KHOU poll: Turner 19, King and Garcia 9

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.

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7 Responses to KHOU poll: Turner 19, King and Garcia 9

  1. Jason says:

    It would be in Garcia’s best future interest to place third. There is much more Turner would attack him with in the runoff that would long outlive this election. It has been largely avoided at this point, but in a one on one with Turner, it would be bad.

  2. Steve Houston says:

    I’m surprised that none of the candidates have picked up the “will of the people” line of thought on HERO yet, the voters being the ones who will decide the issue, not the next mayor. Hall has taken the most hard line stance against it and look where he is in the polls (all of them), making it sound like he will sabotage the ordinance if it passes and he is elected mayor.

    As it’s getting close to the magic day, anyone want to handicap the mayoral race; who makes the runoff, in what order, and who wins in the runoff? Just for fun?

  3. Keith Parson says:

    My prediction for November 3:

    1. Sylvester Turner
    2. Chris Bell
    3. Bill King
    4. Adrian Garcia
    5. Ben Hall
    6. Steven Costello
    7. Marty Mcvey
    8. Demitria Smith

    Sylvester is a shoe-in to the runoff at this point. Bell has a lot of potential and name ID in that undecided moderate anglo voter block. King is going to come in a close third but his lack of real experience (and the fact that he’s running surprisingly low at cash on hand) mean he’ll miss the runoff. Garcia keeps getting hit by scandal after scandal and never seems coherent enough to respond to any of them. Hall will garner some support from the anti-hero crowd but not nearly enough to put him close to the runoff. Costello has no clear message and no obvious electorate. Mcvey is just in it to have fun. Smith was added to the list as a joke.

    That’s just my amateur breakdown of what I think will happen.

  4. Danny Surman says:

    I have some concerns with the polling in this race. This poll was in the field for a month and has a lot more undecided voters than the HRBC or HAR polls. The undecided numbers are particularly misleading, because it probably makes the race seem less defined than it should be.

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  6. Steve Houston says:

    Unless something major happens, I see it going down like this:
    1) Turner
    2) King
    3) Garcia
    4) Costello
    5) Bell
    6) Hall

    I know the popular saying is that voters have very short term memories so they will forget everything Hall said the last time he ran and not care about his huge financial support for divisive national candidates. Dave “Jolly” Jennings has been spending an awful lot of time bashing King to support Hall just as Campos seems to worship the group King walks on indiscriminately, and the Chronicle is keeping every negative thing about Garcia playing on a near daily basis, but at some point, true partisans have to know that despite his stance on HERO and the rain fee, Costello is the most GOP candidate running. I think Turner is the best candidate for the position at this time, Bell would be good too if he had found more support, but only Turner seems to stay on track with what he intends on doing rather than bash others; voters tend to respond to that while others get fed up and stay home.

    I think King’s plans to present huge bond packages to the voters would be a mistake, several billion for roads and 3 billion for pensions would not change anything absent overall spending habits being changed. He’d be under just as much pressure to buy votes as his predecessors and not a single employee I’ve spoken with will go along willingly with getting screwed to support such spending. Having a single state rep in his corner is not going to change the fact that most of the legislature is not willing to support schemes to radically alter pensions unless all parties agree.

    Turner benefits from his past dealings with both employees and the legislature. I think he’d get some cooperation without causing many hundreds of employees to jump ship before they are ready, the city already has trouble finding good employees as a result of lower compensation and a long history of preferential hiring (with HFD, family members of existing employees get a huge boost while with HPD, publicly stated affirmative action goals of 50% to 66% while turning away veterans and others hasn’t helped). Contrary to popular opinion, it wouldn’t take that much to “fix” pensions, the city paying in what is needed each year while paying off projected debt, perhaps scaling back or limiting the number of years municipal and police can be in DROP (those that still have it) like HFD does, a snip here and there based on the city cutting other things first. Turner is probably the only one to get them to agree without tying it up in court, and the court of popular opinion, for years.

  7. Dean Rindy says:

    re: “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.”

    This is really all about demographics, far more than day-to-day events. Underneath the waves on the surface there are deep and primal tides. It’s a multi candidate race. In such situations well known candidates tend to carry their natural bases, and it’s very hard to break through the cultural, ethnic and ideological boundaries. Voters can only digest so much information, and they tend to go with people they know best and identify with. African Americans will be 25-29% of the vote in any Houston Mayor’s race. Plus, Sylvester Turner can draw some White liberal Democratic voters inside the loop. That’s why he’s a lock, unless something truly shocking happens. Over to the right, at least 30% of the vote will be Republicans, maybe closer to 35-40% if you count GOP leaning independents. If King convinces 60% of them he’s the real Republican, he’s in the runoff. With so many candidates splitting the pie, anybody who can make it into the mid 20s is almost guaranteed to be in the top two. The danger to the Republicans of course is that Costello and King divide the GOP base in half and knock each other out, but that doesn’t look like its happening. Garcia’s biggest problem is he doesn’t have a big enough base. Ten percent of the vote, more or less, will be Hispanic. They will vote Garcia. Garcia has support elsewhere, too, of course, both Black and White. But in the end Turner, and to a minor extent Chris Bell, will probably suck up the majority of the remaining Democratic base votes. That’s just round one, to be sure. Runoffs are a different matter. In Houston runoffs coalition building is imperative. That’s when ads, mistakes, candidate history, bad media stories, and artful positioning can really make a difference.

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