James Henson

The latest UT/Texas Tribune Poll shows a majority of registered voters in Texas view the voter identification law favorably and continue to find border security and immigration to be the most important issues in the state.

Between Oct. 10-19, 1,200 registered voters took part in a statewide survey that asked questions ranging from their thoughts on immigration and voter identification, to their pick for the 2014 gubernatorial election.

When asked what is “the most important problem facing the state of Texas today,” 23 percent of participants said border security and 18 percent said immigration — the top responses of the poll.

James Henson, director of the University’s Texas Politics Project and co-director of the poll, said immigration and border control have consecutively been top concerns in polls. 

“If you look at the life of this poll, border security and immigration [have] pretty consistently been at the top of the list of things that the public in Texas sees as the most important problem facing the state,” Henson said. “If you drill down into the results somewhat, what you see is that this is driven primarily by the positions of Republicans that respond to these questions.” 

According to the Texas Politics Project, 60 percent of Texas voters strongly or somewhat support deporting undocumented immigrants, and 71 percent of participants strongly or somewhat support National Guard border deployment. In July, Gov. Rick Perry deployed 1,000 Texas National Guard troops to patrol the border.

With the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals’ recent decision to allow the state to enforce its voter ID law during this election season, the poll found 67 percent of registered voters also favored voter identification.  

“The responses to voter ID also show a lot of partisan structure,” Henson said. “What I mean by partisan structure is that people’s position on voter ID is largely driven by their party affiliation but, again, especially among Republicans.” 

Also in the poll, 43 percent of respondents said the voter ID law will have no effect on turnout, while 38 percent said it would decrease the number of people voting in the gubernatorial election.

The poll also received attention last week when it showed that Republicans had strong leads in all of the statewide races. The poll found that Attorney General Greg Abbott has a 16-point lead over State Sen. Wendy Davis, D-Fort Worth, in the gubernatorial race. 

“The best predictor of election outcomes is typically the combination of what all the polling that’s available tells you,” Henson said. “No one poll is going to be or should be seen as a predictor of what the actual outcome will be.”

A majority of registered voters support a proposed constitutional amendment to use money from the Rainy Day Fund for water infrastructure and water projects throughout the state.

Proposition 6, which will go before voters Nov. 5, would establish the State Water Implementation Fund for Texas and the State Water Implementation Revenue Fund for Texas. This move would help finance projects in the state’s water plan.

“The most pressing policy for the state of Texas is over the issue of funding for water projects,” said James Henson, government professor and director of the Texas Politics Project.

Henson and his colleagues took a statewide poll to see if citizens favored funding water projects. The poll explained if water was important to citizens and how likely it was for citizens to vote in an election for funding water infrastructure. Henson said the data supports that Texas voters typically like to have a direct say on big decisions such as this, rather than leaving it up to the Texas Legislature.

Daron Shaw, the co-director of the poll and a government professor, said an overall 44 percent of voters were in favor of funding water projects.

According to the poll of 800 registered voters, 52 percent were in favor of funding for water projects, 19 percent opposed and 24 percent had no opinion, while the remaining did not intend to vote. Shaw said out of the 800 total, 611 were considered likely voters.

Shaw explained the issue of funding projects for water infrastructure is the question of the possibility of raising taxes or raising revenue. According to Shaw, this is not a generic question because of the importance of water in the state and dealing with a longstanding drought.

“Politics are dynamic and all polls, in a sense, are predictions,” Shaw said. “Not all registered voters show up on Election Day, but according to our polls, people are in favor of funding water projects.”

College of Liberal Arts spokesman David Ochsner said the polls taken by Henson and his colleagues were important because they showed people cared about funding water projects and that elections give people the opportunity to let their voice be heard.

“The polls reveal the importance of water to the voters — voters want to have a say and now they can,” Ochsner said.

Correction: Because of a reporting error, several quotations from James Henson, government professor and director of the Texas Politics Project, were incorrect. Henson said the most pressing policy issue for Texas is "over the funding for water projects" not the issue of "over-funding water projects." 

Lisa Craven, chief of staff to state senator Glenn Hegar, speaks to Texas legislative interns about office “dos and don’ts.” 

Photo Credit: Mikhaela Locklear | Daily Texan Staff

For 140 days every other year, many juggle the demands of being a student in class and an intern at the State Capitol.

For the students interning at the 83rd Texas Legislature, the Texas Politics Project and Annette Strauss Institute for Civic Life held a seminar Saturday to train students and prepare them for their work.

James Henson, instructor for the Department of Government’s internship course, said he put the seminar together in hopes of giving the interns a “practical and ethical leg up” in the Capitol.

“There is a lot of information to process and it is moving very quickly,” Henson said. “From our experience I see you being dropped in at the beginning of the session and you go in and you don’t know a lot of things.”

Henson said most interns who go into the Capitol are young. The seminar was set up to help the interns understand the process of the legislature by giving them a set of contexts on what it is like to be an intern, and Henson picked out a few different speakers to present at the seminar.

One of the speakers, Steven Polunsky, director of the Texas Senate Committee on Business and Commerce, spoke about professional behavior expected from interns and staffers at the Capitol.

Most of his presentation was about how technology is used to make the government more transparent and interactive. Polunsky said he believes the students who are interning at the Capitol are people who want to learn and work.  

“You want an intern who is going to work harder than they have before,” Polunsky said.

This is the first time the University has had this seminar opportunity available for students. Henson said he thought about holding the seminar for a couple of years, but this was the first year he had the time necessary to do so.  

Henson said he hopes to expand the seminar for the next legislative year.

Nicole Kruijs, public health and Plan II junior and intern for state Sen. Jose Rodriguez, D-El Paso, said she felt she walked out with new information that she can apply to her internship.  

“I enjoyed hearing about the interns who moved up and became full-time staff,” Kruij said. 

She also said that she enjoyed all the speakers who came in to talk, especially those who dealt with handling the press and lobbyists.  

“I’m usually the one they interact with and do not see things from their point of view,” Kruijs said. “It was very interesting to hear them talk.”

The seminar was open to any student intern in the Capitol. More than 100 people registered for the seminar and not all were UT students. 

“I want students to walk out of here with a richer understanding as to what happens inside the Capitol,” Henson said. 

Pofessors David Edwards and Bethany Albertson, with Texas Politics Project director James Henson discuss the 2012 election with UT students at “The Amazing Race” presented by the Liberal Arts Council on Tuesday.

Photo Credit: Shelby Tauber | Daily Texan Staff

Professors in the College of Liberal Arts discussed the potential impact and historical value of the 2012 presidential elections and other aspects of this election season at a panel Tuesday.

The Liberal Arts Council presented “The Amazing Presidential Race,” an open discussion about the 2012 U.S. presidential elections, as part of Liberal Arts Week. Government professor David Edwards, assistant government professor Bethany Albertson and Texas Politics project director James Henson formed part of the panel discussing the election and answering student questions.

The factors marking the current presidential election as “unique” and “amazing” were one of the first issues addressed by the panel. Albertson said the role religion and race are playing in this election sets it apart from any other in U.S. history.

“We have an African-American and a Mormon running for the presidency and this is huge,” she said. “No way would this have been the case 20 years ago.”

Henson said every election can be considered historic, although in retrospect they seem less so. He said the only thing he considers that makes this election historic is the clear definition between the two candidates.

“There is an interesting contrast between the parties that make us feel like we are making real choices,” Henson said. “We are especially seeing that in [the candidates’] rhetoric and the policy proposals.”

Students in the audience were asked to send in their questions about the election through Twitter using the hashtag #lacvotes2012. One of the issues raised through this medium was the importance of Latino voters in the current presidential election. Edwards said the power of the Latino vote could have a heavy impact on the election but their reluctance to vote poses a big setback.

“Nobody seems to know how to get Latinos to the polls, and that’s the problem,” Edwards said. “If Latinos start turning in at elections, they will transform the elections in many states, not just Texas.”

Among the other issues raised during the discussion were the importance of drug and foreign policies, women’s issues and the role of a candidate’s public image in this year’s presidential campaign.

Sonali Kalvala, Liberal Arts Council co-chair for academic affairs, organized the event. She said the goal of the discussion was to give students the opportunity to actively engage in the election.

“The presidential election happens every four years and as young students it’s something that we should be taking part of,” Kalvala said. “We wanted students to interact with professors and have this discussion that would inevitably help them make a political decision in the future.”

At the end of the event and in honor of National Voter Registration Day, the Liberal Arts Council registered students to vote.

“Politics are important for every citizen but also as young adults,” Kalvala said.” Now that we’re in college, these decisions impact us more than ever. Although we are students, we determine the future.”

Printed on Wednesday, September 26, 2012 as: Panel discusses 2012 election

Rick Santorum fared better than other Republican candidates by a significant margin in a recent UT and Texas Tribune poll.

The data was collected from Feb. 8 to 15 in the midst of the increasing media attention Santorum received during and prior to that time, said government professor James Henson.

“The timing of the poll was quite good for Santorum,” Henson said. “He was receiving a lot of media attention because of his success in other states and before the campaigns of his rivals started hitting back. It probably helped push those numbers up a bit.”

Despite other factors playing into the poll, Santorum’s popularity isn’t all that surprising, Henson said.

“He’s emerged as a socially conservative candidate, and those candidates tend to run very well among Texans in the Republican primary,” he said. “While there’s things about Santorum that don’t fit the Texas culture exactly right, a conservative with Santorum’s profile is going to run well.”

Mitt Romney has not had consistency in Texas thus far, but the results of the Texas primary are tough to predict from a poll taken this early, Hansen said. The date of the Texas primary is not yet set because of conflict over district lines, but it will likely take place in late May.

“If you look at the history of this race and you look at competitive primary races, any individual poll is a snapshot at a given moment,” he said. “This race has been particularly volatile and I suspect we will see some movement. There’s still a lot of water to pass under the bridge.”

College Republicans at Texas president Cassie Wright said she believes the results are subject to change.

“The atmosphere of the Republican party is an exciting one, and Santorum’s recent success in Texas polls is indicative of the general social conservatism of Texans,” Wright said. “However, as the Republican front-runner seems to change on a weekly basis, there is a good chance we will see different results in the future.”

While the results of the poll have not yet been broken down by age, Hansen said there are generally low numbers of students participating in the Republican primary electorate.

“We’ve seen some increase in interest in Republican politics on campus but we don’t have a lot to go on,” he said. “There is always a group of politically engaged college students, but by and large, the 18- to 24-year-old group has had low turnout historically.”

Undeclared freshman Meredith Englehart said she feels it’s important to vote in the primaries.

“I know elections aren’t the only way you can be politically active, but I think it’s pretty important to get your voice out there somehow,” she said.

Printed on Tuesday, February 28, 2012 as: Santorum's conservatism hooks Texas

Senator Kel Seliger, R-Amarillo, speaks with James Hensen on Tuesday afternoon in the Dean’s Conference room of the Gebauer Building. Seliger discussed problems with redistricting, water shortages throughout Texas and higher education reform.

Photo Credit: Kiersten Holms | Daily Texan Staff

Allegations that the new district maps produced in the 82nd state legislative session discriminate illegally are unfounded, said Kel Seliger, Texas Senator and chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Redistricting.

James Henson, director of the Texas Politics Project and UT Department of Government lecturer interviewed Sen. Seliger, R-Amarillo, about redistricting in Texas and other issues at the Texas Politics Speaker Series on Tuesday.

Seliger said the redistricting plans produced and passed under his leadership — in response to 2010 census data — were reviewed extensively by legal experts before they were submitted or voted upon and received bipartisan support in the Texas legislature.

“By and large, I think [the map] is a good product,” Seliger said, “I think it is a legal product.”

He said the attempt by a San Antonio panel of federal judges to implement a new map was an example of the judiciary overstepping its boundaries.

“In this kind of situation, there is an almost irresistible inclination to overreach one’s authority and be involved in the legislative process,” Seliger said. “However, separation of powers is fundamental to the operation of our government and should be upheld.”

He said there were some things that he would have done differently in the redistricting process if he was given the chance to repeat it, but it was a tremendously hectic time and legislators did the best they could.

Seliger also spoke about government budget cuts, water and transportation issues within Texas, and especially his experiences as a member of the Senate Subcommittee on Higher Education Funding. He said all functions of government need to be scrutinized for effectiveness and efficiency, but higher education has some inherent inefficiencies that make it hard to quantify its true value.

“People in Texas want value for their money, and Texans object to waste in all forms,” Seliger said. “The benefit of studying things like Eastern religion and philosophy is not immediately evident.”

However, he said it is important for students to learn how to reason and read effectively, and these types of courses can help students develop these skills even though they may not have a direct monetary value.

“We should be exposed to all things that motivate thought, ideas and philosophy,” Seliger said.

Jessica Rubio, government freshman and constituent of Seliger, said she was specifically interested in Seliger’s comments on higher education reform.

“I think that it is important to discuss whether an education makes students prepared to enter a career or makes them intellectually stimulated,” Rubio said. “Because of the economic downturn, a lot of people are focusing on making sure state colleges prepare students for a job, but I think both perspectives need to be considered.”

Rubio said she interned with Seliger last spring, and she was excited to have the opportunity to see him speak on campus.

“He is certainly an elected official who is concerned with making sure that his constituents are well informed,” she said. “It’s rare when you have a representative who actively reaches out to you like Sen. Seliger does.”

Henson said the organizers of the Texas Politics Speaker Series have tried to bring prominent elected figures from across Texas and the United States to the UT campus. He said this creates opportunities for students like Rubio to establish and maintain connections with their representatives and government.

“One of the purposes of this event is for students to have access to the speakers and to give them the opportunity to ask questions directly of policy makers,” Henson said.

Printed on Wednesday, November 30, 2011 as: Texas officials defend scrapping voting maps

If the 2012 Republican primary were held today, Herman Cain and Gov. Rick Perry would be statistically tied among Republican primary voters in the state of Texas, according to an online survey conducted by the University and the
Texas Tribune.

The survey ran from Oct. 19 to Oct. 26 and included 800 respondents from around the state. The results were part of a much larger survey of political attitudes using a popular online system called YouGov Polimetrix, said government professor James Henson, director of the Texas Politics Project, who co-runs the polls.

According to the poll, Cain led with 27 percent, Perry followed with 26 percent, U.S. Rep. Ron Paul held 12 percent, former Mass. Gov. Mitt Romney held 9 percent and former U.S. House Speaker Newt Gingrich followed with 8 percent. Michele Bachmann, Jon Huntsman, Gary Johnson and Rick Santorum each received 2 percent or less, while 11 percent indicated they “don’t know.” The margin of error in the poll was listed at 3.46 percent, while for voters listed as Republicans the margin of error was 4.93 percent.

While Perry remains a front-runner, the fact that he is running into such stiff competition in his own state has intrigued pollsters, said Ross Ramsey, executive editor of the Texas Tribune.

“It looks like the Texas governor is in a dead heat in his own state,” Ramsey said. “Cain has risen from his performance in polls and debates through October and voters have clearly taken a notice in him. The wax and wane in the popularity of Republican candidates has created a current lineup that’s very interesting.”

Cain has only recently been given extensive media coverage following his 9-9-9 plan for a simplified, flat tax and success in the Florida straw poll, and this surge appears to correlate with the results from the survey, Henson said.

“I think Herman Cain’s appeal for Republicans is that he seems to use common sense and straight talk,” said Jenna White, chairwoman of the Young Conservatives of Texas UT Chapter. “Rick Perry has performed poorly in the debates and has doubled down on some policies that are unpopular among Texans. I don’t think it’s especially surprising that Cain and Perry are at the top.”

The results differ significantly from polls taken earlier in the year, when Sarah Palin was a popular candidate for the 2012 election, Ramsey said.

“There aren’t a lot of polls going on in Texas, so we do see a lot of distance [between poll results],” Ramsey said. “Here we are a few months down the road, and it looks like we have the whole field.”

Pollsters are careful to not interpret the results of the poll as indicators of future trends, and another poll will be held closer to the actual March primary, Henson said.

Henson said, for example, the recent allegations that Cain sexually harassed two women when he was head of the National Restaurant Association in the 1990s could have affected opinion since the poll.

“The poll is a snapshot in time,” Henson said. “What has happened in the past 48 hours may have already changed that. It’s a very open question whether these results will be present in the spring.” 

Although the Tea Party played a key role getting Republicans elected in the 2010 elections, four political observers at a panel Tuesday said they are uncertain how the group will fare in 2012 or what positions they will endorse.

About 70 students attended the panel discussion that included political consultant Jordan Berry, Texas Tribune reporter Reeve Hamilton, UT government lecturer James Henson and Taurie Randermann, chief of staff for freshman Tea Party candidate Rep. Stefani Carter, R-Dallas.

Henson identified ideological differences between Tea Party Republicans and other Republicans. Tea Party supporters are 13-percent less likely to support an increased tax on alcohol than non-Tea Party Republicans and 18-percent more willing to legalize marijuana, he said.

“[The Tea Partiers] are finding out that they’re not going to get what they want as easily as they thought,” Hamilton said. “They need to figure out what their relationship with the Republicans is.”

Four Tea Party candidates won House seats after the 2010 general election. Although many of the Tea Party candidates lost their primary elections, their supporters shifted their votes to endorse Republican candidates, which led the Republican supermajority in the House, Randermann said.

She said despite differences in ideology, many Republicans in office are careful to hear out Tea Party grievances and strive to represent their initiatives in votes.

Berry said consultants worked with Tea Party organizers to help them transform their efforts into a power that would lead to more conservative policy changes.

“You’re going to start seeing a lot of legislation that will excite the Tea Party,” he said. “You guys are going to start to see concealed handguns on your campus by this time next year.”

History senior Jon Andropoulos, who attended the panel, said he has always been politically active.

“I think most of the rhetoric surrounding the movement is a bit sensationalist and unbalanced,” he said

Austin Tea Party organizer Heather Liggett said she wishes the media would talk to members of the group instead of about them. She said that her organization is a group of stay-at-home moms, retired teachers and other citizens who believe the government has grown too large.