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Turner Leads Houston’s Mayoral Race And Voters Support METRO Bond, HPM-KHOU 11 Poll Finds

More than one-third of respondents say they’ll vote for incumbent Sylvester Turner — though even more of them give the city of Houston a poor grade on flood control and road maintenance.

Voters line up to vote at an early voting location in Greater Houston in 2018.
Abner Fletcher/Houston Public Media
Voters line up to vote at an early voting location in Greater Houston in 2018.

In just over a month, Houston voters will decide who runs the nation's fourth largest city for the next four years. They'll also be asked to let METRO borrow $3.5 billion for infrastructure projects. Some residents will vote in two statehouse elections, and voters across Texas will weigh in on eight propositions.

If the election were held today, incumbent Sylvester Turner would take the city's highest office for a second and final term and METRO would win the funds it wants for 16 miles of new light rail, 75 miles of bus rapid transit routes and infrastructure improvements. That's according to a poll of 501 registered voters that Houston Public Media commissioned together with KHOU.

Houston voters also rated Turner's performance so far, with slightly more than half saying the mayor is doing an ‘excellent' or ‘good' job. And the highest priority Houston residents want city government to address: flooding.

These are just a few of the insights from 2019 Houston Public Media-KHOU poll. Below are the full breakdowns.

Mayoral race

More than a third of respondents said they're planning to vote for Turner. The second largest group — almost a quarter of respondents — haven't decided on a candidate yet. The rest of the breakdown:

  • About 19% of respondents say they'll vote for Tony Buzbee;
  • Almost 10% chose businessman and lawyer Bill King;
  • 3.6% chose District D Councilmember Dwight Boykins; and
  • Less than 1% chose Sue Lovell, a former City Council member.

Overall, 12 candidates will be on the ballot for Houston's mayor in November. The rest are: Kendall Baker, Derrick Broze, Naoufal Houjami, Victoria Romero, Demetria Smith, Johnny "J.T." Taylor and Roy Vasquez.

If no mayoral candidate receives at least 50% of the vote, there will be a runoff election. Bob Stein, a political science professor at Rice University who conducted the poll, said that Houston is not likely to see the same match-up between King and Turner from four years ago. Instead, Stein said that Buzbee has eclipsed King as a challenger to Turner, with the current mayor commanding an almost 2-1 lead over Buzbee, his closest opponent.

What's most surprising is that Bill King, who four years ago came within 4,000 votes or less of being mayor in the runoff, won't make the runoff this time, Stein said.

To help voters learn more about the candidates, Houston Matters is interviewing mayoral candidates every week. The series kicked off with an interview with Tony Buzbee last week. Check back for more as the conversations with mayoral candidates continue.

Mayor Turner's performance

In the last four years as Houston's mayor, Turner has faced a contentious legal battle with firefighters, Hurricane Harvey's devastation and challenging recovery, which is in no way complete. Many flooded homeowners are still struggling with repairs two years later.

The survey revealed that voters were fairly split on rating Turner’s performance — about half saying he's done an "excellent" or "good" job and nearly the other half saying his performance is "poor" or "fair." Yet Turner still leads the race, according to the poll.

"There is a little bit of a paradox here," Stein said. "The mayor gets what I call very mixed scores on his job performance."

African-American voters were most likely to rate Turner's performance excellent or good, at 72% compared to 66% of Hispanic or Latino respondents. That approval rate was much lower among white voters — 38% gave Turner an excellent or good rating. Nearly 90% of African-American respondents said they'd support Turner, along with 32.7% of Hispanic or Latino respondents. White respondents were evenly split between Turner and Buzbee, and another 15% of them supported King.

Respondents who rated Turner's performance as poor were much more likely to vote for Buzbee than King. Almost half said they would vote for Buzbee, while 19% said they would choose King.

However, in terms of the city's performance, the survey found that Houstonians are frustrated with several key areas:

  • Almost 42% of respondents said Houston is doing a poor job on flood control;
  • 47% rated road maintenance as poor;
  • and 29% said recycling services are poor.

Most respondents were satisfied with the city's performance on police services and garbage collection. And despite the Turner administration's strained relationship with firefighters, the fire department was rated highly, with about a third of respondents saying performance is excellent.

What issues voters care about most

Both traffic congestion and the condition of the city's streets and roads made the list of top problems Houston voters want the next mayor to address. Yet when it comes to how to improve transportation, voters are almost twice as likely to want public transit improved rather than building bigger and better roads and highways.

METRO hopes to help fund infrastructure projects through a $3.5 billion METRO bond issue that's on the Nov. 5 ballot for Harris County voters. The bond issue would pay for a long list of projects that METRO hopes will address the city's growing population, including 16 miles of new light rail, 75 miles of bus rapid transit routes and infrastructure improvements. When surveyed, nearly 60% of voters said they would vote in favor of the bond. Nearly a third of voters are still undecided on the issue.

Poll methodology

The Houston Public Media/KHOU survey of 501 registered voters who said they were ‘certain' or ‘very likely' to vote in the Nov. 5, 2019 City of Houston election was conducted from Sept. 3-15 and has an overall margin of error of +/- 4.4% at the 95 confidence level. The Public Policy Research Institute at Texas A&M University conducted the live telephone interviews, with 66% on cell phones and 34% on landlines. Rice University's Robert Stein and Lena Gohlman wrote and analyzed the survey.

Houston Public Media's Andrew Schneider and Davis Land contributed to this report.