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April 19th, 2021:

What is the point of this Matthew McConaughey poll?

I have questions about this.

Matthew McConaughey commands more support to be Texas’ next governor than incumbent Greg Abbott, according to a poll released Sunday by The Dallas Morning News and the University of Texas at Tyler.

However, the film actor and political newcomer could hit potholes in either major party’s primary if he enters next year’s governor’s race, the poll found.

For months, McConaughey has teased political pundits and TV talk show hosts with musings that he might enter politics in his home state.

If he were to take the plunge and run for governor, the poll found, 45% of Texas registered voters would vote for McConaughey, 33% would vote for Abbott and 22% would vote for someone else.

McConaughey’s double-digit lead over the two-term Republican incumbent is significant. The poll, conducted April 6-13, surveyed 1,126 registered voters and has a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 2.92 percentage points.

But 56% of Republican voters said they’d vote for Abbott, compared with only 30% for McConaughey.

While Democrats broke 66% to 8% for McConaughey, and independents 44% to 28%, more than twice as many Democratic primary voters — 51% — said they wanted a progressive candidate for governor than wanted a centrist — 25%.

That could pose a problem. McConaughey, who has criticized both major parties, has suggested he’s more of a moderate.

And in the GOP gubernatorial primary, that’s also not obviously a ticket to success. Solid majorities of poll respondents who described themselves as conservative, evangelical or retirement-age Republican primary voters said they’d vote for Abbott.

[…]

Jason Stanford, who managed the campaign of second-place finisher and Democrat Chris Bell in the 2006 gubernatorial race, said McConaughey poses no threat to Abbott.

“There doesn’t appear to be a huge groundswell of discontent for Abbott,” Stanford said. Once McConaughey declares as a Democrat or Republican, reality will set in with Texas voters, he added.

“If you ID as a Democrat or a Republican, you’re going to get different answers about him in polls,” Stanford said. “He’s fun, but once you put him in a political context, things will change.”

Poll details can be found here. There’s some issues and approval polling that I’ll get to in a separate post and which is actually kind of interesting, but as for the Abbott/McConaughey question, the only thing you need to read is what Jason Sanford said, because he’s 100% correct.

The first problem with this poll question is in the question itself, which is worded as follows: “Matthew McConaughey has been talked about as a potential candidate for Governor of Texas. If he ran, would you be likely to support him more than Governor Abbott?” Do you see what’s missing in that question? It’s any mention of what (if any) party McConaughey would be claiming. If he’s running as a Democrat against Abbott, then there’s no way in hell he gets 30% of Republicans to support him. Even getting ten percent would be seismic and likely enough to win, but we can’t tell what kind of actual crossover appeal he might have because the question is asked without that piece of information, leaving the respondent to assume that this is some theoretical, non-partisan race. You know, the kind that we don’t have for state elections.

If McConaughey were to run as an independent, then this would need to be polled as a three-way race, because the Democrats would surely have a candidate as well. One could possibly imagine a scenario in which McConaughey mounted an independent campaign and the Texas Democratic Party decided as a tactical matter to support him, the way Dems have supported independent candidates for Senate or Governor in Maine and Kansas and Alaska in recent years. The problem with that scenario is that while McConaughey could announce his independent candidacy now and start staffing up for it, he can’t begin the petition process to get on the ballot until after the primary election, or after the primary runoff if there was one for Governor, and there’s nothing to stop someone from filing to run as a Democrat in the primary in the meantime. Any Democratic nominee, whether a candidate who might be viable against Abbott on their own or a more marginal type who still has appeal to some part of the Democratic base, will draw enough support to make an independent far less competitive in the general. To put it another way, it’s extremely unlikely Matthew McConaughey gets 66% of the Democratic vote in a three-way race.

Maybe I’m wrong about these assertions. You could ask again and name McConaughey as the Democratic nominee, and see how much Republican support he gets. You could also ask about a three-way race that features Abbott and McConaughey and an actual, named Democrat. And if you’re going to do that, why not also ask the horse-race question about just Abbott and that same Dem? Why not ask the Abbott-versus-Beto and/or Abbott-versus-Julian question, which would allow a comparison to McConaughey as a Dem, then ask again with McConaughey in there as an independent? We all understand that at this point in the calendar all these questions are mostly for funsies, but with some useful information in there if you know how to look for it. At least the Abbott/Beto or Abbott/Julian questions would give a data point about whether Dems have any cause to feel optimistic or not, and the three-way race question might tell us something about how much Republican support for Abbott is softer than it looks. Any of it would tell us more than the actual question did.

And of course, if McConaughey were to run against Abbott in a Republican primary, then asking this question in a sample that includes more non-Republicans than Republicans is going to give you a nonsense answer. Point being, if I haven’t beaten it to a sufficiently bloody pulp yet, identifying McConaughey’s partisan affiliation in this question matters. Not including it makes this whole exercise useless for anything that blog fodder and Twitter posts. Which they got, so mission accomplished.

One more thing, before I end this post and write the other one about approvals and issues polling: For some reason, the sample – which as before is partly phone and partly web panel, and all made up of registered voters – voted in the 2020 Presidential election as follows:

Trump – 36%
Biden – 32%
Other – 1%
Did not vote – 30%
Refused to say – 1%

If you’re thinking that’s an awfully large “did not vote” percentage, consider how the sample from their March poll answered the same question:

Trump – 43%
Biden – 38%
Other – 4%
Did not vote – 11%
Refused to say – 4%

Why so different? I have no idea. Why do we think we can draw reasonable conclusions from a poll sample that includes such a large number of people who didn’t vote in the highest turnout election in Texas history? Again, I have no idea. To be sure, the 2022 election will have smaller turnout, and an RV sample is all that makes sense at this time. But maybe weighting the sample a bit more towards actual voters might make any projections about the next election more accurate.

We are still managing to avoid a new COVID surge

It’s good news, whatever the reason for it may be.

More than a month has passed since Gov. Greg Abbott ended virtually all statewide restrictions related to the coronavirus pandemic. Nationwide, new coronavirus cases are on the rise as new variants of the virus spread. And about four-fifths of Texans are not yet fully vaccinated.

But at least for now, the most dire predictions of a new major wave of cases in Texas have not come true, prompting a mix of theories from public health experts.

Those experts caution that a major increase in cases could still come and it may still be too early to tell whether Abbott’s decisions to lift the statewide mask mandate and allow businesses to fully reopen could prompt a new wave of infections. Still, daily new cases and the positivity rate have leveled off over the past month, while deaths and hospitalization have gone down substantially.

Experts point out that vaccination is ramping up, many businesses are still requiring masks and there are unique factors impacting individual metrics — like a drop in demand for testing that is driving down raw case numbers.

They also emphasize that, especially at this point in the pandemic, a stabilization of such metrics, or even a modest decline, is not exactly cause for celebration.

“I think we could’ve been even lower at this point in time,” if not for Abbott’s latest decisions, said Dr. Luis Ostrosky, an infectious disease specialist at UTHealth’s McGovern Medical School in Houston. “The fact that we’re sort of stable is not necessarily good news — because we’re stable at a very high level. It’s like everybody saying you’re at a stable cruising speed — but at 100 miles per hour.”

Abbott’s decision to end most statewide restrictions went into effect 35 days ago, on March 10. The seven-day average for daily new confirmed cases was 3,020 on that day; it was 2,456 on Tuesday. The seven-day average of the state’s positivity rate — the ratio of cases to tests — was 6.24% on March 10; it was 5.89% on Monday. (The latest positivity-rate figures are considered preliminary and subject to recalculation as more test results come in from the date in question.)

Deaths and hospitalizations, which lag new cases, have seen steeper drops since March 10. The seven-day average of new daily deaths was 187 on March 10; it was 64 on Tuesday. There were 4,556 Texans hospitalized with the virus on March 10; there were 3,002 on Tuesday.

The four key metrics are way down from peaks earlier in the year, when the state was seeing daily new caseloads approaching 20,000, a positivity rate that went above 20%, hospitalizations that topped 14,000 and weeks of more than 300 deaths per day.

Like I said, it’s good news, and you should click over and look at the charts, which are a harrowing reminder of how bad it has been in past months. I continue to believe that the reason the numbers haven’t ticked back up is that enough people are staying masked up. We have some limited public opinion data to suggest that, but beyond that it’s mostly my own observations, which are not on a particularly representative sample of the population. Warmer weather, which allows for outdoor activities, may be helping, and in the end we may just be lucky. Whatever the case, let’s hope it continues.

And before you ask, no, we are nowhere near herd immunity. Given the continued resistance to getting vaccinated from large swaths of Republicans, getting there will be a challenge. Prioritizing older folks for the vaccine has no doubt helped reduce the hospitalization and death totals, and that’s no small thing, but we have to deliver a lot more shots into arms because we can begin to think about easing up on that.

Whither downtown?

Nobody really knows when or if Houston’s downtown will return to something like it was pre-COVID.

Few areas of the local economy were hit as hard by the pandemic as downtown and few face as much uncertainty as the service sector — shops, restaurants, dry cleaners, hair salons — that depends on people coming to work in the city’s center. Even as the pandemic’s end appears in sight and companies begin to bring workers back to the office, it remains unclear how fast employees might return downtown and whether they will come back in the same numbers.

Already, some companies are planning to continue the remote working arrangements forced by coronavirus and embraced by both employers and employees. The financial services company JP Morgan Chase, which has some 2,300 employees in two buildings downtown, recently said it will keep some positions remote and reduce the number of people in its U.S. offices, reconfiguring them to reduce the space it uses by up to 40 percent.

The chemical company LyondellBasell, which has about 2,300 employees in its downtown office, said it will consider flexible, remote alternatives to in-person work. The pipeline company Kinder Morgan, which has about 20 percent of its 2,100 working in its headquarters on Louisiana Street, said it has not determined when and how it will bring back other workers.

A recent survey by Central Houston, an organization that focuses on the redevelopment and revitalization of downtown, found that 75 percent of downtown employers expect at least 10 percent of their workforce will transition to a mix of in-person and remote work.

Only about 18 percent of employees are working from the office downtown, according to Central Houston’s survey. About half the companies said they expect to bring 50 percent of their workers back to the office by June and 70 percent said they expect to have half their workforce in the office by September.

[…]

It’s hard to say when the downtown workforce will return to pre-pandemic levels, said Bob Eury, president of Central Houston. The Houston utility CenterPoint Energy said it plans to bring all its employees who have been working remotely back to the offices at 1111 Louisiana St. in June.

Also in June, the University of Houston-Downtown, which has nearly 1,400 employees, said it will bring full-time staff on campus at least three days a week. By July, the staff should be working regular Monday-Friday schedules, the university said.

But some companies are still figuring out when they’ll bring employees back and how many might continue to work remotely. Porter Hedges, a law firm on Main Street, still has most of its 220 employees working at home, but has not set a timetable for their return to the office.

Employees at EOG Resources are working in the office roughly half the week, the other half at home as part of the company’s phased reopening strategy. A spokesperson could not say how long the policy would remain in place.

Developers and property managers, however, are confident that offices will eventually fill with workers again. Travis Overall, executive vice president for Brookfield Properties, which owns 10 buildings downtown, said he doesn’t believe the pandemic will lead to a major restructuring of the downtown workforce over the long term.

Nobody really knows what will happen, because we’ve never experienced anything like this. We don’t have any precedent to point to. I feel reasonably confident saying that the courts and government buildings will be returning to full in-person business soon, and that will bring a lot of people back, but a lot of other businesses are up in the air. I also think that if there is a relative glut in office space downtown, lower rents will lure in some new occupants. It may take three to five years to see how it has all shaken out.