialized as such behind their paywall, while The Texas Tribune deftly (maybe a little vaguely) portrayed Abbott as implying some criticism of Patrick. From the July 8 Tribune story by Terri Langford (soon to depart for the vey same DMN):  

Asked about Patrick's comments, Abbott repeated his call for unity and said Texans should be grateful for law enforcement because "they played the role we hope law enforcement officers will play, and that is run towards danger to save lives."

"Understand that this should not be used as a tool of division, but instead we can use what happened here in Dallas for good," Abbott added. "We can find purpose in every single challenge that occurs. I can find purpose in what happened in Dallas, Texas and one of those purposes is working for greater unity in Dallas and Texas."

As is sometimes the case with the state's Big Two, there may be more of a contrast in style and directness here than in actual substance. Patrick “blame[d] people on social media with their hatred towards police,” while Abbott wrote that we will not “allow the evil of hate merchants to tear us apart.”  A case can be made that a close reading of Abbott’s response shows more similarities than differences between the two, setting aside the important aspect of tone and language – we should expect a former radio host to be quicker than the former Texas Supreme Court justice to call people hypocrites, big mouths, and cowards as Patrick did on Fox News. (He later sort of qualified his comments, roughly on par with Ruth Bader Ginsberg's walk back on her Donald Trump comments this week.) In any event, there’s a larger arc here in the media coverage of these two that looks for contrasts whenever possible, with a silent hope of seeing them take each other on directly in a primary election (we suspect).  But in the here and now, Abbott far outshines Patrick in the state, despite Patrick’s sustained attempts to elevate his profile (for which he has found some success in recent months).

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categoryDemocratRepublicanTea Party
Approve strongly2%37%43%
Approve somewhat8%34%33%
Neither approve nor disapprove19%16%13%
Disapprove somewhat15%5%4%
Disapprove strongly48%4%6%
Don't know7%4%1%

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categoryDemocratRepublicanTea Party
Approve strongly2%18%30%
Approve somewhat6%31%38%
Neither approve nor disapprove17%29%18%
Disapprove somewhat12%7%3%
Disapprove strongly49%6%6%
Don't know14%9%6%

Patrick took another step in these efforts Thursday when he appeared prominently in the ABC/ESPN(!) town hall meeting with President Obama. Also in attendance were Patrick advisors Allen Blakemore and Sherry Sylvester, though only Patrick got to ask on-air questions of the President. In between turns from from family members of shooting victims (including injured police officers), a Black Lives Matter activist, the extraordinarily thoughtful police chief from Milwaukee, and other stakeholders, the Texas Lt. Governor asked whether police in the nation" really in their heart feel like you’re doing everything you can to protect their lives?"--  and whether the president would light the White House blue (as Greg Abbott did the Governor’s mansion). You can read the Lt. Governor’s account of the evening in a statement at danpatrick.org, and read a transcript of the exchange via the Austin American Statesman. Meanwhile, Greg Abbott added a boatload of campaign cash to his $28.6 million campaign account in the first six months of the year, as the very money-conscious David Saleh Rauf reported in the San Antonio Express News.

5. "Are we really going to complain about a man liking a hymn?" The week also saw George W. Bush return to the public eye to speak at the Dallas memorial. His last notable public appearance that we can remember was at the LBJ Library in 2014. As our colleague and friend Eric McDaniel observed in response to the negative media attention (MSM and social) to the former governor’s admittedly dorkville swaying to the Battle Hymn of the Republic, everyone got to be reminded of how polarizing Bush can still be to liberals.  White man overbite notwithstanding, his speech got well-deserved kudos for a nice line:

“Too often, we judge other groups by their worst examples, while judging ourselves by our best intentions.”

We’re with McDaniel on thinking the liberal responses to Bush’s body language was puerile. That said, it’s hard not to notice the lingering effects of Bush’s decision to invade Iraq (among other things, we know) on GOP attitudes toward US engagement abroad – a sentiment Donald Trump has exploited with great success. In our last poll, we asked:

“Do you agree or disagree with the following statement: This country would be better off if we just stayed home and did not concern ourselves with problems in other parts of the world.”

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Strongly agree11%18%14%
Somewhat agree23%50%32%
Somewhat disagree27%18%29%
Strongly disagree33%9%20%
Don't know6%5%5%

The growing reluctance among GOP voters to support active U.S. engagement in the world was on full display in the platform fights taking place at the Republican national convention this week. While this is attributable to a lot more than just George W. Bush’s (literally) ill-advised military venture in Iraq, he certainly did his part. If liberals wanted to indulge their reflexes to say mean things about Bush, they could stick to the script and return to Iraq, which is in tragically terrible shape right now. Then again, it may be that Democrats aren’t quite in the mood to be talking about Iraq now that Hillary Clinton is at the top of the ticket and Bernie Sanders is now feeling the party unity after endorsing Clinton this week. Damming silly dancing it is!