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September 25th, 2020:

NYT/Siena: Trump 46, Biden 43

The second of two polls from yesterday, both of which are interesting in their own way. The NYT story about the poll, which included results from Iowa (Biden leading by3) and Georgia (tied), is behind their firewall, so I’ll give you a tweet summary and then dive into the data, which is available to me. First, the tweet:

The data for all three polls is here, and you can find the Texas results beginning on page 23. I will present the highlights here.

– The first question is about how likely you are to vote. The five responses (not counting Don’t Know/Refused) are Almost Certain, Very Likely, Somewhat Likely, Not Very Likely, and Not Likely At All. Putting aside what distinguishes those labels, every subgroup – including 18 to 29 year olds, Latinos, and any other group you might consider to be lower propensity – was over 90% for Almost Certain plus Very Likely. Democrats were 65% Almost Certain and 32% Very Likely, with Republicans 62% Almost Certain and 34% Very Likely, and Independents 61% Almost Certain and 30% Very Likely. At 91% for the sum of those two categories, Indies were the “least” likely to vote.

– The second question was about how you will vote: In person on Election Day, In person before Election Day (i.e., early in person), and vote by mail. Fifteen percent of voters overall said vote by mail, which is a lot more than what we’re used to, but shouldn’t be a total that will overwhelm local election administrators. For example, in Harris County in 2016, 7.3% of all ballots were mail ballots, so this would be double that as a percentage, slightly more in real terms since there will likely be more total votes. Putting it another way, there were 101K mail ballots in Harris County in 2016, for turnout of just under 1.4 million. If we have 1.5 million votes, and 15% are mail ballots (the “Houston” region subgroup had 14% saying they would vote by mail), that’s 225K mail ballots. I don’t believe that will cause any major problems in processing.

(The Quinnipiac poll had 13% of respondents say they would vote by mail. That poll is a bit goofy as we’ve discussed, but these two numbers largely agree with each other.)

– The two subgroups that say they will vote by mail the most were those 65 and older (33%, and no surprise) and the 18 to 29 year olds (19%), which I’m going to guess will be a slight overestimation in the end. Democrats (16%) planned to vote by mail more than Republicans (12%), but not by much. However, Dems will be voting early overall more than Republicans – 57% early in person plus 16% by mail for Dems, to 51% early in person and 12% by mail for Republicans. If this is accurate, we could have a bit of a “red shift” on Election Day, which is very much what happened in Harris County in 2008 – Dems voted so heavily during the early period that there just weren’t as many left to vote on Election Day. Something to keep an eye on, especially if various Dem hopefuls have an early lead.

– The list of candidates included the Libertarian and Green nominees in the Presidential race, each of which drew one percent, but just the Libertarian in the Senate race; he took four percent. Both questions allowed the respondent to volunteer that they were voting for someone else, but in each case the number for that was zero percent; a couple of subgroups in each reached one percent for Someone Else. In 2016, the “other” candidates received a collective 4.52% of the vote in the Presidential race.

– Biden carried Democrats 91-2, while Trump won Republicans 93-5. Six percent of Democrats said “Don’t know”, with one percent each specifying the Libertarian or Someone Else. Only two percent of Republicans said they didn’t know, and none gave any other answer. Black respondents were at 20% for Don’t Know, and Latinos were at 8; given that Black respondents went for Biden 71-7 and Latinos went for him 57-32, it seems likely that Biden’s overall totals are a bit lower than they will be in the end. Biden also carried indies by a 41-37 margin.

– There were five regions given as subgroups: Austin/San Antonio/South (presumably South Texas), Dallas/Fort Worth, Houston, Minor, and Rural. No, I don’t know what “Minor” means or how it is distinguished from Rural, nor do I know what specific counties are in the first three groups. Here’s how this shook out:


Candidate    Aus/SA/South   D/FW  Houston  Minor  Rural
=======================================================
Biden                 50%    47%      51%    34%    25%
Trump                 38%    34%      36%    58%    71%
Others                 3%     3%       3%     2%     0%
Don't know             8%    16%      10%     6%     3%

Seems clear where most of the Black and Latino vote is coming from, not that this is a surprise. Given that, these numbers would seem to portend very well for the various legislative and Congressional Democrats in those regions. I wish I knew more about this so I could try to do some kind of comparisons, but I don’t. Sorry.

– The Hegar/Cornyn numbers largely recapitulate the Biden/Trump numbers, with Hegar having slightly softer numbers among Dems and groups that tend to vote Dem than Biden does. She’s 81-6 among Dems (Cornyn is at 84-6 among Republicans), with 2% for others an 11% Don’t Know. Black voters go for her 66-9, but the Libertarian candidate gets six percent with another 18% on Don’t Know. Latino voters are 52-32 for Hegar, with 13% Don’t Know. As I’ve said multiple times, I think this race will closely mirror the Presidential race.

That largely covers it, and for more you can read Nate Cohn’s Twitter thread, in which he adds some thoughts. In particular, talking about the likely voter model, “Texas is a state where turnout is particularly uncertain and the upside is likely on the side of Mr. Biden”.

Quinnipiac: Trump 50, Biden 45

Here we have a new Quinnipiac poll, one of two that came out yesterday, and it’s a bit of a puzzle.

In Texas and Ohio, two states where President Trump won easily in 2016, the president holds a slight lead in Texas and it’s too close to call in Ohio, according to a Quinnipiac (KWIN-uh-pea-ack) University poll of likely voters in both states. These are the first surveys from the Quinnipiac University Poll in both Texas and Ohio to use likely voters and results cannot be compared to prior surveys of registered voters.

“With six weeks to go until Election Day and most minds made up, Ohio could hinge on a sliver of likely voters who signal they may have a change of heart and the four percent who say they are unsure right now who they’ll back. At this point, it’s a toss-up,” said Quinnipiac University Polling Analyst Mary Snow.

“It is close but leaning toward Trump in Texas. There are still a slim number of likely voters who are undecided or on the fence about their choice, which could leave just enough wiggle room for either candidate to take Texas’ many electoral votes,” said Quinnipiac University Polling Analyst Tim Malloy.

MIND MADE UP

In Ohio, 97 percent of likely voters who selected a candidate in the presidential match up say their minds are made up, with 3 percent saying they might change their minds. In Texas, 94 percent say their minds are made up, with 5 percent saying their minds might change.

VOTING IN 2020

In Ohio, 46 percent of likely voters plan on voting in person on Election Day. Thirty-five percent plan on voting by mail/absentee ballot, and 16 percent plan on voting at an early voting location.

In Texas, 47 percent of likely voters plan on voting at an early voting location, 38 percent plan on voting in person, and 13 percent plan on voting by mail/absentee ballots.

TEXAS: BIDEN VS. TRUMP

Likely voters in Texas give President Trump a mixed favorability rating, with 49 percent saying they have a favorable opinion of him and 47 percent saying they have an unfavorable opinion.

Former Vice President Biden has a negative favorability rating among likely voters in Texas, 41 – 52 percent.

Trump has clear leads in three of five categories among likely voters when asked who would do a better job handling issues:
On handling the economy: Trump 58 percent, Biden 39 percent;
On handling the military: Trump 52 percent, Biden 45 percent;
On keeping your family safe: Trump 52 percent, Biden 44 percent;
On handling the response to the coronavirus: Trump 49 percent, Biden 47 percent;
On handling racial inequality: Biden 50 percent, Trump 45 percent.

TEXAS: TRUMP APPROVALS

Likely voters are divided on the way Trump is handling his job as president, 50 – 48 percent, and are similarly split on his handling of the response to the coronavirus, 49 – 49 percent.

TEXAS: SENATE RACE

In the race for the U.S. Senate where incumbent Republican Senator John Cornyn is seeking a fourth term, Cornyn leads Democratic challenger MJ Hegar 50 – 42 percent. Eighty-four percent of voters say their minds are made up, while 15 percent say they may change their minds.

Thirty-nine percent of likely voters have a favorable opinion of Cornyn, 30 percent say unfavorable, and 30 percent say they haven’t heard enough about him. Twenty-nine percent of likely voters have a favorable opinion of Hegar, 19 percent say unfavorable, and 50 percent say they haven’t heard enough about her.

The Texas crosstabs are here. This is the best poll Trump has had in awhile, the first I can recall where he’s reached fifty percent, and a six-point improvement for him over the July Quinnipiac poll, in which he trailed Biden 45-44.

All of that is straightforward and somewhat ominous for Biden, but a peek under the hood raises some questions about what these numbers mean. To illustrate, let me compare some of the subgroups from this poll to those same groups from that July poll, for which that data is here.


             July    July     Sept    Sept
Group       Biden   Trump    Biden   Trump
==========================================
Men           39%     48%      41%     55%
Women         49%     40%      50%     46%

GOP            6%     89%       6%     91%
Dem           94%      3%      95%      4%
Ind           51%     32%      51%     43%

18-34         46%     32%      56%     42%
35-49         48%     40%      40%     56%
50-64         43%     52%      44%     51%
65+           42%     53%      46%     50%

White men     28%     61%      30%     67%
White women   31%     62%      43%     53%
Black         89%      6%      79%     19%
Latino        53%     29%      51%     43%

Let’s just say, there are some mighty big swings, in both directions. I’m not exactly sure how one could coherently account for all of them. I feel quite confident saying that Donald Trump will not get nearly 20% of the Black vote – every other poll tops him out at nine or ten percent, which I think is a tad high but plausible – and I have no idea how the 35 to 49 contingent could go from being a decent Biden plurality to a significant Trump majority. By the same token, Biden cutting a thirty-one point deficit among white women to ten points seems like a stretch. The most likely explanation in all this is some small sample size weirdness, and as such it’s not worth putting too much energy into trying to figure it all out. It is what it is, and if we’re lucky Quinnipiac will do an October poll, which will either see things revert back to what we have mostly seen before, or present us with more of a puzzle. I don’t know what else to say.

The 2022 election has officially started

And Joe Jaworski is the first candidate out of the box.

Joe Jaworski

Joe Jaworski, a mediator and former Galveston mayor, is not a fan of Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, a Republican first elected to statewide office in 2014.

“I have always thought the attorney general should be the attorney for the people, not a particular political party or ideology,” he told me Tuesday.

That may sound naive to Texans who’ve followed state politics in recent years. But Jaworski, a Democrat, has a unique vantage point as the grandson of the late Leon Jaworski, the Houston lawyer and one-time Nuremberg prosecutor who gained fame as the second special prosecutor during the Watergate scandal.

Jaworski said his grandfather — “the Colonel,” to family members — put country over party. A Democrat, he became disillusioned with the party after Lyndon Johnson’s administration and voted for Richard Nixon twice. His legal clash with Nixon over Oval Office audio recordings culminated in Nixon’s resignation in 1974.

“Leon Jaworski was always on the right side of history, and that is a meaning that I feel very strongly about,” Joe Jaworski said of his grandfather.

Joe Jaworski announced his own bid for attorney general last week, getting an early start in a bid to unseat Paxton, a Republican, in 2022. Jaworski doesn’t expect to be the only Democrat vying for the job.

But Paxton might as well be on the ballot this cycle, Jaworski argued. Some of Paxton’s peers in statewide office have laid low this election cycle, or focused their efforts on fundraising for downballot GOP candidates. But the attorney general, who continues to fight his own five-year-old indictment for felony securities fraud, has vigorously inserted himself into the political fray.

We are familiar with Paxton’s actions. I met Joe some years ago and did an interview with him for his 2008 race for State Senate in SD11. He’ll be an energetic campaigner and I suspect a decent fundraiser. I’m not surprised that he expects company in the primary – I can imagine 2018 AG candidate Justin Nelson giving it another shot, and there will likely be others out there – but it’s exciting to think about a compelling lineup of primary contests. Lord knows, there will be no shortage of issues to highlight in a race against Ken Paxton, even if he still hasn’t seen the inside of a courtroom for his alleged misdeeds by then.

Jaworski’s got a campaign Facebook page up, which I had come across a couple of days ago, before Erica Greider wrote that column. Obviously, what’s happening this November is the top priority, and the legislative session that follows will be next in line. But the 2022 election has a chance to be truly transformative in Texas, and even if you think that’s an overbid, there will surely be a hotly contested effort to take or maintain control of the House, plus all 31 Senate seats will be up. The sooner we can get some quality folks out there for the statewide positions, the better.

The HCDE makeover

One more world to conquer in Harris County.

David Brown

The future looked bleak for Texas’ last remaining county education department in early 2019.

After years of state-level efforts to abolish the Harris County Department of Education, a new majority of trustees signaled they would take a more critical look at the agency’s inner workings and whether it still served the core function of supporting local school districts.

Less than a year later, the entire makeup of the board has changed. Now a 5-2 majority of HCDE supporters oversee the department and its $128 million annual budget, a majority that could grow after the November election.

The two board seats on this year’s ballot — two of the three at-large positions — are held by Republicans Don Sumners and Michael Wolfe, the remaining trustees who have been critical of the department in the past. Sumners is seeking re-election, and although Wolfe is not running for his old seat, his father, Bob Wolfe, is.

Sumners’ Democratic opponent is David Brown, an educator who works for Change Happens, a Third Ward-based nonprofit that provides mentoring, drug prevention and other services to low-income youth. Democrat Erica Davis, chief of staff for Precinct 1 Constable Alan Rosen, is running against Wolfe. If Brown and Davis capture the two at-large positions, board president Eric Dick — who has opposed efforts to shut down the department — would be the lone remaining Republican trustee.

[…]

Erica Davis

In recent decades, the department has been the subject of frequent criticism of some state and local conservatives who call it an unnecessary bureaucracy that would better serve districts if it were dissolved and its assets were given to local schools.

Republicans who shared that belief gained control of the board after the 2018 midterm elections and were quick to exercise their new role. Former trustee Josh Flynn was named board president during his first meeting in January 2019. Minutes later, the board voted to scrap a contract with a lobbying firm that represented HCDE interests in Austin.

They voted the following month to change the composition of an ancillary board that issues bonds and oversees construction contracts. They asked the board attorney to investigate the department’s Education Foundation, then put an item on two meeting agendas to replace the same attorney with a representative from Republican state Rep. Briscoe Cain’s law firm, an ally of the Republican trustees. The board ultimately kept its original lawyer after the item to remove her was tabled.

Tempers flared between the new majority and those who supported the agency. Trustee Eric Dick, the sole Republican on the board who supported HCDE, frequently exchanged terse words with the new majority, especially former President Flynn and Trustee Michael Wolfe. The tension came to a head after Dick reported that Wolfe had made sexual advances on a woman who had applied to become the board’s secretary, and allegedly attempted to blacklist her among Houston Republican groups after she turned down his advances.

After reviewing a third-party report on the allegations commissioned by the board, trustees voted to censure Wolfe in April 2019, and Harris County Attorney Vince Ryan launched an investigation into the allegations. Wolfe has denied the allegations, and the county attorney has yet to release any findings.

Ultimately, the board’s Republican majority was short-lived. Former Trustee George Moore resigned after moving out of Harris County in May 2019, and the board later appointed Democrat Amy Hinojosa to replace him. Flynn resigned in December that same year after his eligibility to run for the Texas House was questioned due to his position on the board. The board appointed Democrat Andrea Duhon to take Flynn’s place, firmly shifting the board majority.

“I have to tell you, it seems like it’s working like a well-oiled machine,” Duhon said. “It’s been fabulous not having to worry about someone coming in and trying to tear it all apart.”

Sumners, Bettencourt and other Republicans have blamed Flynn for the shift in power. Though Republicans outnumbered Democrats for most of 2019, Dick sided with the Democrats amid an ongoing feud with the Republican trustees, resulting in a 3-3 deadlock that left the board unable to appoint Moore’s replacement. Moore was barred from voting.

In December, however, Flynn skipped a meeting where trustees were set to appoint his and Moore’s replacements. That allowed Dick and the two Democrats to appoint Hinojosa and Duhon.

See here for some background. I had wondered how it was that a board with a Republican majority managed to appoint two Democrats as replacement for departing Republicans, thus turning a 5-2 GOP majority into a 4-3 Dem majority. Pretty hilarious, if you ask me. It’s only the second time in my memory that the Dems have had a majority on the HCDE Board. A brief history:

2006: All seven members are Republicans, after Dems failed to field a candidate in the Precinct 1 position (the incumbent, who had not drawn a primary challenger, withdrew at the last minute).

2008: 5-2 Republicans after Jim Henley and Debra Kerner win the two At Large positions that were on the ballot, as part of the initial Democratic breakthrough in Harris County. Kerner’s opponent in that election, by the way, was none other than Stan Stanart.

2012: Erica Lee wins the Precinct 1 position, and Diane Trautman wins the third At Large spot, thus giving the Dems a 4-3 advantage.

2014: Republicans take back the two At Large positions they lost in 2008 and go back up by a 5-2 margin on the Board. Michael Wolfe, who had lost in 2012, and Don Sumners are elected.

2016: No change in composition, but Sherrie Matula loses the Precinct 2 race by a whisker. Eric Dick is elected in Precinct 4.

2018: Still no change in composition. Danny Norris succeeds Erica Lee in Precinct 1, Richard Cantu succeeds Diane Trautman in the At Large position, and Josh Flynn defeats Andrea Duhon by less than 2,000 votes for the Precinct 3 spot. While Republicans maintain a 5-2 majority on the Board, they now have a majority of Board members who want to undermine what the Board is doing.

Late 2019, after the filing period for 2020 closes: George Moore (who had defeated Matula by less than 500 votes in 2016) resigns for personal reasons, and Josh Flynn resigns (after a bit of a kerfuffle with the county GOP) to pursue the nomination in HD138 (he would lose the primary). As described above, Amy Hinojosa and Andrea Duhon are appointed, giving the Dems a 4-3 majority again. With the Dems favored to win the two At Large seats back, they would have a 6-1 majority for next year. Hinojosa will be up for election in 2022, and Duhon in 2024.

So there you have it. There have been some attempts in the Lege to curtail the HCDE , and it won’t surprise me if there are bills to that effect filed in this session. Having a Dem House majority would block that. In the meantime, I don’t know what has gotten into Eric Dick, but I approve. Remember to vote in these races, they will be way down at the bottom of the ballot. Any chance you get to vote against Don Sumners, you owe it to yourself to take it.