Houston Matters

Survey: A majority of Houstonians say they’ve thought about leaving the area in recent years

In a Houston Matters exclusive, a Hobby School survey finds 57 percent of respondents have considered leaving the area with more than half citing extreme weather as the reason why.

In this Aug. 29, 2017 photo, water from Addicks Reservoir flows into neighborhoods from floodwaters brought on by Tropical Storm Harvey in Houston. Harris County commissioners have voted to ask the federal government for a $17 million grant to purchase 104 homes at the highest risk of flooding. The decision came even as more than 1,000 residents have called the Flood Control District in recent days to request buyouts of their Hurricane Harvey flood-damaged homes.
In this Aug. 29, 2017 photo, water from Addicks Reservoir flows into neighborhoods from floodwaters brought on by Tropical Storm Harvey in Houston.

Houston has had more than its fair share of extreme weather in recent memory, such as the summer of extreme heat and drought we just survived, the freeze in February 2021, Hurricane Harvey in 2017, and other flooding events in the years before that.

With that in mind, Houston Matters wondered if Houstonians had contemplated moving out of the Greater Houston area specifically because of incidents like those — and the potential for more down the road.

That’s why researchers with the Hobby School of Public Affairs at the University of Houston included a Houston Matters exclusive question about just that in their latest election survey.

On Wednesday's Houston Matters, Renée Cross, from the Hobby School and Mark Jones of Rice University shared the findings from surveying 800 Houston residents who are likely to vote in next month’s election, and the results are fascinating.

SURVEY HIGHLIGHTS:

"Over the Past Few Years, Have you Considered Moving Out of the Houston Metro Region?"

57 percent of respondents said yes.

Breakdown By Age: They broke the results down further by demographics. Men were more likely to say yes than women (59 to 54 percent). White people (66 percent) and Latinos (59 percent) were more likely than Black people (42 percent). Younger people (Millennials and Gen Z: 64 percent; Gen X: 61 percent) were more likely than older people (Silents & Boomers: 52 percent), but even still a majority of every age group had at least contemplated it.

Politically, there was also a sharp contrast: Republicans (71 percent) and Independents (72 percent) said yes at a much higher rate than Democrats (45 percent).

Then, they asked the key follow-up question to those who said yes:

"Are weather events like flooding, the 2021 freeze, and this summer's extreme heat a: major, minor, or not a reason why you have considered moving?"

Again, the results were fascinating. Overall, 51 percent cited extreme weather as at least a minor factor. But drill down, and the responses don't quite follow the same patterns as the first question.

This time, women (56 percent) outpaced men (46 percent) in identifying extreme weather as at least a minor reason for considering moving. Ethnicity was similar with White and Latino respondents (52 percent) outpacing Black respondents (47 percent) in citing extreme weather as at least a minor reason, though those numbers were certainly close to one another and nearly within the 3.5 percent margin of error for this survey.

Again, younger respondents (Millennials and Gen Z: 65 percent) cited weather as at least a minor reason more than Gen X (50 percent) and Silents & Boomers (45 percent).

Breakdown By Political Affiliation: But the biggest contrast was partisan – and the opposite of the first question: 66 percent of Democrats who said they'd considered moving in recent years cited extreme weather as at least a minor reason. 40 percent of them considered it a major reason. 51 percent of Independents cited it as at least a minor reason (21 percent said it was a major one). And only 37 percent of Republicans considered it at least a minor factor, and only 9 percent cited it as a major reason.

In other words, conservative respondents have been more likely to consider leaving the Houston area in recent years but less likely to consider extreme weather events as a factor.

This raises an obvious follow-up question, which was not asked in this survey: If they aren't thinking about leaving because of extreme weather, what is leading them to consider moving?

There could be some insight from the rest of this latest survey, which once again reveals crime as a top problem Houston faces, and the overwhelming majority of Republican respondents (91 percent) saying Houston is headed in the wrong direction, generally.

But, since the question was not asked directly, as a follow-up to the question about whether Houstonians have considered moving in recent years, we can't say for sure.

Nevertheless, this is clearly a topic worth exploring on a future Houston Matters program. We will certainly do that. And we welcome your thoughts, whether you've considered leaving the metro area or not, and for whatever reason, at talk@houstonmatters.org. Reach out anytime.