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Notley/Monitor Poll: Austinites are eager to vote and disenchanted with local government

Wednesday, July 13, 2022 by Jonathan Lee

Most Austinites disapprove of City Council and think local government isn’t responsive to their concerns, according to a June survey of 507 likely voters conducted by Change Research and commissioned by Notley for the Austin Monitor.

Fifty-six percent of respondents disapprove of the job Council is doing, and only a quarter (26 percent) approve. Eighteen percent are unsure.

What’s behind the numbers? For one, Republicans overwhelmingly view Council negatively, bringing down the overall approval rate. Eighty-four percent of Republicans disapprove of Council compared to 44 percent of Democrats (71 percent of independents disapprove). Though City Council is technically nonpartisan, it is almost entirely Democratic; only one member, Mackenzie Kelly, is a Republican. 

White respondents are more critical of Council than people of color. Sixty-one percent of white voters disapprove of Council while only 45 percent of voters of color disapprove. The most supportive voters are the ones who think that Austin’s growth has been positive; they approve of Council by 20 points. Most Austinites, however, view growth negatively, as poll results we shared Monday show.

While many factors influence public opinion, the survey points to a couple sources of dissatisfaction: Residents say the city is not responsive to their concerns and that they are getting bad value from their tax dollars.

Just 16 percent of respondents said the city has been responsive to citizen concerns, and 50 percent say Council has not been responsive. (In case you missed it, affordability is Austinites’ top concern.)

Fifty-five percent think that they are getting a below average or bad value for their tax dollar. Only 12 percent said they are getting a good or great value, and 29 percent think they are getting an average value.

Respondents were less sure about individual Council members’ job performance. A third (32 percent) said they did not know enough to say how well their Council member is doing, which points to a general lack of knowledge about local government. 

This disconnect between citizens and City Hall is reinforced by historically low turnouts in local elections. While reforms like moving elections from May to November have increased turnout, off-cycle and runoff election turnout is still low. In a January special election to fill a vacated Council District 4 seat, only 10 percent of registered voters voted.  

Survey respondents who did have an opinion on their Council members also skewed older:

The median age of actual voters in Austin (52 years old) is also older than the median age of all eligible voters in Austin (38), according to research by Portland State University using data from the 2014 mayoral election.

Amid a general atmosphere of discontent not only locally but also nationally, respondents indicated they are highly motivated to vote in November, with 89 percent saying they “definitely” plan to vote. Most are very motivated to vote, with 83 percent of Democrats and 80 percent of Republicans rating themselves a 10 out of 10 on a scale of motivation to vote.

While the poll did not delve into factors motivating likely voters in Austin, many respondents in a free response section mentioned the right to an abortion or women’s bodily autonomy as pressing issues facing the city and its residents. The poll, conducted from June 24-29, coincided with the U.S. Supreme Court’s June 24 decision to eliminate the constitutional right to obtain an abortion. Though the city cannot legalize abortion, Council plans to discuss decriminalizing the procedure at a special called meeting on July 21. 

In addition to the gubernatorial and Texas attorney general elections, residents will be able to vote in many local races come November, including for mayor and Council districts 1, 3, 5, 8 and 9.

In a poll commissioned by Notley for the Austin Monitor, Change Research surveyed 507 likely voters in Austin, Texas, from June 24-29, 2022. The modeled margin of error for the survey is 4.7 percent, which uses effective sample sizes that adjust for the design effect of weighting. Complete survey results and methodology can be found here.

Photo made available through a Creative Commons license.

The Austin Monitor’s work is made possible by donations from the community. Though our reporting covers donors from time to time, we are careful to keep business and editorial efforts separate while maintaining transparency. A complete list of donors is available here, and our code of ethics is explained here.

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