Inside, Outside: Damning with Faint Praise

Gov. Rick Perry while leaving the Republican presidential debate at Dartmouth College on Oct. 11, 2011.
Gov. Rick Perry while leaving the Republican presidential debate at Dartmouth College on Oct. 11, 2011.

If the October 2011 University of Texas/Texas Tribune Poll captured Texans in a lukewarm mood about Gov. Rick Perry’s presidential bid, the Texas Tribune/Texas Weekly Inside Intelligence survey found Texas insiders edging into downright cranky territory in their assessments of the governor.

As we did last May, we took a few questions verbatim from the October UT/Tribune poll and put them before the decidedly unscientific sample we take every week on current events preoccupying the inside baseball crowd in Texas. Last week’s Inside Intelligence questions focused on attitudes toward Perry and the impact of his presidential campaign.

It appears that familiarity has bred, if not contempt, certainly a comparatively skeptical attitude toward Gov. Perry among those who responded last week. Overall, most of the insider assessments were more negative of Perry than those found in the statewide poll. The differences were generally not large, but they were consistent.

Perry job approval
 InsidersUT/TT
Approve strongly 13% 14%
Approve somewhat 20% 25%
Neither approve nor disapprove 3% 14%
Disapprove somewhat 20% 13%
Disapprove strongly 45% 31%
Don’t know 0% 2%

In the most general assessment of Perry’s job performance as governor, the insiders were only somewhat less approving than the registered voter sample — 33% versus 39%, as the table above illustrates. But crankiness in the insiders’ pool shows up in the composition of those who disapprove: With only 2.5% straddling the non-committal middle ground, the insiders went negative on the governor in noticeably larger numbers, and more intensely: 64% versus 44% in the UT/TT poll, with 45% of the insiders disapproving intensely.

Which terms best describe Gov. Rick Perry
TraitInsidersUT/TT
Honest 4.16 5.05
Career politician 8.68 7.11
Conservative 7.5 7.4
Corrupt 4.27 4.58
Strong leader 5.12 5.89
Competent 4.22 5.6
Outsider 2.18 3.86
Self-serving 7.84 5.64
Straight talker 4.24 5.36
A real Texan 6.82 6.32

Note: Responses to traits were randomly rotated and not all respondents received all traits. Responses for each trait ranged from 372 to 421.

The insider responses to the items that asked respondents how well a word or short phrase described Perry also suggest that the insiders are somewhat less impressed with the governor than the statewide sample. The table above reports the mean scores for the responses in both groups; the higher the number, the more apt the group found the term at describing Perry. The mean score from the insiders for all of the straightforwardly positive terms — “honest”, “strong leader”, “competent”, “straight talker” — were all lower among the insiders than in the UT/Tribune Poll. Some of the differences were very small; the difference on “honest” was less than one. (Both scores were near the middle of the scale — 5.05 for the statewide survey, and slightly into the realm of negative judgment on this point, 4.16, for the insiders.)

The insiders were also comparatively tougher in applying negative terms to the governor. Calling someone a “career politician” may not automatically get you in a fist fight at your local bar (unless it’s The Cloak Room), but in contemporary politics it’s certainly not a term of endearment, and the insider group found this the most apt term for the governor. This was the second-highest ranking response in the general survey, though the mean score was more than a point-and-a-half less among regular folks — who may also attach a somewhat more negative connotation to the term than do the career political professionals that make up the bulk of the insider group. The insiders also went much stronger for “self-serving” than the general population. If we go by dictionary definitions, I think it would be fair to give the insiders a 10 for “cynical”. (By comparison, the general population didn’t embrace “self-serving” nearly as enthusiastically.)

Impact of Perry Candidacy on National Image of Texas
 InsidersUT/TT
Helped 12% 19%
Hurt 57% 37%
Had no effect 30% 34%
Don’t know 1% 11%

The insiders and the statewide sample found it easier to agree on the less judgment-laden items: The mean scores for “conservative” are almost the same (and, not surprisingly, are high). There seems to be a consensus that Perry can reasonably be thought of as “a real Texan,” though it might hurt a little that the governor didn’t break 7 in the mean scores here. (As a guy born in California, I look at these results and kind of wonder what a guy has to do to have Texans think of him as a real Texan. If Rick Perry ain’t it…)

Explaining the State's Comparative Economic Success
 InsidersUT/TT
Natural resources and long-standing policies have helped Texas fare better than the rest of the country. 80% 65%
Rick Perry’s leadership and policies have helped Texas fare better than the rest of the country. 18% 21%
Don’t Know 3% 14%

The insiders were even less convinced than the statewide sample that Perry deserves credit for the relative success of the Texas economy (a somewhat arguable premise, I know, but we were interested in how the message was received, not its accuracy). They were also less inclined to think that the governor’s foray into presidential politics was helping the state's image in the rest of the country, and more inclined to think it was actually hurting. The latter result was perhaps the most negative judgment among the insiders: More than half of the group passed on the chance to say his candidacy helped or had no effect, choosing to affirmatively conclude it had hurt Texas’ image. Ouch.

Again, the limitations of the insiders’ pool are worth mentioning. There is no effort to make the insiders a politically representative group. At first blush their self-declared partisan affiliation — 34% Democrat, 36% Republican, and 30% independent — is not particularly skewed. But the large number of independents likely conceals the same dynamic we see among independents in political polling. When pushed to indicate how they lean, independents that admit to leaning toward one party or the other tend to be fairly ideologically committed. That is, the preferences of independents that lean toward a party look a lot more like strong partisans than weak ones. Since the Inside Intelligence survey doesn’t follow up independent responses with an attempt to smoke out the leaners, we don’t know anything about the ideological make up of the leaners (or even if any leaners are choosing to identify as independent).

Party identification
 InsidersUT/TT
Democrat 34% 29%
Republican 36% 34%
Independent 30% 27%
DK/Skip 0% 2%

Note: Responses combine 7-point party identification responses, with Republican and Democratic leaning independents combined as "independents" for purposes of comparison.

The insiders, whose names are published under the aggregate results in the Tribune and Texas Weekly, are also likely to be very inclined to check in as independent rather than chance revealing their partisan allegiances, despite the fact that names are not identified with particular responses. Some of them, of course, are professionally affiliated with party politics, so it’s not a problem for them. Back of the envelope assessments of the list of respondents suggest that the pool isn’t harboring a huge collection of leftist Perry haters. I would say that there are some Real Texans in there, though I’m thinking there’s more of an “eye of the beholder” factor in that judgment than I realized.

The latest UT/Tribune internet survey of 800 registered voters was conducted October 19-26. The margin of error is +/-3.46 percent. On questions asked only of Republican voters, the MOE is +/- 4.93 percent; on questions asked only of Democratic voters, the MOE is 6.39 percent.