Dueling runoff polls: King 48, Turner 43 (HRBC) – Turner 47, King 40 (internal)

From the inbox yesterday morning:

Bill King

Bill King

The Houston Realty Business Coalition (HRBC) released a poll of 300 active voters today measuring support of Mayoral candidates in the December runoff election.

“Bill King has built a broad base of support throughout the City of Houston,” said Chairman Alan Hassenflu. “Bill King is the only candidate offering thoughtful solutions to the fiscal disaster facing the City of Houston. King’s message of getting back to basics has earned him the support of our organization and is resonating with voters who are concerned with the current fiscal crisis facing City Hall.”

The survey shows voters across Houston are seeing past Sylvester Turner’s negative campaign and looking towards Bill King to fix the City’s financial mess. Only 9% of Houston voters say they have yet to decide who they will support in the upcoming election.

Founded in 1967, HRBC, comprised of top business leaders, has become Houston’s Premier Business Coalition by supporting public policy, elected officials and candidates for elected office that promote its core values of limited government, capitalism and private property rights.

In the upcoming runoff election for Mayor, if you had to choose, would you be voting for Bill King or Sylvester Turner?

Bill King                 48%
Sylvester Turner          43%
Undecided                  9%

The sample size for the survey is 300 likely voters in Houston, Texas. The margin of error is +/- 4.00%. All interviews were completed using automated telephone technology and were conducted December 1, 2015 by Causeway Solutions. The total percentages for responses may not equal 100% due to rounding.

Female 56%, Male 44%
Democrat 38%, Independent/Other 28%, Republican 34%
African American 28%, Hispanic 10%, Other 12%, White 50%

HRBC had the one poll from the November election that correctly had HERO losing, and they were the only pollster to show King with a clear lead over Adrian Garcia. As such, I would not dismiss this result. That said, there are a few curious things about it. Three hundred is an unusually small sample size – most public opinion polls have samples of at least 400. I’ve never seen one with a sample as small as 300. Moreover, the margin of error for a sample size of 300 would be 5.65%, not 4.00%. That would be the MoE for a sample size of 600, but I doubt they’d be able to get responses from 600 likely voters in one day. Whatever the case, one of those numbers is not right. The partisan mix is likely too light on Democrats, but at this point it’s all about who shows up. It’s too early to draw any conclusions on that from early voting.

I originally wrote this post to say that I expected there would be more polling soon enough. Like clockwork, this hit my inbox later in the day:

Sylvester Turner is the favorite to be elected Mayor of Houston in the December 12th runoff election. A survey of Houston voters likely to cast a ballot in next week’s runoff election shows Turner leading Bill King by 7-points (47%-40%), with 13 percent undecided. Turner has capitalized on his first place finish in last month’s general election by building momentum with key segments of the electorate. In addition to his strong base of support among African-Americans, Turner leads by 12-points among self-described moderates (47%-35%), and voters who vote most frequently in the City’s December runoff elections prefer Turner by a 9-point margin (49%-40%).

Table 1: Vote for Mayor of Houston

Vote for Houston Mayor Percentage

Sylvester Turner              47%

Bill King                     40%

Undecided                     13%
Sylvester Turner

Sylvester Turner

The survey also shows Turner campaign’s voter outreach program to be highly effective as Turner holds a 28-point (58%-30%) lead among respondents who report being contacted directly by a representative of either candidate. This finding demonstrates the strength of Turner campaign’s communications, and shows voters respond to his message of moving Houston forward.

Sylvester Turner is in a strong position in the final days of the campaign for Houston Mayor. He continues to expand his base of support as his voter outreach program gives him an advantage over his opponent. With sufficient resources to continue public communications through Election Day, Sylvester Turner is on track to be elected Mayor of Houston.

Methodology: From November 29-30, 2015, FM3 completed 604 telephone interviews on landlines and cell phones with randomly selected City of Houston voters who are likely to participate in the December 12th Mayoral runoff election. The margin of sampling error is +/-4.0% at the 95% confidence level; margins of error for population subgroups within each sample will be higher. Due to rounding, not all totals will sum to 100%.

Note that this has a more normal sample size, and that the MoE calculation is correct. The email that accompanied the poll document noted the MoE weirdness from the HRBC poll and stated that their poll included cellphone users, whom the automated HRBC poll was not allowed to call. Of course, with internal polls you never know if there were other results that were discarded, and in this case we don’t have the question wording, so apply an appropriate level of skepticism. (By the same token, recall that the HRBC is a supporter of King’s.) Like I said, it’s all about who turns out. PDiddie has more.

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8 Responses to Dueling runoff polls: King 48, Turner 43 (HRBC) – Turner 47, King 40 (internal)

  1. Steve Houston says:

    Using the phrase “if you had to choose” in a polling question for a runoff election sure makes it sound like they included people unable to vote, otherwise that is what an election is; choosing one or the other.

  2. PDiddie says:

    I agree with Steve H-Town. Very unusual way to ask the question if you’ve screened likely voters properly. It sounds like a weak push to undecideds.

    For example, if I had to choose between Sharon Moses and Jack Christie, I would choose ‘neither’, which isn’t the same as ‘undecided’ no matter where the robo-poll places me.

    (I may yet write in ‘Cthulhu’ as the least worst of three options in this race.)

  3. Kris Banks says:

    Just wanted to note that the HRBC poll from October used a different pollster (TargetPoint) than this poll (Causeway).

  4. Bill Daniels says:

    This is an important election, because if the City of Houston goes bankrupt, it will impact everyone else in Harris and surrounding counties as well. Continuing to raise taxes isn’t a great strategy, as we can see in Chicago. People are fleeing Chicago (with the notable exception of Continental Airlines, thanks to Smisek’s scullduggery). I’m hoping for an upset come election day. Just like Jeb Bush, I don’t believe we should elect someone just because that is the “annointed one.”

  5. Steve Houston says:

    Bill, aren’t you familiar with whose specific proposals are most likely to lead the city into bankruptcy? King has taken to saying a “deal is a deal” and all previous agreements will be honored. This appeasement gesture seems designed to garner votes from city employees, a great many of which live in the city (contrary to previous statements). While the devil is in the details, King believes he will get to issue $3.9 billion in bonds at 4%, net. These would be unsecured and subordinate to other city debt, tied to the general fund. Michael Loftin, a professor at UH and municipal finance expert for years, points out that even if such an interest rate could be had, it would cost at least $214 million/year based on a much lower amount of debt than King claims the city has. Unless the city also changes benefits for existing employees, which would be breaking the promise King wants to honor, the cost of those benefits won’t go down.

    Fine, some King supporters say, he’ll make it up on the back end by changing benefits to new employees with a contributory plan; the city matches a certain amount that the employee puts in with no guarantee like the state pension system offers and the employee gets whatever he gets at the end of his service. Aside from the fact that this type of portable pension is notoriously more expensive to administer and returns prevent a secure retirement no matter how long they stay, unless you are going to offer more than the expected 18% of employee pay touted, you are not going to compete with other agencies, even low paying Harris County where employees also get Social Security and much more affordable healthcare in retirement, along with an annuity based on the 7% returns guaranteed with the 22.25% of pay going into their system.

    So if Wall Street doesn’t like this interest arbitrage program of King’s and demands 6% return, the costs skyrocket while providing a non competitive pension but there is no room in the current city budget to spend an extra $214 million either, and King will have to either break the promise to existing employees to garner minimal savings or he’ll stick the city with a dual system and all costs. (http://www.sylvesterturner.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/11/Turner_LoftinFinancialReport.pdf)

    His decision to issue great deals of debt to fix drainage, roads, and infrastructure, were also addressed by an expert in finance last month, Finance Deputy Director Olenick, pointing out how King’s plan would result in much greater costs while getting less actual repairs. (http://www.sylvesterturner.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/11/PAYGO-RBH-vs-Debt-funded-RBH-Memo.pdf)

    Most proposed cuts other than pensions like crime labs, TIRZ’s, and other things show little difference between the candidates at this time so neither would have a leg up on the other, Turner’s suggestion of asking the taxpayers to lift the revenue cap FOR A SPECIFIC PURPOSE, either for public safety spending or debt service, not some giant increase no matter how much King supporters want to sell it as such. Even if you think King has the statutory power to change pension benefits without city council and state approval and even if you think his offer to cover existing benefits without change is feasible, without additional revenue to cover the added expenses, it is a recipe for disaster per people with far greater credentials than King or Turner.

  6. Bill Daniels says:

    The cost savings King is proposing seems most comparable to the 2-tier solution instituted by the automakers. Even with less benefits and lower starting salaries, the automakers didn’t seem to have any trouble hiring workers equally as competent as the legacy crew.

    I think that is what scares the PD, FD and public employee unions here. Especially now, with the oil patch in free fall, there are plenty of people who would be glad to get and keep a job with the security of knowing that if you don’t just totally screw up in a spectacular fashion, you have guaranteed employment. One thing I have learned in business through the years is, there is always someone who will work better and harder than you, and for less money than you, and be happy to do so. Everyone is replaceable. You raise the boogieman of not finding qualified city employees if King is elected. I’d like to see if that nightmare scenario actually pans out. It didn’t at GM or Fiat.

    The pension reform difference is why Turner got the support of the various employee unions, and they have a very serious conflict of interest when it comes to the taxpaying public’s interests.

    With respect to bond interest rates, demonstrating fiscal responsibility by truly balancing a budget will help the city borrow at less expensive rates. And really, at this point, anyone who has driven around town knows Houston needs its own version of the Marshall Plan to fix the streets.

    As far as lifting the revenue cap (read: raising taxes), that’s a losing long term proposition. All it will do is encourage an exodus of business and people to the suburbs, which will lower sales and property tax, which in turn leads to more exodus. Look at Chicago, or even Illinois in general to see what that looks like. The only way Chicago can attract new business is to facilitate crooked back door deals with people like Continental’s Smisek. Look at Detroit to see the finished product of a death spiral like that.

  7. Steve Houston says:

    Bill, I know this may come as a surprise, but previous oil busts proved that those workers did not apply for openings in the past and those that did apply were rarely qualified. That was coming straight from a recruiter desperately trying to find qualified applicants lest he be remanded back to street patrol, the two biggest factors working against such workers being poor credit and criminal records. It sounds good on paper to those with no experience in either field, sort of like the fantasy of hiring people coming out of the military who can pick from anyplace in the country to work, including cities that start off paying better than Houston will ever pay them, standards having been lowered several times in recent years to find “qualified” applicants. Unlike Detroit assembly lines, working a job running into a burning building or towards gunfire apparently requires a different set of skills.

    But I’m curious where you came to the conclusion that either of the candidates planned to pay workers “less”, King already acknowledging any cuts to HFD’s pensions likely forcing the city to raise their direct pay up from the 146th position across the country. But if you know his mind better than the rest of us, by all means come out with it. lol

    As far as bond rates are concerned, given issuing such a large amount in bonds for a purpose that in itself greatly adds to the yearly costs without a dedicated revenue stream like that enjoyed by the Enterprise Funds, I don’t think Moody’s or Wall Street will be impressed beforehand enough to low the rates, Houston already on the negative list. You pay a premium for all borrowing when that is the case and the cuts you dream of do not save the city any significant amounts anytime soon, the pension plan literally taking a generation to have effect. Further, to keep legacy pensions intact as King has proclaimed, an additional $75 to 90 million a year will need to be added to the city budget so it doesn’t end up back where this started, that being one of Moody’s demands.

    But the continued narrative that lifting the revenue cap, especially for a set purpose or set time, will drive gobs of people outside of the city limits so those folks can start paying MUD taxes, garbage fees, HOA dues to get even bare bones policing and street lighting that the county doesn’t pay for seems fanciful too. People would be paying more to spend many additional hours commuting into the city, the mere thought of rush hour commutes what has driven so much development at such high prices in a myriad of places in the city. Make no mistake, we’re not talking about homeowners and businesses paying double and triple what they are paying now (a common refrain from ignorant commentators), we’re talking pizza money. Given other fees have not led to any such death spiral as you put it, nor have they resulted in property values plummeting which would prove the supply and demand cycle has been impacted, we’re not talking mass exodus as experts declare Houston on track to overtake Chicago in terms of population before too long.

    All solutions have a price tag, some in monetary terms and others in a wider variety of consequences. I don’t relish seeing firemen in Houston moving away from the active fire suppression model they apply now in favor of a containment strategy, nor do I think it is in the best interests of the city to see just how much of a training ground for other policing agencies it can become when Austin, San Antonio, DPS, HCSO, and other places pay so much better from cradle to grave with them too. When half the public safety workers in the city are eligible to retire between now and the end of the mayor’s first term, both city departments chronically under staffed already, I’d profess to err on the side of caution.

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