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June 4th, 2018:

DCCC poll: Culberson 47, Fletcher 45

Game on.

Lizzie Fletcher

The U.S. House race between GOP incumbent John Culberson and Democratic challenger Lizzie Pannill Fletcher is generally expected to be closer than most in this traditionally Republican enclave of west Houston and the Harris County suburbs.

Now an internal Democratic poll of the 7th Congressional District shows it to be a statistical tie. The poll of district voters, released Friday by the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, found Fletcher within 2 points of Culberson, 45 percent to 47 percent. That is within the poll’s 4.9 percent margin of error.

[…]

The DCCC poll shows Fletcher leading Culberson by 8 points among women (50 percent to 42 percent), 20 points among independents (52 percent to 32 percent), and by 28 points among voters under 50 (57 percent to 29 percent).

Further proof that that the district could be in play: The poll found that a generic Democrat is within striking distance of a generic Republican – 46 percent to 47 percent. That’s tighter than the difference between Fletcher and Culberson, but still within the margin of error.

The Democratic poll also gave Culberson a net-negative favorability rating, with 32 percent of voters having a favorable view of the congressman, compared to 39 percent who don’t. Similarly, the poll found that 35 percent of voters approve of Culberson’s job performance, while 39 percent disapprove.

Meanwhile, Trump also remains underwater in a district, which he lost by 1.4 points in 2016. In the DCCC poll, 50 percent of Seventh District voters disapprove of his job performance, while 42 percent approve.

I first heard about this poll via G. Elliott Morris’s Twitter feed, but this story adds some details. Internal polls are generally treated with skepticism – scroll down to see the responses to that tweet for a couple of examples – and I want to talk about why that is first. The main reason why internal polls are looked at differently is because when an internal poll is released, you have no way of knowing how many other polls that particular campaign or committee might have done that they did not choose to release. In other words, the poll that gets released may be the most favorable of the bunch, cherry-picked to present a sunny view of the situation. Media and tracking polls are public, with all their results out there to be seen, so when there’s an outlier it tends to stand out. You just don’t know if an internal poll is an outlier or not.

The other reason why internal polls are different is that they are sometimes used for specific purposes like testing a message or attracting financial support. Polls that take the measure of a race, then “inform” the respondents about one of the candidates and re-ask the original question again at the end, are a common example of this. The Justin Nelson poll from December is in this category. There’s nothing wrong with this – it’s a valuable campaign tool – but since the result comes from an idealized scenario – in a real campaign, both candidates get to “inform” voters, assuming they have the resources to do so – these polls are not very useful as predictive tools.

For those reasons, and because full poll data is often not available, poll aggregators and election modelers tend to give internal polls less weight. All that said, this poll is an example of one we can probably take more seriously. For one thing, given that the runoff was less than two weeks ago, there very likely have not been any other polls done by the DCCC since Fletcher became the nominee. There’s (again, probably) nothing to cherry-pick from. The DCCC, which has now added Fletcher to its Red to Blue group, generally doesn’t try to convince funders to invest in a particular race, and for them to want to include CD07 as a race to target they’ll want accurate horse-race numbers. None of this means that they couldn’t have made optimistic assumptions about turnout or the makeup of the electorate – we don’t have the internal poll data, so who knows what they sampled from – but all pollsters have to make those judgments.

All things considered, I believe we can take this poll more or less at face value. Which is to say, it’s a data point, and we hope to see more of them to get a fuller picture of what may be happening. Given that, the way to think about this is not just for this race, which we believe will be close and competitive, but for how it fits into the bigger picture. For one thing, Democrats swept Harris County in 2016 while John Culberson was winning in CD07 by 12 points. If we’re in an election year where CD07 is truly a tossup, then that strongly implies an even better year for Democrats in the county. Even more than that Lina Hidalgo poll, this should be encouraging for Dems, and downright terrifying for Republicans.

But it’s not just Harris County. There are two big reasons why CD07 is and has been seen as a top pickup opportunity. The main reason is because Hillary Clinton carried the district in 2016, but as we have discussed here before, some of that was because of crossover voters. Like I said above, Culberson still won the district 56-44. The other, equally important, reason is that the national atmosphere is one that favors Democrats and strongly indicates that the Republican advantage in districts like CD07 will be greatly diminished. Put another way, we expect that more Democrats and fewer Republicans will vote than in other similar election years. And that’s not just true in CD07, and in other battleground districts like CD23 and CD32. It’s true across the board, and it’s factored into every election prediction model, like the Morris model. Scroll down to the “Forecasts for every House seat” section and compare his projected margin in each Congressional district to the actual margins from 2016 and 2014.

This is something that I don’t think has been absorbed by media outlets and pundits in this state, all of which comes very much to the fore when a statewide poll like the second one from Quinnipiac comes out. Greg Abbott, who carried Harris County by five points in 2014, carried CD07 by a 60-38 margin in 2014; Culberson won that year by a 63-35 score. Again, if we are in an election where CD07 is a tossup, then the effect of that will be felt statewide, not just countywide. More to the point, if we are in that election, then the same effect will be felt in every Congressional district in Texas. It will be felt more in some districts than in others, and in specific races with specific candidates with strengths and weaknesses that may counter or enhance the national mood. But it will be felt.

The point I’m making is that a poll like that second Quinnipiac poll may be right, and polls like the DCCC CD07 poll and the Hidalgo Harris County poll may be right, but they can’t all be right. If the Q-poll is right, the other two are almost certainly too optimistic about Democratic chances, and if the latter two are right, then that Q-poll is almost certainly understating Democratic statewide support. I wish the people who write about these things would take that into consideration when they do. We don’t know yet which view is right. The fact that these conflicting polls exist is almost certainly because everyone has a different idea of what that national atmosphere will be like, and how big its effect on Texas will be. If you’re skeptical of any effect here you need to explain why. For now at least, all I’m saying is that polls like these don’t exist in a vacuum. Don’t evaluate one without taking into consideration the others.

Final instructions in bail practices lawsuit

We may finally be nearing a conclusion in this matter.

A year after a landmark ruling that upended Harris County’s bail system, a federal appeals court Friday issued final instructions for a Houston judge to craft a revised plan for releasing poor people who qualify after arrests for low-level offenses.

Lawyers on both sides of the contentious two-year lawsuit hailed the ruling Friday as a victory, and the county said it offered a solid template for a final settlement.

Chief U.S. District Judge Lee H. Rosenthal, who issued an injunction last year halting longstanding bail practices, set a new hearing June 14 for both sides to begin hammering out a detailed plan.

A New Orleans appeals court Friday rejected the county’s requests to halt or alter portions of the historic 2017 ruling in which Rosenthal found the county’s bail process violated constitutional rights to equal protection and due process, subjecting poor people to what termed “wealth-based detention.” The 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals handed the case back to Rosenthal to begin implementing adjustments to her order addressing the release of misdemeanor defendants who don’t have holds or detainers.

“Harris County has been working diligently to improve the criminal justice system,” said Robert Soard, first assistant to Harris County Attorney Vince Ryan. “The county remains committed to a settlement that maximizes the number of misdemeanor detainees who are eligible for prompt release from jail without secured bail, that provides due regard for the rights of victims and protection of the community, and preserves the independence of the judiciary.”

But the court denied several requests from the county for immediate changes to Rosenthal’s order. Neal Manne, one of the attorneys for the indigent defendants, said he was delighted the court amended its ruling the way his legal team requested.

“We went 3-for-3 today, which is usually done only by Jose Altuve,” he said.

See here for the background. All I can say is that if everyone feels like they won in this ruling, then everyone should feel like they’re in a good position to negotiate a final agreement, and that maybe there aren’t that many points of disagreement left to dicker over. Perhaps we’ll find out on June 14. It is long past time for this matter to be resolved, and for a better and more just system to be implemented.

The problem with more cops in schools

I haven’t had anything to say so far about Greg Abbott’s proposed responses to the Santa Fe school shooting. There isn’t much to say about it – these are a bunch of small changes around the margins, all while scrupulously avoiding any mention of ways to understand the causes of gun violence or strategies to actually try to reduce it. It basically takes it as a given that hey, people are gonna get shot, so we may want to try to make it a little harder on the shooters. RG Ratcliffe has a critique that’s worth reading, but Mimi Swartz really gets at an issue that has not gotten the attention it deserves.

But overall, the governor’s plan to address school safety is profoundly regressive in ways that go far beyond the gun control debate. His call for more police and more military style security raises crucial questions about what kind of places schools should be. Specifically, his plans for more armed guards, armed teachers, and armed staffers will erase a decade or so of progress in making schools more welcoming—and Texas’ kids better educated.

Maybe few Texans recall the Zero Tolerance era, which started with the Pre-Columbine U.S. Congress’ Gun Free Schools Act in 1994 that required a one year automatic expulsion for any kid who brought a gun to school. The Clinton Administration encouraged schools receiving federal funding to adopt the tenets of gun free schools, which became the basis of zero tolerance policies in other areas. There were many unexpected consequences, especially punishments for minor infractions that could be looped in with the War on Drugs—along with entering a classroom without permission, or roughhousing on a school bus, kids could be expelled for bringing asthma inhalers and Sudafed to school. It probably wasn’t a coincidence that the Zero Tolerance Era coincided with the Tough on Crime Era of the Bush and Clinton administrations which led to exponential increases in prison sentences for minor offenses, particularly for men of color. The so-called school to prison pipeline was born.

Over the ensuing years, groups like Texas Appleseed worked overtime to issue reports and lobby the legislature to reduce school suspensions (some of which started in kindergarten) and dire punishments for, say, talking back to teachers. Their reports also showed that so-called Juvenile Justice Alternative Education Programs were basically low cost jails for kids and profit centers for private companies that did nothing but put good kids in with bad and offered no educational value to either. Studies also showed that putting more police in schools had a detrimental effect on learning, especially among poor and minority kids who were now the target of police abuse both on the street and in schools. It wasn’t surprising that dropout rates increased.

Over time, it became clear that Zero Tolerance just didn’t work. Newer programs like Restorative Justice, which allow kids to have their say and teach them to take responsibility for their actions, have won the support of liberal and conservative groups largely because they do. Even though they can be more labor intensive, they have been shown in numerous studies to keep kids in school and violence down. “What we have shown in our research and what we know experts have documented across the U.S. is that an increase in law enforcement doesn’t lead to a safer school and often results in real harm, particularly for students of color and students with disabilities,” explained Deborah Fowler, Executive Director of Texas Appleseed.

Abbott’s report, then, has the musty whiff of a darker time, despite protestations that more protections—offering gun training to nearly everyone who isn’t a student—are needed to keep kids safe. This despite an FBI report, among others, that shows no statistical evidence that putting more armed people in schools reduces school violence.

There’s more, so read the rest. It’s hard to know how much support there will be for these proposals, even with both chambers getting a head start on studying them. I just hope there are some voices expressing these concerns while that is happening.