More funding for "public safety initiatives" as early voting continues
With October winding down, it’s hard not to view everything in the political world (if not overall) through the prism of the election. After a couple of weeks of focusing on trial ballot polling (ours and others’), I’m happy to connect some of this week’s political events to other data we have on hand – though, of course, anything happening in the political world should be considered context for the final stretch of the election.
The state leadership announced the pending transfer of $874.6 million for “public safety initiatives” Thursday, with substantial portions going to “enhanced border security operations and school safety.” The lead quote from Gov. Abbott in the press release published on the governor’s official state website seemed to express a political order of operations: “The State of Texas is working around the clock to support critical public safety efforts, including protecting communities across the state from the increasing threats pouring across our southern border, as well as enhancing the security of Texas schools.” The largest single allocation was $400 million “to assist school districts in replacing or upgrading doors, windows, fencing, communications, and other safety measures,” not including an additional $15 million “to assist in the construction of a new elementary school in Uvalde.” Another chunk of $100 million represented a transfer of federal funds allocated for fighting COVID. Karen Brooks Harper reports in The Texas Tribune that “The money for Operation Lone Star is being transferred from the Texas Department of Criminal Justice directly into Abbott’s disaster fund, which he uses to distribute money for the operation.” That story has $339 million going to the Texas Military Department “to pay for Texas National Guard troops involved in the operation,” with another $20.6 million going to unnamed agencies. That last bit jibes in interesting ways with reporting in Books Harper's former employer, The Dallas Morning News, where Bob Garrett and Talia Richman add that “Abbott’s busing of migrants to Democratic-led cities in the Northeast needs $20 million more, to continue into next year, according to persons knowledgeable about the fund transfers announced Thursday.” Our most recent poll found that immigration and border security was the most important issue influencing the vote of 60% of likely Republican voters, and found Texas Republicans still supportive of both border security spending and the migrant busing initiative.
Speaking of school safety and Uvalde, DPS head Steve McCraw talked himself back into the headlines at a Public Safety Commission meeting Thursday morning. McCraw made national news in early September when CNN reported him vowing, “I’ll be the first to resign, I’ll gladly resign, I’ll tender my resignation to the governor if I think there is any culpability in the Department of Public Safety. Period.” The punctuation wasn’t quite so full-stop this week, when McCraw declined calls for him to resign from Uvalde parents, Republican Congressman Tony Gonzalez, and Democratic State Senator Roland Gutierrez in the wake of the disciplining of DPS officers involved in the response, including one firing (so far). As reported in The Texas Tribune, McCraw’s most recent offer is different: “If DPS as an institution…failed the families, failed the school or failed the community of Uvalde, then absolutely I need to go...But I can tell you this right now: DPS as an institution, right now, did not fail the community — plain and simple.” There is rare bipartisan consensus among Texans that the delay in the law enforcement response contributed to the severity of the Uvalde mass shooting, per results from our August poll. Despite McCraw’s evolving assurances that DPS shouldn’t share in this blame, accumulating facts (including internal reviews) make it unlikely that DPS as an institution or McCraw as the institution’s leader, will continue to evade the blame McCraw has cast on other agencies.
Amidst all this action in and around the executive branch, an interesting deep dive by Perla Trevizo for The Texas Tribune and Pro Publica gathered extensive evidence in making the case that Gov. Abbott has strengthened the power of the governor’s office in the state’s constitutional order. Axios had a piece by Tasha Tsiapera recently that also made the case with less depth but, of course, admirable brevity. The aforementioned Robert Garrett also took an interesting swing at this story last month in the DMN. Abbott’s strengthening of the office of the governor and, more broadly, the influence of the executive branch writ large, is one of the most important institutional developments in the overall trajectory of the state’s political system. Josh Blank and I wrote a post in the early months of the pandemic (April 2020) that argued for attention to the governor’s “ambition to strengthen the role of the executive branch in Texas’s political order, while at the same time aligning his reframing of that political order with the dispositions of conservative voters in his party’s base.” It’s strange to relive the politics of that period, but I think the analysis holds up pretty well two and half years later.
Polling catch-up. Well, I can’t entirely evade talking about trial ballots and horse race coverage of the gubernatorial race. A week ago, we released the results of our last poll before the election, which found Gov. Abbott leading Beto O’Rourke 53-42 among likely voters, and double-digit leads for Republican candidates in a handful of other state races. The Abbott lead was on the outside of the likely voter polls to date, and the Republican leads in down ballot statewide results were noticeably larger, too. Since last Friday, a handful of new, non-partisan, public polls have been released, all of which showed less than the 11-point margin we say – though all were within the margin of error of each other. (See below for the topline results, captured from the poll tracker we maintain at our website.) There were four polls with overlapping field dates (Civiqs, Spectrum News/Siena College, Emerson College/The Hill, and UT/Texas Politics Project) that found Abbott leading between 8 and 11 points from October 7-18. An LBJ School/Univision poll conducted October 11-18 with an oversample of Latino and Black respondents didn’t clearly report on an identifiable likely voter results, but presented two different topline(-ish) results for a head-to-head matchup between Abbott and O’Rourke (with no options for third party candidates, so not a trial ballot). Among “certain” voters, Abbott led O’Rourke 54-42; among the entire sample of 1400 registered voters, Abbott led O’Rourke 45-43. There is a summary of results that break these numbers down further into leaners and different groupings of voters, and include tabs and other results. (I got these from page 21.) To hear more about polling in Texas and the 2022 election, check out the latest Second Reading podcast in which I look at our October polling results and the broader environment with Daron Shaw and Josh Blank.
The attack on Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s husband in their San Francisco home Friday morning has highlighted the increase in political threats and violence. At the time of this writing, little has been confirmed about the assailant or his motives, though multiple outlets are reporting that the assailant asked “Where is Nancy?” when confronting Paul Pelosi. We asked Texans again about their expectations of political violence in the U.S. in our latest poll, and found majorities of both Texas Democrats (61%) and Republicans (52%) expect more political violence in the future.
On a more hopeful note: advising and registration for the Spring semester that starts in January begins next week at UT Austin, and probably is coming up or has already started at other higher education institutions in Texas. If your office or organization is looking for interns, post your opportunities at the Texas Politics Project internship bulletin board. It’s a public resource, easy to use, and gets a lot of traffic from students all over the state.
Finally, with early voting underway, we’ll be back in touch next week with a look at what we can glean from early voting (which has not shown signs of any surge in turnout) and a stock-taking of where the election stands as Election Day nears. Keep an eye out.
Have a good weekend and keep in touch,
Executive Director, The Texas Politics Project
College of Liberal Arts / Department of Government
The University of Texas at Austin