Rice-run poll finds low interest in Houston mayoral election

Rice-run poll finds low interest in Houston mayoral election

BY FRANZ BROTZEN
Rice News staff

Houstonians
aren’t paying attention — yet — to the mayoral election scheduled for
this November. According to a poll conducted by Rice University’s
Center for Civic Engagement for KHOU-TV and KUHF-FM, the vast majority
of likely voters do not know the candidates and are undecided about
whom to vote for on Election Day, which is a little less than two
months away.

Four major candidates are running to succeed Bill
White, who cannot seek re-election because of term limits. City
Controller Annise Parker ’78 and former City Attorney Gene Locke are
better known than City Councilman Peter Brown and Harris County
Department of Education Trustee Roy Morales, the poll found.

Just
over 13 percent of respondents said they were likely to vote for Parker
“if the election were held today.” Locke was the choice of 9.6 percent,
Brown received 5.2 percent and Morales got 2.8 percent. But 68 percent
are undecided.

When voters were given information about the
candidates, only 54 percent were able to choose among the candidates,
led by Parker (15.8 percent), Locke (13.6 percent), Morales (12.8
percent) and Brown (10.2 percent) — a statistical four-way tie.

The
poll found voters’ familiarity with the candidates is far lower than in
the 2003 election, when only 25 percent were undecided about mayoral
choices among four well-known and heavily advertised candidates. Bill
White eventually won that election in a runoff.

“Although these
men and women are people who have been in the public eye for a while,
there’s simply not enough information yet for voters to make an
opinion,” said Bob Stein, the Lena Gohlman Fox Professor of Political
Science and faculty director of Rice’s Center for Civic Engagement
(CCE). Stein conducted the poll with the University of Houston Center
for Public Policy Survey Research Institute.

The poll also looked at perceptions of the city and reactions to policy proposals.

Crime
is the dominant issue for the poll respondents, with 30 percent
identifying crime as the most important problem that they would like
the next mayor to do something about. This is despite the fact that
Houston’s violent crime rates have fallen in recent years. Less than 10
percent cited traffic congestion, the economy or health care as the
most important problem.

Nevertheless, a sizeable majority (76
percent) thinks “things in Houston are headed in the right direction.”
About 15 percent think the city is on the “wrong track.” Similarly,
most respondents were optimistic about the future of the economy, with
73 percent saying they expect it to get better in the next two to three
years.

In terms of policy, the poll found more than 80 percent
favored “adoption of tougher land-use restrictions to protect our
neighborhoods” and “reducing traffic congestion by creating more
efficient bus and rail systems.” However, support for “adoption of
drainage fee to control flooding during hurricanes and severe weather”
fell to 66.1 percent, while “using Houston Police officers to enforce
federal immigration laws” was favored by 55.7 percent. Two-thirds of
respondents backed “adoption of an animal-control fee to protect and
provide for stray and homeless animals.”

The poll has an error rate of plus or minus 4.4 percentage points.

The full results will be posted Friday on the CCE Web site, http://ccrd.rice.edu/uploadedFiles/CCRD/Reports/KUHF%20KHOU%202009%20Houston%20Mayoral%20Survey%201.pdf.

About admin