graph by Emma Freer

The 2020 Zandan poll found that 47% of respondents think Austin is headed in the wrong direction, which is a radical change from three years earlier

by Rich Oppel

Question No. 1 on the annual Zandan poll gets right to the heart of the issue.

Q: Thinking about Austin today, do you think things are headed in the right direction or off on the wrong track?

The answers:




Wrong track: 47%
Right direction: 39%
Don't know: 14%

That's a radical change from 2017, when the numbers were flipped: Back then, only 35% of Austin-area respondents said Austin was on the wrong track. A majority, 52%, said Austin was on the right track. And 13% said they didn't know.

These numbers have got to give Mayor Steve Adler and members of the Austin City Council pause. And where do they come from?

Peter Zandan, global vice chairman of Hill + Knowlton Strategies, and a long-time Austin resident since 1977, conducted the poll. He has sponsored the survey, which he pays for personally, over the years. His last poll was in 2017.

The poll of 801 Austin-area residents was in the field between February 17 and March 5. The respondents were drawn from the Austin Metropolitan Statistical Area (MSA), which includes surrounding counties.

That 12% increase in residents finding the city on the wrong track was striking to Zandan, who earned master's and doctoral degrees from the University of Texas-Austin.

"This has been a city of optimism and support, and the shift is palpable," he said in an interview. "This reflects a shift in the public and cultural Austin. On some level we thrive, but that success is not for everyone. And you can see the divide by age, length of residence and time here."

To see what Zandan is talking about, just take one response—Austin is on the "wrong track"--and see how that varies among respondents:

All respondents, 47%
Age 18-34, 28%
Age 35+, 55%
City of Austin resident, 43%
Non-resident, 52%
0-5 years in Austin, 35%
6-20 years in Austin, 42%
21+ years in Austin, 57%

Respondents are gloomy about Austin's future. Fully 50% said they thought that in five years living in Austin for most people will be worse. Here, younger people, city residents and newcomers to Austin were more optimistic about the future than older people and residents outside the city but in the MSA.

Is there any happy news in the data? Sure.

Q. Compared to other U.S. cities, do you think Austin is a better or worse place to raise a family? All counted, 42% said better. Across all categories, 39% to 51% agreed. The response was most favorable among new arrivals, with 51% of those here 0-5 years saying yes.

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