This is part 4 of the PredictWise series on congressional districts that are seen as competitive in the 2018 election according to PredictWise and Cook: The PredictWise Progressive Pendulum, with new entries coming right here on PredictWise every Tuesday. Instead of the ins-and-outs of the horse-race, this series sheds light on the ideological landscape in these districts. How do residents tick politically? What are their stances on the hot-button issues of the day, from immigration to gun regulation? How do they view traditional political fields, from taxation to healthcare? What role do environmental policies play in the mind of voters of these Districts? How does the Progressive Pendulum swing? Today, we will zoom in on the 7th Congressional District in Texas.
TX-07: progressive on environmental regulation and healthcare and college tuition, conservative on race, respects authority and institutions. This district sees Democrat Lizzie Fletcher squaring off against incumbent John Culberson, after she survived a Primary Run-Off challenger, drama surrounding the DCCC included. The PredictWise Progressive Pendulum has identified some openings on progressive messages around healthcare and college tuition, but Democrats need to be careful how they handle the adherence to authority and institutions in this district.
This district encompasses a small area of western Harris County, including several wealthy enclaves of western Houston, ten incorporated suburbs, and large areas of unincorporated suburbs. The 7th district in Texas includes several wealthy enclaves of western Houston, and is one the wealthiest districts in the South, with a household median income of $71,183. It is also very educated: More than 50% of eligible residents in this district hold a college degree. And, this district is home to a sizable Hispanic population – 32% of all residents report their ethnicity as Hispanic. Hurricane relief efforts have become a central part in this district, given that it was heavily hit during Hurricane Harvey that caused Addicks and Barker Reservoirs to swell, flooding neighborhoods in Culberson’s district. Plus, the expansion of Interstate 10 West, one of Culberson's major projects, might have created additional flooding problems in the neighborhoods along I-10
Media attention was guaranteed in this wealthy district throughout the Democratic primaries. The DCCC inserted itself forcefully into the race by publishing an opposition research memo about Fletcher's chief rival Laura Moser. In the memo, the DCCC highlights Moser's only recent move back to Houston as a potential target. DCCC spokeswoman Meredith Kelly went even further, suggesting that "[u]nfortunately, Laura Moser’s outright disgust for life in Texas disqualifies her as a general election candidate, and would rob voters of their opportunity to flip Texas’ 7th in November.” Moser had attacked Rep. Ben Ray Luján (D-New Mexico), chairman of the DCCC, in a Vogue op-ed after he staked out the DCCC's course not to use support for abortion rights as a litmus test for candidate support. Yet on policy, Moser and Fletcher can be described as very similar, with two exceptions: Moser is outspoken about impeaching President Trump, and supports Medicare for All, as opposed to Fletcher who focuses on (cosmetic) repairs to the Affordable Care Act, such as stabilizing the insurance market. The result: Moser and Fletcher squared off in a run-off, and due to mounting criticism, the DCCC stayed quiet in the lead-up to this election held on May 22, 2018, and, in contrast to some other prominent candidates in Texas similarly caught in run-off elections, decided against adding Fletcher to its coveted Red to Blue list identifying candidates front-and-center to its effort of flipping the House.
On the Republican side, incumbent John Culberson has represented TX-07 in Congress since 2002. In general, the district is something like a Republican legacy: Republicans have held it since 1966, when George H. W. Bush won elections here. Culberson, who defeated his Primary challenger by a blow-out margin, is a far-right Republican: famous for co-sponsoring birther legislation, opposing abortion, same-sex marriage, and the “liberal obsession with climate change,” boasting an A+ rating from the N.R.A.
PredictWise registers Trump approval at 48%, a little lower than the 50% we register in Texas state-wide. And, the state of the race is perceived to be close: the Cook Political Report currently categorizes this district as “Republican toss-up” with a PVI score of “R+7”, and PredictWise shows a lead of Culberson of just 7 percentage points, if elections were held today, with a sizable fraction of undecided voters.
Profiling TX-07: Authoritarian Globalization Winners with Racially Conservative Attitudes
High levels of educational attainment, and the very high median household income, are reflected in our baseline economic data. Likely voters here are proud of the economic powerhouse globalization has made the area. For example, the vast majority of likely voters in this district indicate that people are moving to their neighborhoods to find jobs (54%) – indicative of the strong economic performance of this Eastern Texas district.
And, strong economic fundamentals translate into policy positions in this district. Our data make clear that most residents of TX-07 are winners of globalization, those who staked out a comfortable upper middle class existence by moving to professions benefiting from open and international markets. For example, when asked whether globalization is good for the US economy overall, 69% of likely voters in this district agree – with 68% of Republicans and even 75% of Democrats in agreement.
And, likely voters in this district show strong adherence to authority and law-and-order policies. Strong executive leadership is seen as necessary to protecting the interests of the US – even if the presidency is as polarizing an institution as it is under President Trump. For example, 45% of Democrats (!) in this district believe that the president should be able to sue the press (or anyone) if he believes them to be intentionally untruthful to hurt his reputation (as opposed to 50% of Democrats in opposition to this).
The presidency is still seen as a very powerful (and very trustworthy) institution. Things change if we map sentiments about this current President. Not surprisingly, we see a big party difference on presidential trust. Still, the majority in this wealthy district trusts what President Trump says (52%). But, this number falls to 25% among Democrats, and climbs to 78% among Republicans. And, this polarized view of this administration is reflected in presidential approval as well: While 77% of Republicans approve of President Trump in TX-07, this number plummets to 17% among likely voters in this district identifying with the Democratic party.
But, this general taste for a strong Executive Branch spills over to law-and-order policies, especially vis-a-vis African Americans, and a strong taste for "racial conservatism". For example, 55% of voters disapprove of African-American athletes kneeling during the national anthem as a form of bringing awareness to injustices against minorities in the US. And, 59% of all voters in this wealthy district – including 43% of Democrats – think racial minorities who receive welfare could get along without it if they tried. Here, racial conservatism meets law-and-order meets appreciation for the free market.
More Progressive on Economic Policies: Medicare for All, Tuition Free College
On economic policies, this district is more liberal. Democratic candidate Lizzy Fletcher is running on reforming/fixing the ACA, but she would do well in adopting some form of Medicare for All: 79% of likely voters in this district support allowing any American to buy Medicare, if they chose to, and there is virtually no partisan differences on this issue. And, this is supported in the strong disdain of Texans residing in this district for any insurance that does not cover pre-existing conditions, mental health and maternity care. 59% of all voters, including Republican (55%) and Democratic (63%) majorities, disapprove of allowing these bare-bone health insurance policies to be sold.
Another issue on which we see convergence to progressive positions is tuition-free colleges. The vast majority of voters – 66% – is in favor of the government making college tuition free. And, that includes sizable majorities of Republicans (53%).
Progressive on Environmental Regulation; Immigration; Conservative on Guns
After the flooding in the wake of Hurricane Harvey, causing substantive flooding in this district, environmental regulation has become a key issue in the district. And, voters here are vastly supportive of environmental regulations. As a proxy, 70% of all voters in this wealthy district say that government regulations of environmental pollution are necessary to protect the public interest, and that includes a very robust majority of Republicans (66%).
And, as we have seen in other wealthy districts, such as the 48th Congressional District in California, immigration is valued here as it relates to the local job market. 44% say that recent immigrants have strengthened the country when it comes to the job market – that is a majority (33% say they have weakened the country). And, this still includes a sizable fraction of Republicans (33%).
On guns, the picture looks different. The Second Amendment is central to the raison-detre in Texas, and this wealthy congressional district is certainly no exception. 59% of likely voters here support the idea of reciprocal conceal&carry, the idea that your state-based right to carry a concealed weapon translates into other states you are not residing in. And, that number includes a very sizable fraction of Democrats (44%).
TX-07: Beware of authoritarian attitudes and respect for the institution of the Presidency; run on healthcare, environmental regulation
In sum, there is no doubt that there are some openings for progressives in this district, especially around environmental regulation, painfully brought to the media spot light by Hurricane Harvey, and healthcare. But, Democratic candidate Lizzie Fletcher should avoid negative campaigning. The presidency is a respected institution here, and President Trump's word carries weight. Focusing on the Russia investigation will likely backfire!