Our third poll result in the past week.
Sylvester Turner remains the front-runner, but Adrian Garcia has lost his once firm grip on second place and Bill King rises into the top tier of contenders in the race for Houston mayor.
That’s the headline from the latest poll conducted for KHOU 11 News and Houston Public Media, TV-8 and News 88.7, a survey indicating Garcia and King are now fighting it out for a chance to face Turner in a runoff.
Turner heads the pack of mayoral candidates at 19%, maintaining the lead he commanded in the same poll last May. No other candidate in this poll stands in double-digits.
Garcia and King tie for second-place, both supported by 9% of surveyed voters. Chris Bell comes in fourth at 6%, followed by Steve Costello at 5% and Ben Hall at 4%.
Still, a large number of voters haven’t made up their minds. The survey of 567 likely voters conducted between September 25 and October 6 showed 42% undecided.
“I would say that Bill King is a slight — if not strong — favorite to get into the runoff,” said Bob Stein, the Rice University political scientist and KHOU political analyst who conducted the poll. “And I think Garcia is fighting now to stay in the runoff.”
Throughout the campaign to replace term-limited Mayor Annise Parker, other candidates have generally presumed Turner – a well-financed, longtime state representative who’s run for mayor twice before — will win the most votes in November. So other candidates, most notably Bell, have gone on the offensive against Garcia in hopes of knocking him out of second place.
This poll indicates the attacks criticizing Garcia’s performance as Harris County sheriff have done their damage.
A day-by-day analysis of the phone survey results also indicates the former sheriff’s candidacy has been hurt by a series of negative news reports, like a front-page Houston Chronicle story about jail inmate abuse and a KHOU 11 News I-Team expose on a $1-million jail ministry contract awarded to one of Garcia’s friends.
“We saw his support drop in half,” Stein said. “He is now in a competitive race for the runoff slot. And it’s not obvious to us that he is a guaranteed or even a likely runoff candidate.”
King has been the chief beneficiary of Garcia’s decline, mainly because of growing support from Republican voters. King and Costello have been fighting it out for GOP hearts and minds, emphasizing financial issues like the city’s growing pension obligations.
But Costello’s backing of the drainage fee to bankroll flood control infrastructure has hurt him with many Republican voters, who consider it a poorly implemented new tax.
“Bill King has gained tremendously,” Stein said. “He was barely measurable in our May poll. He’s now at 9 percentage points. Most importantly from our May poll, his gain appears to be from Republican voters.”
Republicans polled for this survey are breaking for King over Costello by a 4-to-1 ratio, Stein said.
“And here’s the good news for Bill King, if this trend continues: 45% of Republicans still don’t know who they’re voting for,” Stein said, indicating King will gain more votes as more GOP voters make up their minds.
“Keep in mind close to half of those Republican voters who are likely to vote still haven’t picked a candidate,” he said. “If the trend continues, Bill King will get that advantage, not only with Republicans over Costello, but maybe enough to get him into the runoff.”
I’d be hesitant to say that Garcia’s decline and King’s rise are related. If I had to guess, I’d say that Garcia’s former supporters are most likely to be in the “Undecided” column now, while King’s new supporters came from those who had previously been undecided. Garcia may be able to win back some of his lost supporters – I still haven’t seen any TV ads from him, so there’s plenty of room for him to go on offense, and if one of the other candidates don’t win them over, they may fall back to him. I’m sure the bad news and the attacks have taken a toll, I just wouldn’t count him out yet.
Poll data can be found here. Compared to the previous polls, the racial/ethnic mix and age distribution are about the same, with the KHOU sample having a similar partisan mix as the HAR poll, which is considerably more Democratic than the HRBC poll. That makes it better for King and more ominous for Garcia, though again there’s still room for Garcia to move back up. Note also that the HAR poll was from September 21-24, the HRBC poll from October 5-6, and the KHOU/KUHF poll from September 25-October 6, so that also suggests there is a trend away from Garcia. I don’t know if there are other polls in the pipeline, but if there are any from after October 6, I’d love to see them.
Two other matters. First, from the Chron:
In 2009, Houston’s last open-seat mayor’s race, fewer than 180,000 people cast a ballot – about 19 percent of registered voters. Stein said he expects between 200,000 and 220,000 voters to turn out this year.
That’s the first “official” guess on turnout that I’ve seen. If that’s accurate, it suggests the HERO referendum isn’t that big a driver of turnout, certainly not compared to other years with similarly high-profile referenda. I honestly don’t know what I think about that. I truly have no idea what effect HERO will have on the number of voters.
Speaking of HERO, item #2 is that this poll also asked about that issue, though for whatever the reason neither story mentioned that. HERO leads 43-37 in this poll – click the poll data link to see. Note that the pollsters also tested the efficacy of various campaign themes on the question. The “men in women’s bathrooms” attack shifts 15% of supporters, while the “we could lose the Super Bowl” attack shifts 24% of opponents. Make of that what you will. The poll also asked about the term limits referendum (44% support, 40% oppose) and the Harris County bond issue (53% support, 22% oppose), though that was from city of Houston voters only. With no campaign in support of either of those items, and given recent performance of Harris County referenda, I feel pessimistic about their chances despite their leads in this poll. There were also questions about the revenue cap and Rebuild Houston, but I’d consider them for entertainment purposes only at this point. There’s likely to be a lot of fluidity in those issues, and once they are taken up by a Mayor (if that happens at all for the revenue cap), opinions on the Mayor will come to affect the polling on them.