Confusion over the propositions

A Zogby poll shows both Props 1 and 2 with more support than opposition, but that nearly half of voters in each case are undecided. According to the poll graphic, Prop 1 leads 31-24, with 45% not sure, and Prop 2 is up 29-24, with 47% not sure.

The poll of 500 registered Houston voters was conducted last week.

Just under half the respondents remain undecided about either proposition, and more than half say they do not feel they have enough information about the propositions.

Although the poll shows [Mayor Bill] White enjoys an approval rating of 76 percent as he nears the end of his first year in office, he has been unable so far to parlay his popularity into significant support for Proposition 1, said Rice University political scientist Robert Stein, who analyzed the poll data for the Chronicle.

“The mayor’s approval rating is as high as I’ve ever seen for a first-time incumbent,” Stein said. “(Former Mayor Bob) Lanier didn’t get to that level until his third term, and he was the most popular mayor Houston has had in 25 years.

“One would think that (popularity) would translate into support for the mayor’s position,” Stein added. “But it’s as if the mayor hasn’t been able to get his message out.”

I’ve seen virtually nothing on either proposition. A couple of yard signs, one TV ad (and I can’t even remember which proposition it touted), and that’s it. A sidebar to this story showed that 55% of the poll respondents had heard little or nothing about either proposition, which doesn’t surprise me.

Thirty-three percent of poll respondents knew that the mayor supports Proposition 1 and opposes Proposition 2.

But Stein said that White, who is a Democrat although city offices are officially nonpartisan, stands a good chance of prevailing in the election because the poll indicates most undecided voters are Democrats, African-Americans, Hispanics and women.

“It seems obvious that the mayor needs to get his message out to his core constituency,” Stein said.

The strongest supporters of both measures are men over 50 years old with annual household incomes of more than $50,000.

Supporters of Proposition 1 are most likely to be Democrats who have lived in Houston less than 10 years, while supporters of Proposition 2 are most likely to be Republicans who have lived in the city more than 10 years.

About 17 percent support one proposition but not the other. Five percent support neither, and 10 percent support both.

Stein said White will have two advantages in the final days of the campaign: His side is likely to raise more money, and there are few other hotly contested local elections competing for voters’ attention.

But support is more solid for Proposition 2, which has been pushed by tax limitation advocates for more than two years as tax bills have soared because of rising property values.

Almost twice as many Proposition 1 supporters said they were likely to change their minds as Proposition 2 supporters.

Both sides promised a blitz of radio and television ads in the campaign’s closing days. Early voting continues through Friday, and Election Day is a week from today.

I’ll bet radio gets blanketed – it’s much cheaper, and you can target audiences more effectively. I’m impressed by White’s popularity numbers – I knew he was having an extended honeymoon, but wow. If he makes the pitch for Prop 1 himself, I’d expect to see its support rise greatly. Since he needs for it to outscore Prop 2, I think he has to do this. I’m willing to bet that many of his un-approvers already support Prop 2, so there should be little downside for him.

Stein attributed the large number of uninformed voters to the confusion caused by the two propositions.

He said White took this chance when he decided to propose an alternative to Proposition 2 rather than just fight it, as former Mayor Bob Lanier successfully did in 1997 against a similar proposition.

But property tax revenues have doubled since then, and a Zogby poll in May showed voters would approve a revenue cap by 58 percent to 29 percent, but reject it by 43 percent to 39 percent if they believed it would hurt the city’s credit rating.

Stein said the Astros’ playoff run and the attention devoted to the presidential race also have made it difficult for backers of Propositions 1 or 2 to drive their messages home.

I agree with all that. I also think that unlike previous referenda, these proposals are more abstract. Whether you knew anything about a light rail line or a new football stadium or not, it was at least easy to grasp what you were being asked for.

I’m glad to see that neither of these props has anywhere near a majority yet, though I still fully expect both to pass. As such, as I’ve said before, I advocate a reluctant vote for Prop 1 and a firm vote against Prop 2. Remember, if you vote a straight ticket, you still have to vote on the propositions.

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