Some of my best public opinion research doesn’t involve interviewers or Survey Monkeys or anything else in the pollster’s toolbox. My finest insights on what and how people are really thinking about things occur when I simply listen to ordinary people talking naturally, “in the wild.”
Several days later I received a call from a Boston-area public radio station asking me to join an on-air discussion of the secessionist movement in Texas and elsewhere down South. I refused, saying that the whole so-called phenomenon of secession was just a sideshow, a carnival that had no serious implication for anyone in their listening audience. Why not talk about goat rodeos or taco trucks in Texas, something equally banal? The caller didn’t disagree, but insisted that his host considered secession a serious topic and wanted to give it the consideration he felt it deserved. I refused again. I hope the host, who is a thoughtful journalist, was told my opinion about the matter. But I don’t know what came of it eventually. Regrettably, there was probably a “serious” discussion in the days that followed.
To set some minds at ease, Texas exults in this sort of nonsense. Are you aware that the slogan, “It’s like a whole other country,” is the central theme of Texas tourism promotion? It’s been that for decades, long before Gov. Rick Perry’s (R) loose talk in 2009 of Texas having statehood “options” and such. Perry’s just giving it new relevance. Soon after I joined the Texans in 1978, moving to College Station to teach Aggies about political science and state government, I was immediately introduced to “The Five States of Texas,” and inculcated with the “options” notion that we could break into five separate states or just leave altogether. It was like the ultimate insiders’ joke. The thought of adding eight more Texans to the United States Senate, and the reaction of the Eastern elite to same, produced convulsive merriment and laughter at the faculty coffee table several days each week. Now, THAT would make for some interesting dissertation topics! Of course, this was never treated seriously, unless outsiders were around who needed scaring. But otherwise it was an amusement, like historians discussing the outcome at Waterloo if Napoleon’s forces had had a B-52 bomber.
David Hill is a pollster that has worked for Republican candidates and causes since 1984.