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Poll may reflect Council vulnerability

Monday, June 20, 2016 by Jo Clifton

According to a poll conducted for the Austin Monitor, a majority of those polled in City Council Member Don Zimmerman’s district — 52 percent — approve of how Council handled the Uber/Lyft election issue. At the same time, 51 percent said they would vote to re-elect their Council member, who was not mentioned by name in the question.

But Mayor Steve Adler had a considerably higher approval rating in Zimmerman’s District 6: 57 percent.

The poll may be reflective of an issue on which Zimmerman and the majority of his constituents disagree. Zimmerman filed suit last week against Adler seeking to overturn the results of the Proposition 1 election, saying the ballot language was confusing. The Austin American-Statesman quoted one prominent election law expert, Buck Wood, as saying the suit was a long shot, unlike any he had ever seen before.

The Monitor poll was conducted by Public Policy Polling of Raleigh, North Carolina, from June 3-5, and the margin of error was 4 percent overall. The Monitor reported last week that more people approve of Adler’s job performance citywide than that of Council as a whole.

Overall, the poll also seems to indicate a fairly high level of disapproval of Council in the five districts in which Council members will be running for re-election in November, but not necessarily for the individual members running.

Out of 594 voters in Districts 2, 4, 6, 7 and 10, 38 percent said they approve of Council overall and 46 percent indicated disapproval. Sixteen percent said they were not sure.

According to pollster Jim Williams, who conducted the survey, “Among the districts where there is a re-election happening, that section of the Council is lower (in approval ratings) than the city as a whole, which suggests that there is more discontent in those districts — which suggests there’s more of a vulnerability there.”

When considered altogether, the approval rating for all 10 districts sat at 40 percent overall.

The poll covered all districts, but only the respondents in the districts of Council members Delia Garza, Greg Casar, Leslie Pool, Sheri Gallo and Zimmerman were asked whether they would likely vote to re-elect their Council members.

In District 6, 51 percent of the 126 people surveyed said they would vote for the incumbent, Zimmerman. In District 7, 49 percent of the 132 people surveyed indicated that they would vote to re-elect Pool. In Gallo’s District 10, 41 percent of 216 people surveyed indicated they would vote to re-elect the incumbent, with 46 percent saying it was time for someone new and 14 percent saying they were unsure.

In none of these questions were the incumbents or potential opponents identified, so that diminishes the predictive reliability of the responses, according to polling experts. Some of those surveyed likely did not know which Council member they were discussing.

The margin of error was considerably higher than 4 percent in Districts 2 and 4 because of lower participation, Williams noted.

Peck Young, director of the Center for Public Policy and Political Studies at Austin Community College, told the Monitor that he would give little credence to the responses from Districts 2 and 4 because of the very low numbers. Of the polling, he said, “the sample sizes” in those two districts “are not big enough to make any kind of reasonable conclusion” about whether the voters in those districts would vote to re-elect the incumbents.

Young said the sample sizes in Districts 6, 7 and 10 were sufficient for drawing some conclusions. For example, Young said he thought that Zimmerman and Pool seem to have sufficient support to be re-elected, whereas Gallo could have a harder time.

Of the 66 people surveyed in Garza’s District 2, 48 percent said they would vote to re-elect the incumbent and 37 percent said it was time for someone new. However, because of those low participant numbers, the poll seems to have little predictive value for Garza.

Of the small number surveyed in Casar’s District 4 — just 56 people — only 30 percent told the pollster they would vote to re-elect their Council member and 49 percent said they thought it was time for someone new.

When asked to comment on the numbers, Casar said, “I’m not a pollster (but) … you’re telling me something I already generally know, which is that folks in my district are really unsatisfied with the city, with city government. It’s something I heard a lot on the campaign trail, and it’s part of why I think they elected me in the first place.

“I heard a lot from my district that people wanted somebody new, something new, and I am somebody new. Seeing as the poll is not clear whether they meant somebody new from me or something new — which is what they were telling me a year and a half ago that they wanted … I probably wasn’t seen as a standard City Council candidate, so I think this reflects what my base of support generally says.”

The poll was made possible with the generous support of Big Red Dog, Buie & Co. Public Relations, Austin Music People, Perry Lorenz, David Armbrust, Richard Suttle, the Workers Defense Project Action Fund and the Laborers’ International Union of North America.

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