Combating crime and flooding should be the top priorities for Houston’s next mayor, according to a University of Houston poll of likely voters in the city.
Most candidates for the Nov. 7 election for mayor already emphasize plans to address public safety and infrastructure, and the poll results show the issues are top-of-mind for likely voters as campaigns begin to ramp up.
A majority of respondents to the poll across ideological lines also listed road conditions and the city’s economy as significant issues for the next mayor to address.
The poll, an online survey of 800 likely voters between July 12 and 20 by the UH Hobby School of Public Affairs, offers an early glimpse at the issues expected to motivate voters to head to the polls to choose a new mayor and city council in the Nov. 7 election. It has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.5 percent.
UH released the first set of results from the poll last week, showing state Sen. John Whitmire and U.S. Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee in a neck-and-neck race for first place, although Whitmire would pull ahead in a potential runoff.
Other declared candidates include City Councilmember Robert Gallegos, former Councilmember MJ Khan, former METRO chairman Gilbert Garcia and attorney Lee Kaplan, all of whom list crime or public safety on their websites as key issues they intend to address if elected.
While candidates and the voting public appear focused on the issue of public safety, the city’s murder rate and violent crime overall are down this year compared to recent highs during the pandemic, the Houston Police Department said in May. The same report noted that property crime increased last year.
Renée Cross, senior executive director of the Hobby School, said the national political focus on crime as a major issue may be driving respondents’ focus on the issue.
“People’s perception is perhaps more negative or more focused on crime than what the data is actually telling us,” Cross said.
Still, 83 percent of those surveyed said crime should be the top priority for the city’s next mayor, the highest of any issue listed in the poll. Overall, 98 percent of respondents said it should be a top or important priority for the next mayor. Majorities of those surveyed across gender, race and political party pointed to the issue, according to the poll.
Flooding, road and street conditions and the economy also were listed as important or top priorities for the next mayor by more than 90 percent of those surveyed, according to the poll.
Cross said she also was surprised by respondents’ focus on the economy considering the city’s strong economic indicators and low unemployment.
“I think that’s related to what we’re seeing with crime,” Cross said. “Even though the indicators are good, it continues to be a top topic in the media nationally.”
Voters also were surveyed on the impact certain issues have on the quality of life in their neighborhoods. Poor street conditions was the top negative impact, listed by 50 percent of respondents. Violent crime and home and car break-ins were the second- and third-most cited issues, at 48 percent and 45 percent, respectively.
Respondents were also split over the direction of the city, with 47 percent saying it is headed in the right direction and 53 percent saying it is headed in the wrong direction, according to the poll.
The priorities of the respondents also shifted significantly based on their race.
Black and Latino voters, at 90 percent and 88 percent, were more likely than white voters, 77 percent, to list crime as a top priority for the next mayor, according to the poll.
Seventy-two percent of Black voters listed affordable housing as their top priority for the next mayor, compared to only 36 percent of white voters and 35 percent of Latino voters.
Sixty-one percent of Black voters and 68 percent of Latino voters said violent crime has a major negative impact in their neighborhoods, compared to only 34 percent of white respondents.
While part of the focus on crime may be driven by perception, Cross said the split across racial lines on the issue demonstrates the impact different areas of the city face from crime.
“Houston has had a record of allowing infrastructure in lower income neighborhoods to deteriorate,” Cross said. “There hasn’t been as much investment in these neighborhoods. Some of it is perception, but some is reality, as well.”
The school also polled respondents on the recent conversion of vehicle lanes into bike lanes, the favorability ratings of Houston and state politicians and the city’s favorite sports team.