News

Listen: TXHPF President on the Mark Davis Show

August 31, 2020

Texas Hispanic Policy Foundation’s Jason Villalba was a guest on the Mark Davis radio show on Aug. 31. Guest host Scott Braddock asked about the mission of TXHPF and our research on how voters feel about the presidential race and about the impact of COVID-19 on their lives.

Views of State’s Virus Response Vary Widely by Race

August 24, 2020

(Dallas, Texas, August 24, 2020) – Texans are deeply divided along racial lines over whether the state has relaxed coronavirus-related restrictions too quickly and whether getting the economy going or slowing the spread of the virus should be a higher priority, according to new polling from the Texas Hispanic Policy Foundation and Rice University’s Baker Institute.

The poll, also sponsored by the Dallas Morning News, found 44% of registered voters believe Texas has relaxed restrictions on business openings and social distancing requirements too quickly. But only 34.5% of Anglos believe things have moved too quickly, compared to 55.5% of Hispanics and 61.0% of African Americans.

Similarly, Texans are almost evenly split between those who believe the country’s top priority should be to get the economy going by sending people back to work and those who believe the top priority should be slowing the spread of the virus. However, while 77.7% of African Americans and 66.1% of Hispanics believe slowing the spread of the virus should be the top priority, only 40.2% of Anglos share that opinion.

The COVID-related findings come from a survey conducted between August 4 and August 13 among a representative sample of 846 Texas registered voters with a Hispanic oversample. The first set of results looked at voter preferences in the races for president and the U.S. Senate.

“People of color express much more concern about the speed with which Texas has lifted restrictions,” said Jason Villalba, President of the Texas Hispanic Policy Foundation, a nonprofit, nonpartisan group that analyzes opinions and behaviors among Hispanic Texans. “Texans are deeply split in our evaluation of how the state has responded to the pandemic and what the priority should be going forward. These divides highlight the difficulty of building consensus around the state’s response.”

Hispanic (29.4%) and African American (23.7%) poll respondents were significantly more likely than Anglos (12.3%) to say they or an immediate family member has tested positive for COVID-19. These findings track with state and national public health data showing that minority communities are disproportionately affected by the disease.

“The coronavirus has taken a severe toll on minority communities and exacerbated inequities in health care,” said THPF Board Member and former state Sen. Leticia Van de Putte. “This virus has been especially devastating for Hispanics and other people of color.”

While 9 out of 10 registered voters in Texas say they are likely or extremely likely to wear a mask when entering a grocery store or other retail space, according to Dr. Mark P. Jones, the THPF Director of Research and Analytics, “a majority of Texans report they are unlikely to wear a mask when entering the home of a friend or relative, with this behavior significantly more common among Anglos than among either Hispanics or African Americans.”

About the Texas Hispanic Policy Foundation
The Texas Hispanic Policy Foundation operates as a nonpartisan, nonprofit 501(c)(3) organization, dedicated and committed to analyzing and exploring the political, economic, social, demographic, and familial attitudes and behaviors of Texas Hispanics. In collaboration with Rice University’s Baker Institute for Public Policy, the Foundation conducts surveys, polls, research, data collection and analysis concerning the Hispanic population in Texas. You can find more information about the Foundation at www.TxHPF.org.

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Texas Hispanics Prefer Biden; Trump Leads Overall in State

August 17, 2020

(Dallas, Texas, August 17, 2020) – Presumptive Democratic nominee Joe Biden leads President Donald Trump by a relatively modest margin among Hispanic voters in Texas, suggesting that Hispanics will have a pivotal role in deciding who wins the state this fall, according to new polling from the Texas Hispanic Policy Foundation (THPF) and Rice University’s Baker Institute. But Trump maintains a lead among all Texas voters.

The poll, which was also sponsored by the Dallas Morning News, shows Trump leads Biden by 7 percentage points among registered voters and by 5.4 percentage points among the state’s most likely voters. However, among registered Hispanic voters, Biden leads by 9.5 percentage points.

The survey, which was conducted between August 4 and August 13 among a representative sample of 846 Texas registered voters with a Hispanic oversample, suggests the Hispanic vote in Texas is increasingly up for grabs.

This polling is the first major research initiative of the Texas Hispanic Policy Foundation, a nonprofit, nonpartisan group established to analyze the opinions and behaviors of Hispanic Texans.

“This poll reinforces the fact that Hispanic voters are not monolithic and have a unique perspective on this race vis a vis Hispanics in other states,” said THPF President Jason Villalba. “There is a clear gender gap among Hispanic voters, as well as differences based on age, religion and educational attainment. Despite Biden’s nearly 10% lead, neither presidential candidate has yet to completely lock down the Texas Hispanic vote. For a presidential candidate to compete in Texas, clearly, Hispanics are the key constituency.”

“The results of this data show you can’t take the Hispanic vote for granted,” said former state Sen. Leticia Van de Putte, a member of the THPF Board of Directors. “If you want our support, you better work for it.”

The race for the U.S. Senate in Texas is breaking along similar lines as the presidential contest. Republican Sen. John Cornyn leads Democratic challenger MJ Hegar by 7 percentage points among all registered voters and 6.1 percentage points among the most likely voters. But Hegar leads by 8.6 percentage points among Hispanic voters, 19.4% of whom remain undecided.

According to THPF Director of Research and Analytics Mark P. Jones, “Texas Hispanics will play a pivotal role in determining the outcome of the presidential and U.S. Senate races in Texas. While these survey results indicate Republicans Donald Trump and John Cornyn are in the lead over Democrats Joe Biden and MJ Hegar, both Biden and Hegar remain within striking distance of victory.”

In the presidential race, the poll found a much wider lead for Biden among Hispanic women than Hispanic men, similar to the Democrat’s stronger performance among all women in Texas and nationally.

Specifically, the poll found that:

  • Hispanics with four Hispanic grandparents prefer Biden over Trump by a large margin, while those with one to three Hispanic grandparents only narrowly prefer Biden over Trump.
  • Hispanics who speak Spanish or equal amounts of Spanish and English at home prefer Biden, while Hispanics who speak English at home narrowly prefer Trump.
  • Hispanics who describe themselves as Catholic or lacking a religious identification prefer Biden by a wide margin, while Protestant Hispanics heavily favor Trump.
  • Hispanic Texans with at least a bachelor’s degree prefer Trump, while those who have not completed a four-year degree choose Biden.
  • Hispanics approve of the term Hispanic to refer to their community to a greater degree than Latino and to a dramatically greater degree than Latinx.

The poll has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.5 percentage points.

About the Texas Hispanic Policy Foundation
The Texas Hispanic Policy Foundation operates as a nonpartisan, nonprofit 501(c)(3) organization, dedicated and committed to analyzing and exploring the political, economic, social, demographic, and familial attitudes and behaviors of Texas Hispanics. In collaboration with Rice University’s Baker Institute for Public Policy, the Foundation conducts surveys, polls, research, data collection and analysis concerning the Hispanic population in Texas. You can find more information about the Foundation at www.TxHPF.org.

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Why this Corpus Christi native’s appointment to this foundation matters

April 23, 2020

Corpus Christi Caller Times

By Tom Whitehurst Jr.

Corpus Christi native Sarah Saldaña has joined the Texas Hispanic Policy Foundation. Now that the surface has been scratched, let’s look at the significance of Saldaña and this foundation.

Saldaña is a former U.S. attorney for the Northern District of Texas, and was President Barack Obama’s director of Immigration and Customs Enforcement. Her sister, Maricela, is a former Nueces County state district judge. She is one of three new members of the foundation board.

That’s significant because they are the first three Democrats on what had been an entirely Republican board — and because they’re significant people. We already told you Saldaña’s impressive resume. The other two are former state Sen. Leticia Van De Putte, the real hero of the famous Wendy Davis filibuster if you know that story, and Regina Montoya, a nationally prominent lawyer and political operative.

So, now that you know these three Hispanic Democrats are a big deal, what’s the big deal about the Texas Hispanic Policy Foundation?

The first thing to know about the foundation is that its aim is to bust through assumptions and stereotypes about Hispanics and to use actual fact-based research to better understand them.

Pay attention to this paragraph from the foundation’s description of itself:

“While the Foundation is keenly aware that no person of Hispanic heritage in Texas can be singularly categorized, it also understands that there are certain defining characteristics of this community that are unifying and identifiable and that can be studied, categorized, and catalogued.”

The key phrase for non-Hispanics and Hispanics alike is “no person of Hispanic heritage in Texas can be singularly categorized.” It’s important because so many people try to do it to Hispanics anyway — including some Hispanics.

Hollywood and government at every level tries to do it.

This foundation appears to have real potential to grasp the diversity of interests among Texas’ growing Hispanic population, in no small part because it is partnered with Rice University’s Baker Institute for Public Policy. The Rice connection means the research part is for real.

“There is nothing like information,” Saldaña told The Dallas Morning News. “We need to know as much as we can about where Texas is heading and where the needs of Hispanics are.”

Adding the three Democrats to the board solves a diversity and perception problem that had been pointed out by Hispanic advocacy groups. Hispanic Americans and the Democratic Party have a long, strong history together and not having any Democrats on the board was a huge omission.

While all three new board members are strong partisans, they profess much enthusiasm for working with the Republicans on the board. Don’t dismiss it as happy talk. Van De Putte, sister in arms to Wendy Davis, is a business partner in San Antonio to Republican board member Hope Andrade. 

“I’m a die-hard Democrat and my business partner is a die-hard Republican. And yet we know that for us to fix things as a state, the well-being of Latino families has got to be at the forefront,” Van de Putte told The Dallas Morning News. “For people to make decisions so that people have the opportunity to succeed, it’s important to have that type of data to know how we’re thinking.”

Prominent Democrats join group focused on studying Texas Latinos

April 16, 2020

The Dallas Morning News

By James Barragán

The addition of top Democrats to the Texas Hispanic Policy Foundation gives the group a much-needed bipartisan boost. Started by former Dallas State Rep. Jason Villalba, the group’s board was previously comprised of Republicans

AUSTIN — Three prominent Democrats have joined the board of the newly formed Texas Hispanic Policy Foundation, giving the group formed by a former Dallas Republican lawmaker a much needed bipartisan boost.

On Thursday, the foundation will announce the addition of three Democrats to its board: Leticia Van de Putte, a former San Antonio state senator and the 2014 Democratic nominee for lieutenant governor; Sarah Saldaña, who led U.S. Immigrations and Customs Enforcement during the Obama administration and served as U.S. attorney in North Texas; and Regina Montoya, a long-time Democratic political operative who served in the Clinton White House and ran for Dallas mayor in 2019.

Jason Villalba, the foundation’s founder and chairman said in a statement he was honored to have the “experience, wisdom, perspective and insight” of Van de Putte, Saldaña and Montoya on the foundation’s board.

“The Texas Hispanic Policy Foundation was formed to be the preeminent Hispanic research organization in Texas,” he said. “This would only be possible if we were able to include the vision and focus of thoughtful leadership from both sides of the political aisle. These great public servants will help ensure that all voices are represented as we embark on our mission.”

Prior to Thursday’s announcement, the group’s board was entirely comprised of Republicans, which led to criticism from Latino advocates who said the foundation could not be non-partisan without more balance on its board. The board will now have seven Republicans and three Democrats, but Villalba said he’s still looking for more board members.

Van de Putte said she liked the idea of working across party lines to learn more about the needs of Latinos across Texas. Her business partner, former Secretary of State Hope Andrade, is a Republican who was already on the board.

“I’m a die-hard Democrat and my business partner is a die-hard republican. And yet we know that for us to fix things as a state, the well-being of Latino families has got to be at the forefront,” Van de Putte said. “For people to make decisions so that people have the opportunity to succeed, it’s important to have that type of data to know how we’re thinking.”

Montoya said the opportunity to do research and publish data on how Latinos lived in Texas appealed to her because she had struggled to get that kind of information while working on Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings’ task force on poverty.

“I couldn’t get it,” she said. “Latinos were lumped in with groups that had systematically not been involved with these initiatives.”

The chance to get that kind of data for others who are working on important issues led her to join the effort, she said.

“Even though I’m taking a risk because I’m a Democrat — I worked in the White House for a Democrat and ran for Congress as a Democrat — but I also knew that the impact on Latinos and where Latinos are is so important for the future,” she said. “We just need to all work together. Poverty doesn’t care whether you’re a Republican or a Democrat. COVID doesn’t care whether you’re a Republican or a Democrat.”

Saldaña said the foundation could help give the public a better understanding of Latinos in Texas. Often, she said, political campaigns miss the nuances that Texas Latinos have depending on their age, where they live, immigration status and whether or not they speak English.

Only more research with a keen focus on Texas Latinos can remedy that, she said.

“There is nothing like information,” she said. “We need to know as much as we can about where Texas is heading and where the needs of Hispanics are.”

“I’m a Democrat, Jason is a Republican and there are several Republicans on the board already,” she said. “But that is appealing to me because even though we may disagree on the substance of issues we all agree on the need for data.”

Former Dallas lawmaker launches think tank dedicated to studying Texas Latinos

March 17, 2020

The Dallas Morning News

By James Barragán

AUSTIN — As a politician, Jason Villalba always struggled to find data on how Latinos felt about many of the issues he faced in the Texas House.

Where were Latinos on private school vouchers? Fixing homelessness? The controversial bathroom bill that captured the Legislature’s attention in 2017?

Now, the former Republican state representative is launching a foundation to help answer those questions.

“There is a need for robust data that speaks to neither Democrats or Republicans, conservatives or progressives,” he said. “People [have] a real desire to learn about these issues untainted by the political visions that we all wear.”

Last year he announced the “soft launch” of the Texas Hispanic Policy Foundation, a 501(c)3 nonprofit aimed at studying the political patterns of Latino voters in Texas. The group, which has partnered with the Baker Institute for Public Policy at Rice University, aims to poll Latino voters in the state on a variety of political issues and weigh in with election analysis, previews of the state’s legislative session and census reviews.

“Our mission is to understand the complex Hispanic community in Texas in a way that’s never been undertaken before,” Villalba said.

But the project has its challenges. Currently its board is solely made up of Republicans, which complicates its desire to be viewed as a nonpartisan entity. And it only has funding to “begin turning the lights on,” Villalba said. Without an influx of cash and a diversity of board members, the project will have a tough road ahead.

“Everyone recognizes the need for this but the concern that has developed is ‘Is this something that they can sink real resources into?’ ” he said. “Without significant dollars in the door, it will be difficult for us to do this right and do it thoroughly.”

Almost everyone who follows Latino politics in the state agrees that more work needs to be done on the issue. But, they say, the devil is in the details.

Jason Casellas, a political scientist at the University of Houston, said there is a growing need to study the Latino vote because of the increasing population of young Latinos, whose political patterns don’t follow those of previous generations.

“It’s important to look at differences in public opinion and how things are changing. We shouldn’t take research done 20 or 30 years ago and copy and paste that. The younger generation is not as socially conservative,” he said. “There’s a growing need to understand this.”

To be taken seriously, he said, the group would need to diversify its board.

“The more nonpartisan the effort, the better,” Casellas said. “Anything that organization does, if they’re perceived as partisan, half the state will write off what they say.”

Jacob Monty, an immigration lawyer and Republican donor, said the idea was a “worthwhile endeavor.” Getting objective data on Latino political thought could help convince Texas Republicans that President Donald Trump’s policies are driving Latinos away from the party.

A consistent look at data-based Latino political thought could also help inform lawmakers on what Latinos really think instead of relying on left-of-center groups who often are the only ones representing their voices in policymaking, he said.

“They’re not necessarily honest brokers. They have an agenda to pitch,” he said. “It’s a good idea if it’s going to be objective information. Probably, Villalba is the one person who has the credibility there because he’s a conservative but has been open to calling out the president and others, and that’s ultimately why he lost.”

Villalba lost his reelection bid in the 2018 primaries to far-right Republican Lisa Luby Ryan, who painted him as a centrist who wasn’t conservative enough. She then lost to Democrat John Turner in the general election.

While his centrist views got him voted out, Villalba said they are precisely why he’s the best person to launch this foundation. He said he’s already spoken to some high-profile Latino Democrats about joining his board, but did not want to name them. For now, he’s trying to quell concerns about objectivity by touting the group’s affiliation with Rice University.

“Certainly there will be those who question what we’re trying to focus on, but once they see we’re aligned with the university … we will begin to get a mindshare of people who are formerly Democrats,” he said. “That will be telling. Once the board is more balanced that will help convince people.”

Antonio Arellano, executive director of Jolt Texas, which works to engage young Latinos in politics, still has doubts. He agrees there’s a need for more research on Texas Latinos, but said organizations like his are already doing that work and showing that younger Latinos are leaning more progressive.

“We need more polling, more stats, but don’t negate that people have already been doing this,” he said. “Don’t turn a blind eye to the work that has already been conducted.”

Ed Espinoza, executive director of the liberal group Progress Texas, said he’s wary that the group’s board only has Republicans but sees the need Villalba is trying to fill.

“Maybe this is his new pathway for him to do something truly independent and meaningful for our community and if that’s the case that’s great,” he said. “But if that’s the case, I’d also like to see him validate that.”

Villalba said his goal is to solve the problem he had as a legislator by using data to show how Latinos really feel about political issues. That is complicated by the diversity within Latinos, whether that be in age, immigration status, country of origin, education level or regionalisms in the state.

“There’s an adage among Republicans issued by Reagan, ‘Latinos are Republicans, they just don’t know it yet,’” he said. “I think there’s truth to that, but it’s a little bit simplistic.”

Through his new foundation, Villalba hopes, he’ll be able to prove just how much.

Latino voters in Texas are the sleeping giant that is beginning to stir

March 15, 2020

The Dallas Morning News

By Jason Villalba

The rise in Hispanic voting will affect political races across the state.

The Native American Quinnipiac tribe of North America has a legend to explain a peculiar rock embankment resting peacefully on the hills just north of New Haven, Conn. There you will find a traprock mountain range now known as the Sleeping Giant, because of its likeness to a human form resting on the horizon.

The legend is based on the story of an angry spirit named Hobbomock who became displeased because the local tribes were abandoning the ancient customs of their ancestors. In his ire, he threatened to destroy the tribes. A countervailing spirit, seeing the potential for harm, cast a spell on Hobbomock and set him to sleep forever in the form of a rock formation. To this day, the Quinnipiac restlessly await the moment when the giant will rustle from his sleep and his voice will be heard.

Just as the stolid mountains of Connecticut have remained silent for generations, so too has the electoral voice of Texas Latinos.

Even though Hispanics in Texas represent nearly 40% of the eligible voting population, until the 2018 midterm elections, Texas Latinos had never comprised more than 20% of actual voting electorate. As a result, Latinos were often characterized as the sleeping giant — a potentially powerful voting bloc that never seemed to reach its demographic potential.

But something peculiar happened in November 2018. The giant began to rustle from his slumber. The ripple in Texas politics was immediately noticeable. In Dallas County, Texas Latinos comprised approximately 9% of the total voter participation in the 2010 and 2014 election cycles. In November of 2018, this percentage grew to 16%. That growth is simply unprecedented.

As a result, Beto O’Rourke, an unknown congressman from El Paso, came within 2 percentage points of defeating one of the most well-known and highly regarded tea party senators in the United States: Ted Cruz.

At the state level, because of a nearly 15% increase in Hispanic voter participation statewide, Texas Democrats flipped nine Texas House seats around the state, putting the Texas House in play for the first time in a generation. With just nine additional seats, Democrats would control the Texas House and be in the driver’s seat for census, redistricting and map drawing, which will shape Texas politics for the next decade.

As Texas Latinos become increasingly aware of their voting power and as they are better organized by political parties and candidates, they will have a greater impact on every political race in Texas: from school board trustees, to county commissioners, to state house representatives, to United States senator.

What we witnessed on Super Tuesday 2020 makes clear that the days when Texas voters can ignore Hobbomock are gone. Democratic socialist Bernie Sanders, who was able to coalesce the mindshare of nearly 40% of Texas Latinos on Super Tuesday, was within 5 percentage points of winning Texas. Without Latino voters, Sanders would have been crushed by Joe Biden. But because Biden was able to cobble together a coalition of African American, Anglo and boomer-generation college-educated voters, he prevailed.

Sanders’ message appealed to Texas Hispanics, hence, he was able to actually compete in Texas. Think about that. Sanders was nearly able to prevail in Texas. That was the direct result of Hispanic participation in the electoral process.

As the Quinnipiac people have learned, it is easy to ignore the dangers posed by a mythological bogeyman. It is much more difficult, however, to dismiss data, facts, statistics, trends and analysis.

Texas Latinos are here. We are wide awake, knowledgeable, informed, and ready to have our voice heard. Ignore Hobbomock at your peril.

Jason Villalba is chairman of the Texas Hispanic Policy Foundation. He wrote this column for The Dallas Morning News.