The race for chief executive in Texas’ most populous county is too close to call, with concerns about crime helping to propel Republican Alexandra del Moral Mealer into a statistical dead heat with Democratic incumbent Lina Hidalgo.
A poll from the Hobby School of Public Affairs at the University of Houston, released Monday on the first day of early voting, found 47% of likely Harris County voters say they will support Mealer, a political newcomer running for Harris County judge. Hidalgo drew support from 45%.
Democratic gubernatorial candidate Beto O’Rourke is leading Gov. Greg Abbott by eight points (50% to 42%) among likely Harris County voters, while Republican Jack Cagle, the incumbent Harris County Precinct 4 commissioner, leads Democratic challenger Lesley Briones, 40% to 35%.
“Crime and public safety are the top concerns cited by voters in the county races, and that is more pronounced among voters who support Mealer and Cagle,” said Renée Cross, senior executive director and researcher at the Hobby School. Eight out of 10 likely voters listed crime, public safety and government corruption as very important to their decision about which candidate to support for county judge.
“Hidalgo remains popular with voters concerned about voting rights, abortion rights and racial equity, but overall, her support has softened,” Cross said.
Mark P. Jones, senior research associate at the Hobby School and political science fellow at Rice University’s Baker Institute for Public Policy, said the local races reflect many of the same passions driving midterm elections across the country.
“Republicans and independent voters told us they are concerned about crime and immigration and border security,” he said. “Democratic voters listed voting rights and abortion rights as their top concerns, with crime and public safety issues ranking lower.
Overall, Jones said, concerns about crime and public safety appear to be boosting Republican candidates, even in a county that has seen a steady growth in Democratic voters. A plurality of likely voters said they believe Mealer would do a better job than Hidalgo on issues involving crime, immigration and border security and government corruption.
Among the poll’s findings:
- Overall, 81% of likely voters said crime and public safety will be “very important” in choosing a candidate. That rose to 98% of likely Mealer voters and 99% of Cagle voters. 64% of likely Hidalgo voters agreed, with voting rights (95%), racial equity & equality (89%), abortion (87%), election administration (77%), flooding (75%) and government corruption (70%) all ranking higher.
- 49% of voters have an unfavorable opinion of Hidalgo, compared with 28% who have an unfavorable opinion of Mealer. Almost one-third (29%) said they didn’t know enough about Mealer to have an opinion, compared to only 8% for Hidalgo.
- The battle for Latino voters remains tight, with 47% supporting Mealer and 44% backing Hidalgo; 9% are undecided. Mealer holds a 19 point advantage among white voters (56% to 37%), while Hidalgo holds a 56 point advantage among Black voters (73% to 17%).
- There is a clear gender gap – 56% of men favor Mealer, while 52% of women favor Hidalgo.
- One in four likely voters remain undecided in the Harris County Commissioner Precinct 4 race, with 48% saying they do not know enough about Cagle to have an opinion of him, and 71% saying the same of Briones.
- Two of the three Harris County bond propositions appear to have majority support, including 63% for Proposition B authorizing up to $900,000,000 in spending for roads and 52% for Proposition C, authorizing up to $200,000,000 for parks.
- Proposition A, which would authorize up to $100,000,000 in public safety spending, drew support from just 38% of likely voters, with 31% opposed and another 31% undecided.
The full report is available here. The poll was conducted Oct. 10-15, with 625 likely voters in Harris County completing an online survey in either English or Spanish, with a margin of error of +/- 3.92.
- By Jeannie Kever