Sunday, September 21st, 2014
Mostly False
Stanford
Wendy Davis is "the most popular politician in Texas."

Jason Stanford on Monday, September 16th, 2013 in an opinion column in the Austin American-Statesman

Contradictory poll at heart of Democrat’s claim about Fort Worth senator’s popularity

Texas Sen. Wendy Davis "has a rare opportunity to start her first statewide campaign as the most popular politician in Texas," wrote Democratic political consultant Jason Stanford in a Sept. 16, 2013, opinion column.

That day’s "Two Views" feature in the Austin American-Statesman’s opinion section featured Stanford and Republican counterpart Matt Mackowiak weighing in on Davis’ chances if she runs for governor. The Fort Worth Democrat gained global fame for her 11-hour filibuster June 25, 2013, that helped briefly derail GOP-sponsored restrictions on abortions.

Mackowiak opined that Texas won’t be blue enough in 2014 to elect a Democrat. But how red can the state be if Davis is tops in popularity, as Stanford asserted?

By phone, Stanford told us he was relying on his memory of Davis’ favorability rating in poll results released July 2, 2013, by Public Policy Polling.

The Democratic-leaning North Carolina firm said in a press release that in its survey conducted June 28-July 1, 2013 -- days after the filibuster -- Davis was "now the best-liked figure the firm tested statewide, and the third-best-known after (Gov.) Rick Perry and (U.S. Sen.) Ted Cruz," both Republican.

"But her standing in a hypothetical matchup with Perry has slipped in the last five months, mainly due to Perry’s own improvement," the release said, and survey data suggested that Davis also would have lost in a one-on-one gubernatorial face-off with Attorney General Greg Abbott, then a likely GOP candidate. Abbott announced his bid for governor after Perry said July 8 that he would not run again. Davis isn’t officially in the race; she has said she’ll announce "what’s next" for her Oct. 3.

The survey was carried out via automated phone calls to 500 registered Texas voters, with an overall margin of error of plus or minus 4.4 percent.

Although only six politicians were compared in that release, other Public Policy releases show the firm tested 10 politicians’ favorability in the June-July survey: five Democrats (President Barack Obama, Davis, former Houston mayor and 2010 Democratic gubernatorial nominee Bill White, San Antonio Mayor Julián Castro and Houston Mayor Annise Parker) and five Republicans (U.S. Sen. John Cornyn, Cruz, Perry, Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst and Abbott).

With all 10 politicians considered, Davis dropped to fifth "best-known" -- behind Obama, Perry, Cruz and Cornyn. Public Policy spokesman Dustin Ingalls told us by phone that with Cornyn’s recognition only one percentage point above Davis’, it would be fair to say Davis was tied for third "best-known" among Texas figures.

Davis still had the highest favorability margin, which Public Policy measured by asking, "Do you have a favorable or unfavorable opinion of Wendy Davis?" Ingalls said his firm subtracted the percentage of "unfavorable" responses from the "favorable" ones to calculate a margin.

Davis’ margin was 10, because 39 percent of respondents replied "favorable" and 29 percent replied "unfavorable." For comparison, Obama’s margin was -14 (41 percent favorable minus 55 percent unfavorable) and Perry’s was -5 (45 percent favorable to 50 percent unfavorable).

As those percentages indicate, fewer respondents ventured an opinion on Davis than on Perry. That’s how Public Policy measured name recognition in this survey, Ingalls said -- totaling the favorable and unfavorable opinions. So Obama was "best known" because 96 percent of respondents had an opinion about him, as might be expected for a U.S. president partway through his second term.

Similarly, 95 percent of respondents had a viewpoint on Perry, who’s been governor since 2000. For both Cornyn and Davis, about a third of respondents had no opinion or said they were unsure; Public Policy rated their name recognition at 69 percent and 68 percent, respectively, though Cornyn has represented Texas in the U.S. Senate since 2003 and Davis was elected to the state Senate in 2008.

Those figures suggested to us another way to view the poll results: looking at the raw number of people who had positive or negative views on the politicians. For example, with 500 respondents in the poll, Davis’ 39 percent positive reviews should equal about 195 Texans with a favorable opinion of her. Viewed this way, Perry comes out tops, with 45 percent "favorable" answers equating to 225 people; Cruz next, with 42 percent positive results representing 210 people; Obama with 41 percent, about 205 people; then Davis’ 195.

Ingalls said his firm uses percentages and margins to describe favorability because raw-number counts are affected by how well-known the politicians are and margins factor in how many people dislike the politicians, not just how many people like them.

Austin Democratic pollster Jeff Smith, whose opinion we sought via email, noted that although Public Policy described the poll results as measuring Perry’s favorability, they actually asked respondents to rate Perry’s "job performance," not Perry himself.

Also, Smith and others we consulted were skeptical about using the poll to determine who’s "most popular" in Texas.

Austin pollster Mike Baselice, who has counseled Perry and numerous Republican candidates, told us by email, "Polls are like balance sheets. They measure opinions at a given point in time."

Along the same lines, Stanford’s colleague Mackowiak told us by email he thought the poll was "virtually worthless" because it was taken "at the height of the filibuster drama."

Smith said, "The only way to fact-check this statement is to look at other recent polls." Anything before the filibuster "is irrelevant," he cautioned. Stanford agreed: "Using the polls from before the filibuster is as accurate as measuring my height when I was a child."

We found no other post-filibuster surveys checking Davis’ popularity. Two conducted earlier in 2013 showed, unsurprisingly, a lower statewide profile for her.

A Public Policy survey conducted Jan. 24-27, 2013, sampling registered Texas voters and Texas GOP primary voters, ranked Davis’ popularity margin ninth among 11 politicians and her "name recognition" 10th out of 11. Parker was 11th in recognition; by favorability margin, Obama tied Davis for ninth and Perry was 11th.

A University of Texas/Texas Tribune Poll conducted May 30-June 9, 2013, asked 1,200 registered Texas voters whether they had "a very favorable, somewhat favorable, neither favorable nor unfavorable, somewhat unfavorable, or very unfavorable opinion of" Cruz, Cornyn, Dewhurst, Perry, Abbott, Republican House speaker Rep. Joe Straus, Davis and Castro.

Here, pre-filibuster Davis got 77 percent neutral answers ("don’t know/no opinion" and "neither favorable nor unfavorable"), more than any other politician. Among respondents who did offer an opinion of her, 11 percent were positive ("very" and "somewhat" favorable) and 12 percent were negative ("very" and "somewhat" unfavorable).

Perry had the most positive responses (41 percent), but also the most negative responses (42 percent). Cruz was next with 40 percent positive and 31 percent negative responses. Using such totals to approximate the way Public Policy calculated favorability margins, we found Abbott and Cruz had the highest (9) and Perry tied with Davis in the bottom half of the pack (-1).

Bits of anecdotal evidence were intriguing. For example, the Texas Tribune reported in an Aug. 28, 2013, news story that Davis "saw her followers on Twitter rise from 1,200" before the filibuster "to more than 140,000 today."

Without trying to separate Texas followers from U.S. or worldwide followers -- Does Davis have more "likes" in London? Do other red-state tweeters follow Abbott? -- we aren’t sure what the heck social stats show about politicians’ popularity in Texas, but we gathered a few just to see what they were.

Davis’ Twitter and Facebook stats look high at first glance, but she has only one account on each platform. Abbott, Cornyn, Cruz and Perry have campaign and official accounts on both; that means their followers could be spread out and also means there is likely some degree of overlap.

Social media connections: Facebook likes and Twitter followers

As of mid-September 2013

Personal and/or campaign Twitter

Official Twitter

Personal and/or campaign Facebook

Official Facebook

Abbott

22,943

5,794

172,481

3,151

Cornyn

441 campaign

49,090

59,314

29,936

Cruz

123,281

126,115

218,575

115,021

Davis

143,088

No account

282,251

No account

Perry

199,257 personal

28,154 campaign

31,732

220,109

12,999

Sources: @GregAbbott_TX, @TXAGsOffice, facebook.com/TexansForAbbott, facebook.com/TexasAttorneyGeneral, @TeamCornyn, @JohnCornyn, facebook.com/tedcruzpage, facebook.com/SenatorTedCruz, @WendyDavisTexas, facebook.com/WendyDavisTexas, @GovernorPerry, @TeamRickPerry, @TexGov, facebook.com/GovernorPerry, facebook.com/TexasGovernor

 

Two conclusions are clear: Perry’s personal Twitter account has nearly 200,000 followers to Davis’ 143,000 on her campaign Twitter feed. And on either Facebook or Twitter, Davis’s single account has more followers than Abbott’s and Cornyn’s campaign and official accounts combined.

If viewed separately, Cruz’s accounts don’t outweigh Davis’ accounts, but add together his campaign and official Facebook likes or Twitter followers and he would outpace Davis. Without knowing how much the Cruz accounts overlap, the safest assumption is that Davis lately trumps some of her colleagues on social media, but not all of them.

Another unscientific measure: As of Sept. 16, 2013, Cruz was leading Davis in the Dallas Morning Newsonline poll asking readers which one newspaper’s editors should choose as "Texan of the Year" for 2013 (the choices were Cruz, Davis and "Other"). Cruz had more than 11,000 votes, Davis nearly 9,000. The next-biggest personality: A small sliver of voters wrote in "Johnny Football."

Stanford said, "Is she the best-known politician in Texas? No. Is she the best-liked, as defined by her popularity relative to her unpopularity? Yes, according to this poll."

Our ruling

Stanford said Davis is "the most popular politician in Texas."

Based on a single summer 2013 survey taken shortly after the senator’s star-making filibuster, a polling firm called her "best-liked" of 10 politicians in Texas. But the poll’s results also suggested she would lose to Perry and Abbott in one-on-one gubernatorial face-offs, which raises red flags about Stanford’s statement.

Also, the lack of other firm indicators -- perhaps understandable considering Davis has not yet said she’s running for governor -- leaves this claim on shaky ground.

We rate this statement as Mostly False.

 

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MOSTLY FALSE – The statement contains an element of truth but ignores critical facts that would give a different impression.

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