After the onslaught of Hurricane Harvey last August, the Hobby School of Public Affairs at the University of Houston initiated a five-year panel survey to understand the long term experiences of people impacted by the storm. The latest survey was conducted with respondents in Harris, Fort Bend, Brazoria and Montgomery counties in July 2018, seven months after the initial survey was conducted. In anticipation of the Harris County special election regarding the issuance of bonds for flood mitigation, set for August 25, 2018, questions about support for the mitigation bonds were posed to Harris County residents.
The complete report from the survey’s second installment, covering residents in the four-county area, will be released in late August 2018.
Overview: Harris County Bond Election Survey 2018
Support for the Bond to Fund Flood Risk Reduction
Fifty-five (55) percent of respondents reported they will vote in favor of the Harris County’s Flood Control District’s proposed $2.5 billion bond to address flooding in the county. The bond would result in a 1.4% increase in property taxes for the average homeowner. More than a third (35%) of respondents reported they were unsure whether they will vote for or against, and only 10% of respondents reported they would vote against the proposed bond.
Expected Turnout in August 25 Special Election
Voter turnout for the bond election on August 25 is expected to be low; only 36% of respondents reported they were certain to vote. The proposed $2.5 billion bond garners support from 62% of those respondents who reported they are certain to vote in the special election. Support for the bond declines among persons who reported they are not certain they will vote in the bond election.
Support for Bond by Flooding Experience
There is essentially no difference in support for the bond proposal among respondents who experienced flooding since 2001 (including Hurricane Harvey) and among those who did not suffer flooding: 56 percent and 55 percent respectively. This pattern suggests that Harris County residents perceive severe weather as a threat to the community, and they are willing to pay to fund measures aimed at reducing the negative impact of future storms.
Support for Bond in Second Wave by Responses to Property Tax Increases in First Wave
When comparing respondents who participated in the two waves of our survey (conducted in November-December 2017 and in June-July 2018), we find significant changes in the level of support for raising funds to mitigate future flooding. In the first wave we found that 46 percent of respondents expressed that they were not willing to pay any more in property taxes to implement policies to protect the Houston area from the effects of severe weather. Yet 42 percent of these respondents are supportive of the Harris County bond and only 13 percent oppose it. The change in support for raising funds for flood mitigation through a bond is mostly driven by respondents who had suffered losses during Hurricane Harvey.
On the other hand, only 2 percent of those who expressed supporting higher property taxes for mitigation purposes in the December wave of the survey would not vote for the bond in the August 25 election; 23 percent of respondents in this group are unsure whether they would vote for or against the Harris County proposal. Additionally, 23.8 percent of respondents are willing to pay more than the proposed 1.4% increase. Support for policy initiatives aimed at protecting the Houston area from future flooding remains high in both waves of the survey.
Confidence in Local Officials’ Knowledge of How to Mitigate Future Flooding
Half (50 percent) of Harris County residents are Somewhat Confident that county and city officials know how to reduce the negative impact of future flooding. However, approximately two-fifths (39 percent) are Not Confident or Not Confident At All that their local leaders know how to mitigate the impact of future floods. Only 7 percent are Very Confident in their local leaders flood mitigation competency.
Among likely voters, the gap between those who are Somewhat Confident and Not Confident/Not Confident At All narrows from the 11 percent found among all Harris County residents to 3 percent, with 48 percent Somewhat Confident and 45 percent either Not Confident or Not Confident At All. Only 5 percent of likely voters are Very Confident in their leaders’ knowledge in the area of flood mitigation.
Concern about $2.5 Billion Bond Going to Developers and Construction Firms Rather than to Flood Reduction Projects
Almost one-half (48 percent) of Harris County residents are either Extremely Concerned or Very Concerned that much of the money from the $2.5 billion bond issue will go primarily to politically connected developers and construction firms instead of directly to flood risk reduction projects. In contrast, only a modest 16 percent are either Not Very Concerned or Not At All Concerned about this occurring. A little more than one-third (34 percent) of respondents are Somewhat Concerned about substantial funds being diverted to benefit politically connected firms and individuals.
Harris County residents who are most likely to vote in the August 25 election are even more skeptical than the general public about the $2.5 billion bond being directed to projects that will reduce the risk of flooding rather than to political insiders in the developer and construction communities. Among these likely voters, 59 percent are either Extremely or Very Concerned about funding being diverted to the politically connected, with only 12 percent Not Very Concerned or Not At All Concerned. The remaining 27 percent are only Somewhat Concerned about the diversion of bond funds to political insiders.
Bond Election 2018 Survey Highlights
Bond Election 2018 Survey Cross Tabulations
Bond Election 2018 Survey Frequencies
Bond Election 2018 Survey Figures and Tables
Bond Election 2018 Survey Methodology
Bond Election 2018 Media Release
Survey Summary Report 2017
Survey Figures and Tables 2017
Survey Methodology 2017
Media Release 2018
Media Release 2017
What is a Panel Survey?
Also called a longitudinal study, a panel survey design offers more than a snapshot of public opinion at a given moment; it provides an objective measurement and analysis of behavior with the same people over a period of time. For example, a panel survey can measure how people are affected by public policies rather than solely gauging their immediate opinion. Measuring the actual impact of policies can lead to more effective decisions in the future.
Jim Granato, executive director and professor of public policy, Hobby School of Public Affairs
Pablo Pinto, director, Center for Public Policy and associate professor of public policy, Hobby School of Public Affairs
Ching-Hsing Wang, research fellow, Hobby School of Public Affairs
Renée Cross, senior director, Hobby School of Public Affairs
Sunny Wong, professor of public policy, Hobby School of Public Affairs
Robert Stein, Lena Gohlman Fox professor of political science, Rice University
Mark P. Jones, James A. Baker III Institute for Public Policy's fellow in political science, Rice University
City of Houston Post Harvey
Harris County Flood Control District
Houston Public Media's Houston After Harvey