A recorded and reckless conversation between a top state official and a political activist rocked the state Capitol this summer and upended the career of Texas House Speaker Dennis Bonnen last month. But it hardly registered with most voters, according to the latest University of Texas/Texas Tribune Poll.
More than two-thirds of registered voters said they have heard “nothing at all” (50%) or “a little” (18%) “about the controversy over a June 2019 meeting between the speaker of the Texas House and the head of a political action committee.” Only 12% said they have heard “a lot,” and 19% said they have heard “some” about the incident.
Bonnen, elected speaker in January, met shortly after the end of the legislative session in June with Michael Quinn Sullivan of Empower Texans and state Rep. Dustin Burrows, R-Lubbock. Sullivan alleged Bonnen and Burrows offered him media passes to the floor of the House and gave him a list of Republican colleagues they said they would be happy to replace. Sullivan recorded the conversation and released that recording last month, undermining denials made by Bonnen and Burrows and resulting in Bonnen’s decision not to run for another term in the House.
That’s been big news for months in Austin and among Capitol insiders. But not, apparently, to voters.
“This is the ultimate divide between journalists, practitioners and academics, and the public,” said Daron Shaw, a government professor at the University of Texas at Austin and the co-director of the poll. “We all say, ‘This was an incredible fall from grace.’ The public says, ‘Who?’”
Who, indeed? When the question is about his job performance, most voters (55%) don’t have an impression of the Texas speaker, while 20% approve of his work and 25% say they disapprove. By comparison, 52% approve of the job Gov. Greg Abbott is doing, and 27% don’t. Thirty-nine percent approve of Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick’s job performance, while 32% do not.
The state’s two U.S. senators, both Republicans, have markedly different profiles with voters. For Ted Cruz, the approval/disapproval ratio is 46% to 39%. For John Cornyn, who’s on the ballot next year, it’s a closer 35% to 34% — and 31% say they have no impression at all.
Voters were also asked about the political parties and — regardless of their voting preferences — whether the parties are welcoming to people like them. The numbers are close: 47% say the GOP is welcoming, while 42% say it’s not; 43% say the Democratic Party is welcoming, while 46% say it is not.
Finally, voters split evenly in their preferences on a generic ballot for Congress, with 43% saying they would vote today for a Democratic candidate, 43% for a Republican candidate and 3% for someone else. The remaining 10% say they haven’t thought about that enough to have an opinion.
The University of Texas/Texas Tribune internet survey of 1,200 registered voters was conducted from Oct. 18-27 and has an overall margin of error of +/- 2.83 percentage points, and an overall margin of error of +/- 4.21 percentage points for Democratic trial ballots. Numbers in charts might not add up to 100% because of rounding.
Disclosure: The University of Texas at Austin has been a financial supporter of The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan news organization that is funded in part by donations from members, foundations and corporate sponsors. Financial supporters play no role in the Tribune's journalism. Find a complete list of them here.