Vol 29, Issue 10 Print Issue

Inside Out: The Insiders vs. the Voters

Comparing the responses of the Texas Tribune/Texas Weekly Inside Intelligence surveys of the last two weeks to responses to similar items in the February 2012 University of Texas/Texas Tribune poll, it’s hard not to see confirmation of some of the angry claims coming from both the right and left in the last couple of years: Political insiders do see the world differently from the general population in some ways, though not all.

We can only speculate on the origins of these differences, but on the items pulled from the February poll and put before the informal Inside Intelligence group surveyed every week for both Texas Weekly and The Texas Tribune, there seems to be a mixture of social and political differences in the results that are not cleanly seen as evidence of either liberal or conservative bias among the insiders. They hint at some other dimension of difference between voters and political professionals that isn’t solely about ideology.

The insiders lean in a comparatively liberal direction on the items on the legal recognition of gay relationships and the influence of the Tea Party on the Republican Party. It’s being noticed with increasing frequency that nationally and even in Texas, public opinion has warmed to granting more legal status to gay relationships. The insider group, however, is noticeably ahead of the public in Texas: 48 percent of the insiders supported legalizing gay marriage, and 35 percent opted for the tolerant middle ground of legalizing civil unions, but only civil unions; only 13 percent opposed both. The corresponding numbers in the UT/Tribune survey were 31 percent support for gay marriage, 29 percent for civil unions, and 33 percent (a big difference) opposed to both.

Attitudes on the Tea Party showed a similar ideological difference — not exactly a huge surprise given that the Tea Party self-image is anti-insider by definition (to the extent the popular component of the Tea Party movement can be given a consensual definition). A whopping 68 percent of the insiders thought the Tea Party had too much influence, and only 5 percent thought they had too little influence; 22 percent opted for a Goldilocks-like “right amount.” Results from the UT/Trib survey were strikingly different: only 30 percent thought the Tea Party had too much influence, and 29 percent thought the were not influential enough. It would seem the Tea Party hasn’t really caught on among the insider group. Go figure.

The insiders also favored the creation of an independent redistricting commission to replace the current... process, I guess you could call it. The insiders are of course much closer to redistricting and know more about it, and so, as a group, have much more formed opinions about the matter. Among the public, 30 percent reply to proposed changes with a “don’t know,” suggesting folks have low levels of knowledge about the subject. Opinion was pretty strongly in favor of going to a new system among the insiders, 58 percent to 35 percent, compared to 42 percent to 27 percent in the general public. (There is a pattern of responses in this range to this question in the past, including the large number of don’t knows. See, for example, these results from 2008 and 2009.)

But the insiders also reflected the small-c conservative bias of conventional wisdom and a bias toward what I would call the institutional candidates when it came to predictions about the electoral races. The election items put before the insiders differed from the corresponding items on the poll. Insiders were asked to predict the outcome of the GOP presidential and US Senate primaries in Texas “if they were held today” rather than being asked their preferences. (The assumption was that even with guarantees of confidentiality, many insiders would either not respond to the item or evade the question with a "don’t know".) The poll, of course, asked respondents whom they would vote for if the primary election “were held today.”

In the presidential match ups, 43 percent called the favorite in the poll, Rick Santorum, as the winner. Santorum ran away from the pack in the poll results, likely propelled in part by the timing of the survey, which went in the field the day after Santorum’s surprise February sweep of caucuses in Colorado, Minnesota, and Missouri. But the insiders were much more bullish on the GOP establishment candidate’s chances than were the poll respondents: 38 percent of the insiders predicted a Mitt Romney victory, with 11 percent predicting a Gingrich victory and — you’ll not be shocked by this by now — only 1 percent predicting a Ron Paul victory. In the statewide poll, Romney finished with 16 percent, in a pack with Gingrich at 18 percent and Ron Paul at 14 percent.

The bias toward conventional wisdom and the establishment candidate with the institutional advantages is even more apparent comparing views on the race for the GOP US Senate nomination. Among insiders, 84 percent predicted a Dewhurst victory, reflecting what most would agree is the conventional wisdom that the race is Dewhurst’s to lose, given his statewide name recognition, long incumbency, electoral experience, and financial resources, both personal and contributed. Cruz finished second among the insiders, with 14 percent thinking he would win the race, and Tom Leppert was third with 2 percent. Cruz’s second place finish was parallel to his second place finish in the UT/Trib poll, and Tom Leppert trailed by some distance in both. To reiterate: the insiders were polled before the results of the UT/Trib poll were released.

If the insiders almost by definition showed institutional biases that distinguish some of their views and expectations from the electorate, I end on a somewhat odd note of agreement. The UT/Tribune poll asked items about “the rich” designed to plumb opinions about the “class warfare” construct that has been popping up in national political discourse. Interestingly, the responses from the insiders and the general population were very similar on these items.

The insiders were somewhat more likely to think that people were envious of the rich — 60 percent among insiders and 51 percent in the statewide sample of registered votes — perhaps a sign of the feelings among a group that is almost certainly more affluent on the whole than the broader population. But when asked if “the rich pay their fair share of Taxes,” the insiders responded at about the same rate as the general survey — 52 percent of the insiders opined that the rich don't pay their fair of taxes, compared to 53 percent in the UT/Tribune survey. A larger number of insiders than those in the general survey thought the rich did pay their fair share — 43 percent compared to 39 percent — but they were still in the minority. These views on taxes and the wealthy could mean many things, but it’s nice to be able to close on the possibility that the insiders theoretically feel pangs of conscience.

Sure, I hear the skeptics saying: tell it to the Tea Party.

Disclaimer. As we’ve said in both of the previous articles comparing Inside Intelligence numbers with the UT/Texas Tribune Poll, the limitations of the insiders’ pool are worth mentioning. There is no effort to make the insiders a politically representative group. Their self-declared partisan affiliations are usually not particularly skewed — in the past, they have been in the range of — 34 percent Democrat, 36 percent Republican, and 30 percent independent. 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).