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UT/TT poll: We need more context

Time for another UT/Texas Trib poll, in which the pollsters do a mighty fine job of failing to find anything interesting about their data.

Donald Trump remains highly popular with Texas Republicans nearly a year after his election as the 45th president, according to the latest University of Texas/Texas Tribune Poll.

“Trump’s overall job approval numbers continue to look good with Republicans,” said Jim Henson, co-director of the poll and head of the Texas Politics Project at the University of Texas at Austin. “His base is still very secure.”

His popularity with Texas Democrats, on the other hand, is remarkably low. While 79 percent of Republicans said they approve of the job the president is doing, 92 percent of Democrats disapprove. Among independent voters, 55 percent handed Trump good marks, while 35 gave him bad ones.

The president got better marks from men (52 percent favorable) than from women (39 percent); and from white voters (55 percent) than from black (14 percent) or Hispanic voters (34 percent).

Overall, Trump remains popular with Republicans in a state that hasn’t shown a preference for a Democratic presidential candidate in four decades. “There’s no slippage here in intensity,” said Josh Blank, manager of polling research at the Texas Politics Project at UT-Austin. “There is some in the national numbers, but it’s not happening in Texas.”

The first thought I have when presented with data is “Compared to what?” In this case, how do these Trump approval numbers compare to other Trump approval numbers? And guess what? We have such numbers, from the previous UT/Trib poll. To summarize:


Approval                       Disapproval

Month  Overall  GOP  Ind  Dem  Overall  GOP  Ind  Dem
=====================================================
Feb         46   81   39    8       44   10   36   83
Oct         45   79   55    4       49   15   35   92

So Trump’s numbers are a teeny bit softer now than they were in February. Approval is down a point, disapproval is up five. More interesting is that while Dems are now nearly unanimous in their disapproval, Republicans are a bit less favorable to him as well. I’m curious at what level Henson and Blank will describe Trump’s Republican support as something other than “very secure”. The big shift here is with independents, whom I suspect are mostly conservatives who are disgruntled for one reason or another with the Republican Party. They stand out here are being much more amenable to Trump. Seems to me that would be something to explore in more depth, if anyone over there ever gets a bit curious.

The other way to approach this is to compare Trump’s numbers to Obama’s. It took me longer to find what I was looking for, partly because the stories about these numbers don’t always break them down in the same way, but the crosstabs to the October 2013 poll gave me what I was looking for:

Obama, October 2013:

Dems – 77 approve, 11 disapprove
Reps – 4 approve, 92 disapprove
Inds – 19 approve, 66 disapprove

Trump, October 2017

Dems – 4 approve, 92 disapprove
Reps – 79 approve, 15 disapprove
Inds – 55 approve, 35 disapprove

Again, the big difference is in independents. Trump has slightly higher approval but also higher disapproval from his own party, while both are equally reviled by the other party. I look at this, and I wonder about that assertion about intensity. From a strict R/D perspective, Trump is an almost exact mirror image of fifth-year Obama, at the same point in the election cycle. Do we think this means anything going into the ensuing midterm election? I think one can make a decent argument that Dems have the intensity advantage right now. I don’t think anyone knows whether than may have an effect on the turnout patterns we have seen in recent years. But the conditions look quite different, and if one is going to claim that the outcome will be the same as before, I’d like to understand the reason why. If one is going to ignore the question, or fail to notice that there is a question in the first place, I’d like to understand that reason, too.

By the way, on a side note, how can Trump have four percent approval among Democrats, but 14% approval among blacks and 34% approval among Hispanics? Are there that many black and Hispanic Republicans and/or Independents in this sample? There are no crosstabs, so I can’t answer that question on my own.

The big race so far on the 2018 ballot is the Senate race, and we have some polling data for that as well.

Republican U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz is much better known among Texas voters than his best-known political rival, Democratic U.S. Rep. Beto O’Rourke of El Paso, according to the latest University of Texas/Texas Tribune Poll.

The incumbent faces some headwinds: 38 percent of voters said they have favorable opinions of Cruz, while 45 percent have unfavorable opinions of him. In O’Rourke’s case, 16 percent have favorable views and 13 percent have unfavorable views.

“Ted Cruz’s greatest asset — his strong support among the Republican base — remains pretty intact,” said Jim Henson, co-director of the poll and head of the Texas Politics Project at the University of Texas at Austin.

But it’s in the no-views-at-all numbers that Cruz has an advantage: only 17 percent said they have either neutral or no opinion of the incumbent, while 69 percent registered neither positive nor negative opinions of the challenger. More than half had no opinion of O’Rourke at all — an opportunity and a danger for a new statewide candidate who is racing to describe himself to voters before Cruz does it for him.

“Beto O’Rourke does not appear to have done much to improve his standing or, perhaps more importantly, to soften up Ted Cruz,” said Daron Shaw, a professor at UT-Austin and co-director of the poll. “This is the problem Democrats face in Texas — you have to grab the attention of voters and drive the issue agenda, but doing so requires a demonstration of strength that is almost impossible. Absent some substantial change in the issue environment, O’Rourke is on the same path as Paul Sadler and Rick Noriega,” two Democrats and former legislators who fell well short of defeating Republicans in statewide races.

Here’s a fun fact for you: In the entire 2007-08 election cycle, Rick Noriega raised about $4.1 million for his bid for Senate. Paul Sadler raised less than $700K in 2012. With a full year to go, Beto O’Rourke has already raised over $3.8 million, with $2.1 million in Q2 and $1.7 million in Q3. One of these things is not like the others. Maybe that will matter and maybe it won’t, I don’t know. O’Rourke does clearly have a ways to go to raise his profile, despite all the national press he’s received. It sure would be nice for the fancy professionals to acknowledge this sort of thing when throwing out analogies, that’s all I’m saying.

Now then, let’s look at Ted Cruz. Here were his numbers in March of 2013, shortly after he took office:

Cruz, in his first two months as a U.S. senator, is more familiar in his home state than Dewhurst, Abbott or John Cornyn, the senior senator from the state. He is viewed favorably by 39 percent and unfavorably by 28 percent, and only 17 percent have no opinion of him.

“Exactly what you would expect for someone who has been high profile and taken strong positions,” Shaw said. “Liberal Democrats have seen him and don’t like him. Conservative Republicans have seen him and like him. This is a decent indication of the spread of partisanship in Texas.

“He’s playing pretty well with the voters he cares about — the conservatives in Texas,” Shaw said.

And here we are in November of 2013:

Cruz’s unfavorable rankings increased by 6 percentage points since June, and his favorable rankings fell by 2; 38 percent of Texas registered voters had a favorable opinion of him, while 37 percent gave him unfavorable marks.

There may be more recent numbers, but that’s as far as I went looking. Short story, Cruz’s favorables are steady at 38 or 39%, while his unfavorables have gone from 28 to 37 to 45. I’ve no doubt this is due to the consolidation of Democratic disapproval, though I lack the crosstabs to confirm that. I’m sure he does have strong numbers among Republicans, but how strong are they compared to past results? I don’t expect more than a handful of Republicans to cross over to Beto next November, but staying home or skipping the race are also options, and if they’re less enthusiastic about their choice, that may be the choice for more of them. The one factor that can put the likes of Cruz in jeopardy is a depressed level of Republican turnout. Is there anything in the numbers to suggest that is a possibility? I think there is, though it’s early to say anything that isn’t pure speculation. If we want to say anything more substantive in later months, we need to know what the trends are. That’s what this data is good for now.

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