We have a data point going into the Labor Day weekend.
“The vast majority of voters are still undecided about who to vote for,” said 11 News political expert Bob Stein. “They’re simply unfamiliar with the candidates.”
In the poll, Houston Controller Annise Parker leads among the four main candidates, with 13.2 percent of respondents telling us they plan to vote for her. Former city attorney Gene Locke is behind Parker, but within the margin of error, at 9.6 percent. City Council member Peter Brown has 5.2 percent support, and Harris County Board of Education member Roy Morales has the backing of 2.8 percent of likely voters.
The margin of error is 4.4 percent.
In the poll, likely voters were asked to pick between the four major candidates or a “don’t know” response. Nearly 68 percent of respondents picked “don’t know.”
Well, I suppose you can count that as evidence of sparklessness. For comparison purposes, a mid-September poll from 2003 showed about 70% of the electorate with a preference, more than double the number in this poll. Some of that difference is likely to be the amount of money spent in each election by this point – as you may recall, Bill White had been blanketing the airwaves for months by this point in 2003 – and some of it may be from other factors, like the economy and the national political climate, which has been dominating the news. However you slice it, there’s a lot of room for growth for all of the candidates here.
Of interest also is the second question the pollster asked, which was an “informed ballot” question in which they gave a brief bio of each candidate, then asked again for whom the respondent would vote. Roy Morales got the biggest boost from this, climbing into third place. That would be because among the things mentioned in those brief bios was party affiliation. Morales is the only Republican, so he collected some reflexive support for that. If he had the money to make sure everyone knew he’s a Republican, he could be a real factor in the race. But he doesn’t, so he won’t. Note that even after hearing about the candidates, the “don’t know/no answer” total is still almost 48%. Either there’s going to be a lot of late deciders, or this will be a small electorate. This suggests to me that mail pieces may play a big role in the end. Watch for that.
Finally, I received a press release from the Locke campaign touting his showing, which they said put him in a “statistical dead heat” with Parker. I don’t know how much you really want to conclude from this poll beyond “there’s an awful lot of undecided voters out there right now”, but yes, a 3.6 point lead in a 4.4 point margin of error poll is within the margin of error. “Statistical dead heat”, however, is a bit of an overbid. Kevin Drum performed the great public service five years ago of trying to quantify what this means. He created a spreadsheet that calculates the probability one candidate is leading the other given a sample size and margin of error. You can download it at that link or view it here with the relevant values filled in for this race (I assumed a sample size of 500 based on the margin of error). By that calculation, the probability that Parker actually leads Locke is over 95%. Again, I would strongly caution anyone from drawing conclusions based on this poll. Put everyone on the air for a month and check again, and then maybe we’ll know something.