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Harvey Impacted Houstonians In More Ways Than One: Houston Area Survey

‘I think, at least, the Harvey experience has reinforced the growing awareness that climate change is not some invention of liberals or something,’ said Stephen Klineberg, author of the report, ‘but that is a real phenomenon that is going to affect Houston in a variety of ways.’

Klineberg
Stephen Klineberg, director of the “Kinder Houston Area Survey” and who in this file photo appears at the presentation of a previous edition of the survey, says some highlights of this year’s research are the impact Hurricane Harvey mas made in Houstonians, as well as their increasing support for preschool education.

Last year’s Hurricane Harvey, categorized as the worst rainstorm in American history, left a significant mark on Houstonians on a myriad of issues, from flooding and climate change concerns to resilience skills, but the area is also experiencing a big partisan divide in the way we see our future, according to the 2018 Kinder Houston Area Survey  released on Monday.

Respondents to this year’s study “spontaneously named the devastation wrought by Hurricane Harvey as the biggest problem” people are facing in the Houston area today but, as it has been happening since 2014, traffic is still identified as the biggest problem for the area.

 “If you were impacted by the storm or if you were not personally impacted makes very little difference,” says Stephen Klineberg, professor of Sociology at Rice University and director of the survey since its inception. 

Klineberg, who is also founding director of The Kinder Institute for Urban Research, points at the fact that the level of concern about the effects of the hurricane and flooding in general shown by respondents in the three counties was almost identical.

As an example of the relevance  Hurricane Harvey has had  for Houston as a whole, 73 percent of all of those surveyed who didn’t experience home damage are in favor of prohibiting any additional construction in areas that have repeatedly flooded, along with 70 percent who suffered minor home damage and 65 percent who suffered major home damage.

The support for governmental buyouts of homes that have repeatedly flooded is also reflected in this year’s survey, with 58 percent of the respondents who experienced minor home damage in favor of that measure –specifically, in support of “increasing local taxes to enable governmental agencies” to perform the buyouts—.

Fifty five percent of the respondents who suffered major home damage are also in favor of the buyouts, while the level of support of those surveyed who experienced no home damage is 54 percent.

Climate change

The researchers also think Harvey “may well have helped to reinforce” an increase of the concern about climate change in the Houston area.

Regarding a question about whether “the threat of climate change is a “very serious problem”,” 52 percent of the respondents answered affirmatively. That’s an increase of six percentage points with respect to the 2016 survey and of 13 percentage points compared to the survey that was conducted in 2010, when 39 percent of the respondents answered affirmatively.

“I think, at least, the Harvey experience has reinforced the growing awareness that climate change is not some invention of liberals or something,” Klineberg underlined “but that is a real phenomenon that is going to affect Houston in a variety of ways.”

The partisan divide on the future of the United States is also something the sociologist points to, the biggest since the research started being conducted 37 years ago.

When asked about whether the country is headed for “better times,” 71 percent of Republican respondents answered affirmatively, while only 21 percent of Democratic respondents said they think the United States is headed in a better direction.

For Klineberg, this divide also reflects the “political polarization” that exists across the country.

Growing tolerance

At the same time, the survey has also found there is growing acceptance of certain groups that have been somewhat marginalized in the past.

In that regard, 50 percent of the respondents gave ratings between 7 and 10, describing feelings about “gays and lesbians.” That’s an increase of seven percentage points compared to the 2010 survey.

The survey also found an increase in favorable opinions about “Muslims or followers of Islam.” In this year’s research, 48 percent of the respondents gave ratings between 7 and 10 when they answered that question, while back in 2010 the percentage was 35.

Positive feelings have also gone up when it comes to undocumented immigrants. The survey found that 47 percent of the respondents gave ratings between 7 and 10, while the percentage of respondents that felt that way back in 2010 was 24.

Additionally, 82 percent of the people surveyed said they support granting “illegal immigrants” a “path to legal citizenship” if they speak English and don’t have a criminal record. In 2014, 75 percent of the respondents had that opinion, so the increase from that year to 2018 has been seven percentage points.

Commenting on those changes, Klineberg said that “even as the political rhetoric seems to be going in the opposite direction, the people themselves, when you ask them in the privacy of their homes, unmistakably show increasing positive feelings.”

Preschool education

Klineberg also underscored the growing support for preschool education in our region.

Presented with the question of increasing local taxes in order to provide universal preschool education for all children in Houston, 67 percent of the respondents answered they are in favor of doing it, while 30 percent responded they oppose a measure like that.

For Klineberg, that part of the survey shows “a reflection of the growing awareness of the critical importance of education and preparing people to succeed in a new kind of economy where blue collar jobs have largely disappeared.”

You can listen to an interview Houston Matters has done with Prof. Klineberg here:

You can read the 2018 edition of the “Kinder Houston Area Survey” here:

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