Austin at Large: Old Beliefs, No Longer True
One in five Texas voters have never known a non-embarrassing ruling regime
Here's a data point that will help much of what you're seeing, and what we've been saying, make sense: One in five Texans registered to vote in this election was not on the voter rolls in November 2016. That's about 3 million voters, the Texas Democratic Party estimates, on net: new arrivals to the state, or young people reaching voting age, or people becoming citizens, or nonvoters finally taking the plunge, all of whom outnumber those who've moved or passed away and left the rolls. The rate of increase in voter registration has sped up from 2016 to 2018 and again from then until now.
As we report in this issue, the TDP is optimistic that these new voters will break its way. They don't need all of them; Beto O'Rourke only lost to Ted Cruz by 215,000 votes. As you've heard by now, the party can flip the Texas House to Democratic control, and pick up four seats in Congress, just by carrying districts where O'Rourke beat Cruz. In the last polling shared with us by Democratic campaign groups, the party has solid leads in seven of the 17 GOP-held Lege seats it's targeted (along with holding all 12 of the seats it won in 2018, including four in and around Austin). It's only clearly behind in three, and the rest are toss-ups. It only needs a gain of nine.
A Bluenami does not require many longtime GOP voters to change their minds. Some clearly have, for good reasons. But the endless distractions of President Apesh*t and the clumsy foibles of state leaders have not shaken loose that many partisans, and even amidst massive failures the GOP still has many assets. But it is now under threat not from late-model "independents" embarrassed by what "Republican" now means, but by new voters who've never known it to mean anything else. Those voters are concentrated in places that used to be GOP strongholds and are now its killing fields.
The Cops Won't Save Them
The party's last best hope has been to put Black Lives Matter and de-policing on the ballot, as Gov. Greg Abbott has tried very hard to do. Unfortunately, that continues to not be nearly as strong an issue for the GOP as it believes. We have new research, shared exclusively with the Chronicle, from Data for Progress and the Justice Collaborative Institute, showing that (to quote their polling memo) "Texas voters support community-based investments in public safety as an alternative to policing."
That is, of course, what nearly all of the Austin City Council's "radical socialist" moves to "defund the police" amount to, and the DFP/JCI poll was fielded in late September, after Abbott had launched three separate publicity stunts to drag Austin to hell for its anti-cop wickedness. The groups found 2-to-1 support among all respondents, and majority support among Republicans, for new family violence shelters, violence prevention programs, substance abuse and mental health services, and EMS services during the pandemic as alternatives to police spending. All of these are on Austin's menu of "reimagining" efforts.
It is true that when we actually take those efforts down to the level of detailed policies and make clear the trade-offs necessary to accomplish them, support will likely be more mixed. But that is not the terrain Abbott and the state police unions aim to claim; to them, even thinking and talking about doing public safety differently has already made us less safe. Not even a majority of their own voters think that's true.
Airing Their Grievances
De-policing is on the ballot in Austin, particularly for incumbents Jimmy Flannigan and Alison Alter, running in mixed and moderate districts against multiple opponents blasting their public safety positions from the right. Our good old friends at Voices of Austin, for whom every day features the airing of grievances, fielded a new poll in late August that they claim, as is their wont, says the opposite of what this other research suggests.
Unlike their first poll, VoA did properly disclose who conducted this one, at what time, and among how many people of what demographics, and what was asked. Campaign finance filings suggest it could have been conducted in collaboration with the anti-Prop A PAC Our Mobility Our Future (which reports an expenditure to the same pollster at the same time), but VoA has shared findings on other issues, including the Land Development Code Revision (which it insists on still calling "CodeNEXT," two years after that process was abandoned) and public safety, along with querulous sentiments about City Hall that remain little changed from the Reagan era.
You can see their polling memo for yourself (www.voicesofaustin.org/voices-of-austins-August-2020-poll); I would say the poll is written to generate the results VoA desires. For example, respondents were asked their agreement with this statement: "I am dissatisfied that the City Council has abolished the Park Police, Special Investigations Intelligence Center, Organized Crime Unit and Lake Austin Patrols, and is not sending any officers to situations with potentially dangerous domestic violence incidents."
How dreadful! It really would be awful if that had happened in real life, and not just in the shrieky streets of CopLand. But you know what? Even with its thumb heavily on the scale, the VoA poll only says that 56% of Austinites agree with them. I suspect a more honest assessment of how real Austinites really feel – such as, for example, how they vote – will be different.