I was particularly interested in Jim Henson’s article in the Tribune earlier this week. As most readers know, Henson is the guru behind the UT/Texas Tribune poll. It addresses one of the mysteries of our times, which is why Texas voters seem to have very little interest in the major issues facing the state, and he notes the difference between the way insiders and outsiders approach the problems of government: Here is the beginning of Henson’s article:
Most insiders are political professionals working in the halls of government. In The Texas Tribune’s latest Inside Intelligence, they seem concerned with the kinds of problems that have been the province of government: above all, public education, but also infrastructure issues, like the water supply and transportation.
Texas voters, on the other hand, have recently demonstrated both in elections and polls that they are at best skeptical of and at worst downright hostile to what happens in those hallways. The problems that most worry voters lie outside areas of proactive government initiatives. They appear more focused on broad policy areas that are either outside such initiatives or point to perceived failure: the economy, jobs, immigration, border security. Public education is growing as a concern, but only among a small group.
These differences are especially pronounced if we compare the insiders with the subgroup of Texas voters exercising the most influence in elections right now: self-identified Republicans. GOP dissidents complaining loudly that the (Republican-dominated) political system in the state is tainted by insiders who have lost touch with the limited-government grassroots might have a point; people working in and around government have different priorities than GOP primary voters.
Here is how the insiders rank the major issues facing the state. The figure in parenthesis is the ranking according to Republican voters:
Education 30% (4%)
Water 16% (2%)
Political leadership/corruption 12% (6%)
Budget cuts 11% (3%)
Economy 8% (12%)
Transportation 8% (1%)
The rankings of the most important issues as determined by Republican voters:
Border Security 21%
No other issue achieved double-digit concern. Health care, the biggest single item in the state budget, was rated as important by 1% of Republican voters. Education got a 4% response.
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This is a very revealing poll, and congratulations to Henson and the Tribune for conceiving the idea of comparing the opinions of insiders and the voting bloc that dominates the state. It is as if there are two different states under the microscope here. One is the Texas that exists in the world of the Capitol, in which opinion makers worry about the issues that will determine the future of the state: education, transportation, water planning, health care, funding government. The other state couldn’t care less. Remember when the education budget was cut by $5.4 billion and everybody was wondering whether people who cared about pub ed would protest? Here’s your answer. Life went on as before. No groundswell of public opinion moved the needle of public opinion, or the consciences of elected officials.
What you see in this poll is the total disappearance of the Republican party that elected George W. Bush governor in 1994. That Republican party was a party of upwardly mobile professionals and soccer moms who cared about their schools and supported school bond issues. Today the optimism of those salad days has turned to fear and anger–with little interest in the future. Rick Perry understands this, which is why you never see him promoting initiatives like better schools and funding the state water plan. State government will not change until this generation of voters has passed from the scene. Ten more years of the last ten years.