Wednesday, March 25, 2020 by Chad Swiatecki

Latest Zandan poll shows more Austinites see city on ‘wrong track’

The latest edition of Austin pollster Peter Zandan’s survey of Austin residents’ attitudes on city issues shows that a growing number think the city is headed in the wrong direction.

The responses, which were gathered in the first months of 2020, stand in marked relief to the concerns of most residents since the city and Travis County have taken drastic measures to prevent the spread of the COVID-19 virus.

The poll of 800 Austin-area respondents showed 47 percent see the city on the “wrong track,” compared to 39 percent who see the city heading in a positive direction. Those results show a more pessimistic view compared to Zandan’s 2017 poll, which showed 52 percent of respondents thought the city was headed in a good direction versus 35 percent who had an unfavorable view.

Zandan, who is a global vice chairman for Hill+Knowlton Strategies, asked 44 questions related to Austin issues and lifestyle, and collected a battery of demographic information to analyze how respondents’ views differed based on age, location, income and other factors.

Traffic and transit ranked as one of the three most important issue facing the city, with economic factors including homelessness ranking second with 58 percent of responses including that item. The economic issue jumped three spots compared to the 2017 poll and the percentage of respondents who included it as a concern nearly tripled.

Jason Stanford, a spokesperson for Hill+Knowlton, said the increased visibility of the city’s homeless population after last summer’s decision by City Council to relax rules on camping likely played the biggest part in the issue’s increased importance.

“Earlier this month you could not make an argument that the economy was bad and that traffic and housing costs weren’t the biggest problems. You couldn’t empirically say that the problems we’ve had every single year for the past decade, that people are worried about the effects of growth like home prices or traffic,” he said. “And then all of the sudden homelessness is the number-one problem and it wasn’t because there were more of them, but because people saw more of them.”

Stanford said the economic worries that have come with prolonged business closures and other uncertainties will almost certainly have added to the negative sentiments shown in the survey regarding a proposed multibillion-dollar transit package expected to go before voters in November. The survey’s question on that matter brought responses that were 53 percent against the transit proposal in some way compared to 43 percent who supported it.

“The proposal to levy a big property tax that would be levied for six years before anyone would ever get on the train just went out the window. There’s no way to pass that now,” he said. “People are going to be so terrified for their economic survival now. People’s retirement accounts have gone down by amounts that include two commas in some cases, so I don’t think anyone is in the mood to pay property taxes for a benefit they’re not going to enjoy right away.”

Stanford said one possible strategy to build support for the transit proposal would be to tie its success to the years of construction and other related jobs that could be created.

“You could also try to sell it as a jobs program because people are going to need work,” he said. “The good days are over, probably, and we might be in a scenario where people need jobs, and the idea of a massive public works project … there’s a reason why those were popular in the 1930s. We might be looking at this not just as a transportation solution, but also a jobs program.”

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