More than three years after Hurricane Harvey damaged hundreds of thousands of homes in Houston and beyond, flooding remains the top major concern for Harris County residents, according to a new report released Wednesday by the University of Houston Hobby School of Public Affairs.
When presented with 24 issues, 66% of residents chose flooding as a major concern followed by violent crime at 62%. With more than 400 murders in 2020, Houston’s murder rate was one of the worst in decades and a 42% increase over the previous year.
Hobby School founding dean Kirk P. Watson says these public policy concerns are issues that city and county leaders should continue to address, adding that the coronavirus pandemic has only exacerbated challenges for many people.
“Our survey reveals a theme. People want and need to feel secure in their homes, whether the concern is flooding or crime. And right now, many folks are struggling with job loss, social isolation and stress due to the pandemic,” said Watson. “We hope our findings help policymakers by reinforcing the areas of most concern to people living in the Houston area.”
Other issues that at least half of Harris County residents listed as major concerns:
- Failing public schools 55%
- Streets in poor condition 53%
- Homeless population 52%
- Lack of access to health care 51%
- Traffic congestion 50%
Racial and Social Justice Issues
As the country continues to grapple with social and racial inequality, the Hobby School survey suggests a stark contrast among race, gender and age, though the largest disparity can be found among partisanship. Sixty-five percent of Harris County Democrats believe racial inequality is a major concern, compared to only 9% of Republicans. African Americans, meanwhile, are significantly more likely than whites or Latinos to list equity issues as major concerns.
“Sixty-one percent of African Americans chose racial inequality as a major concern compared to only 41% of whites,” said Renée Cross, senior director of the Hobby School. “In addition, African Americans (59%) are significantly more likely than Latinos (44%) and especially whites (39%) to list police violence as a major concern.”
The entire report, “Report Five: Issue Priorities and Evaluations in Harris County,” is part of the series “Texas Policy and Politics 2021” that can be viewed in full on the Hobby School website.
Other notable findings:
- Democrats (58%) are significantly more likely than Republicans (19%) and Independents (39%) to list police violence as a major concern.
- Millennials and members of Generation Z are significantly more likely than members of the Silent Generation/Baby Boomers and Generation X to list racial discrimination as a major concern (56% vs. 43% and 40%).
- African Americans (50%) are significantly more likely than whites (33%) to list the lack of good paying jobs as a major concern.
- Women are significantly more likely than men to consider the following issues to be a major concern: Economic inequality (55% vs. 41%), homeless population (62% vs. 42%), racial discrimination (55% vs. 41%) and racial inequality (52% vs. 40%).
- Women are significantly more likely than men to consider the three social welfare issues to be a major concern: Access to health care (62% vs. 40%), failing public schools (60% vs. 51%) and food insecurity (47% vs. 35%).
- Infrastructure issues are of significantly greater concern to members of the Silent Generation and Baby Boomers than to Millennials and members of Generation Z in the areas of flooding (81% vs. 52%), streets in poor condition (65% vs. 50%) and traffic congestion (67% vs. 42%).
Latinos were the only racial/ethnic group to list a lack of access to health care among their top six concerns. Just last week, Harris County launched a new COVID-19 vaccine campaign aimed at addressing vaccine hesitancy, especially in minority communities. Latinos account for just 11% of residents who have already received the COVID-19 vaccine, compared to 48% that are white, according to city data.
“Access to health care is a critical issue for communities of color and the effects are only amplified during a pandemic,” said Mark P. Jones, a Hobby School senior research associate and fellow at Rice University’s Baker Institute. “Latinos and African Americans are being disproportionately impacted by the coronavirus, but these inequities have been evident long before the current public health threat.”
Evaluation of Harris County Politicians
In addition to top concerns, the survey also looks at favorability ratings for 18 Harris County politicians. The politicians with the highest proportion of Harris County residents who have a favorable opinion of them (very favorable plus somewhat favorable) are:
- Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo (51%)
- Houston Chief of Police Art Acevedo (50%)
- Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner (46%)
- Harris County Sheriff Ed Gonzalez (44%)
- Former Harris County Judge Ed Emmett (41%)
The politicians with the highest net favorability ratings (very favorable plus somewhat favorable) minus (somewhat unfavorable plus very unfavorable) are:
- Houston Chief of Police Art Acevedo (+33%)
- Harris County Sheriff Ed Gonzalez, (+32%)
- Former Harris County Judge Ed Emmett (+31%)
- Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo (+27%)
- Harris County Commissioner Adrian Garcia (+22%)
The politicians with the highest net favorability ratings among Harris County Democrats are:
- Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo (+72%)
- Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner (+68%)
- Houston Chief of Police Art Acevedo (+50%)
- Former Houston Mayor Annise Parker (+50%)
- Harris County Sheriff Ed Gonzalez, (+48%)
- Harris County Commissioner Adrian Garcia (+48%)
The politicians with the highest net favorability ratings among Harris County Republicans are:
- Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick (+51%)
- S. Senator Ted Cruz (+50%)
- Former Harris County Judge Ed Emmett (+50%)
- Congressman Dan Crenshaw (+49%)
- Governor Greg Abbott (+48%)
The survey of 468 Harris County residents was conducted between Jan. 12 and Jan. 20 in English and Spanish, resulting in a confidence interval of +/-4.5%.