Don’t take secession seriously

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.”

Recently, for example, I was breakfasting in the lounge of a hotel in Santa Fe. A couple seated next to me, looking well-educated and erudite, began talking about the secession petitions. My pollster’s ear perked up, overhearing every East Coast-accented word I could understand. It was a serious conversation, full of fear and loathing of barbarians at the gate. As New Mexico once again came out as a blue state, perhaps they felt comfortable enough to opine where others could hear. But despite their sophistication, they were evidently unaware that barbarian savages, mostly Texans, surrounded their breakfast table. I knew this because I had overheard breakfast chatter for several prior days and knew where everyone hailed from. The couple’s worries amused and pleased us, not that any of us were secessionists, but we do enjoy keeping the blue-state folks nervous and on edge. It’s our guilty pleasure since we lost the election.

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.

Last week I was visiting Barcelona, in the Catalonian state of Spain. Separate guides on different days, speaking wholly independently, talked longingly of the possibility of Catalan secession from Spain. Both mentioned that over 1 million Catalans rallied on Sept. 11, National Day of Catalonia, to celebrate that thought. It got me thinking. Next time you hear talk of Texas succession, consider that a million have never rallied in the street to that cause. The last polling showed only 18 percent of Texans but 51 percent of Catalans for secession from their respective nations. That’s a significant difference worth serious consideration.

David Hill is a pollster that has worked for Republican candidates and causes since 1984.