State legislators ignore constituents’ top priorities

G. Elliott Morris

With the 85th Texas Legislative Session now underway, our policymakers have taken up the hardest task in public policy: crafting and implementing solutions to the problems facing our state. Or so we think. With the rise of social media analytics, we can measure the priorities of everyday Texans and compare them with the priorities of Texas legislators. The results are bleak. 

Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick outlined his priorities for the 140-day session last Tuesday. He says the legislature should slow the growth of property taxes, pass new abortion restrictions, plug the porous Texas border and, last on his list, promote his so-called “school choice” legislation. Education, however, is not on the bottom of most Texans’ demands for the Legislature — it’s first.

According to an analysis of the first week’s worth of tweets with the hashtag #txlege, education is the number one priority of those involved in the conversation. This is an easy computation; all we had to do was count the number of tweets about education and divide it by the total number of tweets from Jan. 10 to Jan. 13. This tells us that roughly 11 percent of the 50,000 tweets sent about the Texas Legislature last week were on the topic of education. Six percent of tweets were on the subject of restricting transgender Texans to the bathroom corresponding to their birth sex (the “bathroom bill”), 1.5 percent were about immigration, and 1 percent were about abortion. 

It’s fair to say that the Texas public is more interested in fixing our education system than legislating bathroom use. To be fair, this analysis is just on how many tweets are about certain topics — could this be representative of the non-tweeting public? 

As it turns out, in an October 2016 poll by the Texas Politics Project, 18 percent of Texans said immigration was the most important issue facing the state. Although only 7 percent said education was the most important issue, social issues such as abortion, gay marriage and “moral decline” barely even registered. 

It remains true that the Texas Legislature is not actively prioritizing solutions to problems most Texans care about. Lt. Gov. Patrick’s focus on the non-issue of transgender bathroom use and ignorance of his legislation’s serious impact on the jobs and economy of Texas is thus not only misguided, but misplaced. 

During the State’s biennial legislative sessions, it’s common to hear cries similar to these. Common lines of complaint include “Fix the problems actually facing Texans!” and “Focus on the real issues!” Social media and polling data add substance to these grievances, and they back up current opponents of the Legislature. 

If our elected officials truly do work to represent all Texans, it would be wise for Texas legislators to focus on the issues that Texans actually — quantitatively! — prioritize. On the other hand, if Dan Patrick and the Texas Legislature represent some other constituency — whoever is loudest, or perhaps whoever fattens wallets best — their current priorities are answers unto themselves. For those great lawmakers who would like to represent who they claim, analyses like these would be a good place to start.

G. Elliott Morris is a government, history and computer science junior. He is a senior columnist. Follow him on Twitter @gelliottmorris.