Mayoral Election Rests on Image vs Issues

With early voting wrapping up and Election Day less than a week away — it's decision time for Houston voters. But Houston's top three mayoral candidates sound a lot alike — at least when it comes to the issues. Which is why according to the KUHF-11 News survey — many people heading to the polls will probably make their choice for mayor based on something as simple as image. Laurie Johnson reports.

You hear it in their campaign ads...

"Leadership means more than plans, you have to deliver too. I'm the only candidate..."
"Everything I am today, I owe to the city of Houston. Working my way through school at an oil refinery..."
"You learn a few things when you run your own business. Watch every expense, keep working until the job's done..."

Leadership, work ethic, experience...these are the things Annise Parker, Gene Locke and Peter Brown are banking
on to get them into the run-off race for mayor.

Joe Householder is a consultant with Purple Strategies and a long-time Houston political strategist. He says it's not surprising that the candidates are promoting their image over the issues.

"While there are really serious issues facing the city, as there always are, there's nothing chronically wrong with Houston, TX today that makes people say I've got to look for the person who's going to tackle that. So you do get people with a much more broader view, a mish-mash view which again leads them down that path that I need to vote for character and characteristics more than I need to vote for the person who I think has the most compelling 10-point program on pension fund reform."

And the KUHF-11 News survey bears that out. We asked voters the primary reason they planned to vote for
each candidate. Rice University Political Scientist Bob Stein says 57 percent cited competence, previous experience or leadership ability as the main reason.

"This is probably the first election again since we've had term limits, where virtually all the major candidates — at least the top three — are really indistinguishable in partisanship, ideology and issue positions. They agree on how to fight crime, they agree on how to deal with pollution, they agree on how to deal with congestion and traffic. They just can't find any way to differentiate themselves."

It's standard practice for political campaigns to emphasize image and credibility. And it's common for people to vote on candidates they identify with. But Householder says it may be even more pronounced during this election because so many people are satisfied with how things are going in Houston.

"Bill White's popularity ratings in the city of Houston, TX are the envy of politicians nationwide, and for good reason. So the candidates certainly — sometimes subtlety, sometimes more overtly — are trying to hijack that image to make people view them as the continuation of the good things they've had for the last six years."

So no matter who gets elected as Houston's next mayor, keep in mind that he or she probably got there largely as a
result of their perceived image and credibility.

You can see the entire KUHF-11 News survey on our website

Laurie Johnson. KUHF-Houston Public Radio News.


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Bio photo of Laurie Johnson

Laurie Johnson

Local Host, All Things Considered

Laurie Johnson is the Houston host for All Things Considered at KUHF NPR for Houston. Before taking the anchor chair, she worked as a general assignments reporter at KUHF, starting there as an intern in 2002...