HOUSTON — Annise Parker seems headed for a runoff in her campaign to keep her job, but she commands more than twice as many supporters as her leading challenger in a newly released poll commissioned by KHOU 11 News and KUHF – Houston Public Radio.
Still, just six weeks before Election Day, roughly half of all surveyed voters either didn’t know or wouldn’t say how they’re going to vote.
Parker leads the pack of candidates at 34 percent, with former city attorney Ben Hall at 14 percent. About 48 percent of voters are classified as undecided, indicating the incumbent mayor will have to fight to keep the post to which she was narrowly re-elected two years ago.
“I don’t see the mayor losing this race,” said Bob Stein, the KHOU political analyst who conducted the survey. “I’m not certain she’ll win it in the general election, like she did in 2011. But the mayor, who tends to get high marks as a mayor, simply doesn’t get what I’d call great public support as a candidate.”
Seven other candidates who filed for the office garnered little support in the poll, but their presence on the ballot may attract just enough votes to toss the election into a runoff.
That’s exactly what Hall’s counting on. During interviews in the early days of his campaign, he openly encouraged other candidates to jump into the race. The strategy was simple arithmetic: More candidates on the ballot could only increase the odds of a runoff pitting the incumbent against a single challenger.
Hall has indicated he hopes to garner significant support from two key constituencies: African-American voters and Republicans disenchanted with Parker. But so far, the poll indicates that strategy isn’t working well enough to propel him into office.
“Ben Hall is an African-American former city attorney,” Stein said. “He expects to bring out a large number of African-American voters and win 80, 90 percent of that. Doesn’t seem to be working. Turnout may be a little bit higher among African-American voters, but he’s only winning 29 percent of the African-American vote, to the mayor’s 24 percent.”
Meanwhile, Parker garners 27 percent of Anglo Republican voters’ support compared to Hall’s 11 percent.
Voters seem optimistic about Houston, but Stein said they’re not giving Parker as much credit as previous mayors for their sunny outlook. In opinion of 56 percent of surveyed voters, the city’s economy will get better in the next two or three years. Even more voters, 62 percent, believe Houston is on the right track for the future. Meanwhile, 57 percent of surveyed voters give Parker favorable ratings on her job performance.
“The economy has improved vastly,” Stein said. “Voters believe we’re heading on the right track. They’re optimistic about the future. But the mayor seems not to get a complete benefit from that. She gets some, a good push, but not like Bill White or Bob Lanier.”
Still, the poll indicates Hall has a difficult road ahead in his campaign to unseat the incumbent Parker.