Austin is a pain to get around in, things cost too much, and there are too many people when you do manage to get there. But what a great place to live!
That’s the takeaway from the latest Zandan Poll, a wide-ranging look at Austin-area attitudes about everything from transportation to tacos, from gentrification to guacamole, and from President Donald Trump to, well, Trump’s border wall.
Transportation and affordability, as they were in a similar 2015 survey by pollster Peter Zandan, remain the greatest concerns of the 800-plus people who were interviewed online in March for the poll. Asked to name the three most important issues facing Central Texas, 74 percent cited traffic and roads and 46 percent pointed to some combination of affordability, the cost of living, affordable housing and gentrification.
Coming in next on the worry list: population growth and overcrowding at 22 percent; jobs, wages, unemployment, poverty and homelessness at 21 percent; and crime, security, safety and drugs at 17 percent.
Just 6 percent pointed to public transit, and 5 percent were concerned about water, preserving the environment and green spaces. The poll has a margin of error of plus or minus 4 percentage points.
Zandan, global vice chairman at Hill+Knowlton Strategies, who has conducted (at his own expense) five such Austin-area polls since 1997, said what caught his attention is that the city still fares well in comparison with other cities. This rosy view is particularly strong among those under 35 and those relatively new to the city.
“What caught me by surprise is that, although Austinites are very aware of the problems, eight of 10 believe the city lives up to the publicity,” Zandan said. “And when you look at the right direction/wrong direction measure, it’s overwhelmingly that we’re headed in the right direction.
“Looked at through the lens of someone who is coming here to start a family or who is aspirational in their work, Austin is one of the coolest places in the country,” he said. “And this is where they want to come.”
But Central Texas residents, especially older longtimers, are nervous about Austin losing — or having lost entirely — the qualities long associated with it as the city has risen in size and prominence.
For example, just over a third say Austin is “doing a good job of remaining unique from other major U.S. cities,” and 55 percent say, “Austin is at risk of losing it appeal because of the rising cost of living.”
What specifically has Austin lost over the past year because of growth? A lower cost of living, according to 32 percent; “ease of transportation,” said 26 percent; and a “small town feel,” 11 percent said.
Among other interesting results in the 44-question survey:
• Almost 60 percent said they had never taken a ride-hailing service trip, despite all the civic effort and angst over the question of how to regulate industry leaders Uber and Lyft.
• An impressive 47 percent said they had voted in the May 2016 election, fueled by big spending by Uber and Lyft, over an alternative city ride-hailing ordinance the corporations preferred. Poll respondents appear to have molded their memories, however. Just 17.4 percent of the city’s registered voters voted in that election.
• Guacamole or queso? Cheese beat avocado, 53 percent to 41 percent. That means that somehow 7 percent of Central Texans don’t like either. (Just leaves more for the rest of us.) As for breakfast tacos, about two-thirds of those polled eat them between “several times a week” and “a few times per month.”
• A long ride to the Salt Lick prevailed over a long wait at Franklin’s in a question about the “best BBQ in Austin.” The longtime favorite near Driftwood (and now at other places) was rated first by 20 percent, with Franklin’s at 16 percent. Eight percent said they don’t like barbecue. See the item just above.
• Asked about Trump, 28 percent had a favorable opinion, 54 percent an unfavorable opinion and 16 percent were neutral. That leaves 2 percent that apparently just didn’t want to think about the question. Former President Barack Obama had a 57 percent favorable rating, Gov. Greg Abbott was at 32 percent and the Congress was rated “favorable” by 23 percent.
• As for the proposed border wall — or rather, an extension of the existing fences and walls along the Texas-Mexico border — just 24 percent of Central Texans polled support building it.
Go online to view interactive charts that break down the results of the Austin poll at www.statesman.com/zandan-poll/ .