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Traffic, affordability plague Austin in latest Zandan Poll

Thursday, April 20, 2017 by Chad Swiatecki

Traffic and transit woes continue to be the bane of most Austinites’ existence, but the latest edition of a long-running community survey suggests those frustrations are easing, at least a little bit.

The newest Zandan Poll – started 30 years ago by researcher and market analyst Peter Zandan – finds that traffic and transportation again takes the top spot as the most important problem facing Austin, though the 74 percent of respondents identifying that problem is a drop from the 82 percent who picked it in the 2015 poll. Other big concerns include affordability (46 percent), population growth (22 percent) and jobs/wages/unemployment (21 percent).

The survey, which was conducted by Cambia Information Group and provided to the community for free by Zandan, surveyed 813 Austin-area residents in early March to get their opinions on a mix of mostly local as well as some national and international issues.

Affordability registered above 87 percent for both younger and older Austinites asked if the city’s cost of living is impacting the city’s lasting appeal, while two-thirds of all Austinites said they were cutting back on their spending because of cost of living concerns.

Among other findings, the poll determined that newer and younger residents have a more favorable opinion (by 15 points) than older, longer-residing Austinites on the issue of whether the city earns its favorable reputation. Along the same lines, apparently Millennials rule the roost, with 61 percent of respondents saying Austin is best suited for that generation, compared to Generation X (36 percent), Baby Boomers (21 percent) and the Greatest Generation (14 percent). And, in another young/old split, 64 percent of respondents aged 18-34 said Austin is headed in the right direction, compared to 44 percent for respondents 35 years old and over

Zandan, who is the chair of research and data insights for Hill+Knowlton Strategies, jokes that the “wrong direction” question makes him wonder if Austin has become a Cormac McCarthy book or Coen brother film.

“You could say we’re kind of No City for Old Men,” he said. “There’s always been an old guard in Austin that is vocal and protective of neighborhood issues. There’s also a big dynamic youth group that’s not as vocal as the older residents and not as likely to take opportunities to speak up.”

Asked about the less severe views on transportation, Zandan said it’s likely that respondents and other Austinites are seeing long commutes as inevitable and less a problem to be solved. He said he hopes the data showing 51 percent of respondents’ employers offer no options such as flex time or work-from-home agreements to lessen traffic would create more dialogue among business leaders on that issue.

More fractured were answers about opinions on the Affordable Care Act, sanctuary city practices and deportation of illegal immigrants, with small pluralities of respondents viewing them favorably or being neutral.

Zandan said he’s glad that city leaders are taking on the affordability issue by trying to increase housing availability and attracting middle-class jobs. Doing nothing, he said, would “choke off the things we value, like creativity and the vibrancy of our neighborhoods.”

In a suite of lifestyle questions respondents signaled something of a sea change. Asked to choose which social event most defined Austin, respondents chose South by Southwest and placed University of Texas football games in fourth place, behind Austin City Limits Music Festival and Trail of Lights.

“If South by defines us, and it is one of the most dynamic events anywhere, then that really is an amazing change compared to the more established options,” Zandan said. “For an entertainment and tech event to define us more than UT football … that says we’re not old Austin anymore.”

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