Here are a few basic math factors that led to the Prop B victory, the public camping ban, by a margin of 57% to 43%.
- Republicans did indeed vote for Prop B by large margins and turnout tended to be higher in suburban areas where there are a higher percentage of Republicans.
- Many Democrats, however, clearly voted in favor of Prop B as well. Prop B won in numerous traditionally Democratic precincts. Even where Prop B did not carry Democratic dominated precincts, the margin was often much narrower than those usually delivered for progressive causes and candidates.
- Where Prop B carried traditionally Democratic precincts, proximity to encampments seemed to be a factor, although not in all cases. The proximity factor may be be seen by some homeless advocates as people being unable or unwilling to tolerate any discomfort or unpleasantness in their lives from the unsightliness of homelessness — arguments that have regularly been made by speakers at Council. Those in proximity may counter by saying that anyone making such points might feel differently if they lived in the vicinity of encampments.
Let’s look at some specific areas. In South Austin the notoriously liberal outpost called the Bouldin neighborhood — also close to Ladybird Lake and homeless encampments — voted 55% in favor of Prop B. By comparison, in November Joe Biden pulled 86% to Donald Trumps 11% in the precinct. (And most people who saw those numbers were probably amazed that 11% in the precinct actually voted Republican.) This means barely half the percentage that voted for Biden held ranks with Austin’s lefty Council and voted against Prop B.
This pattern held in the two precincts directly south of Bouldin. San Jose, the precinct just to the south of Bouldin, went 55% for Prop B. The precinct to the South of San Jose, which connects to Ben White near a swath of encampments went 56% for Prop B. Those two precincts went 84% and 85% respectively for Joe Biden.
The Zilker and Barton Hills neighborhoods across South Lamar also voted for Prop B.
On the south side of Ben White, precinct 460 delivered 52% for Prop B. Precinct 460 stretches from Ben White to a few blocks past William Cannon with Menchaca and the railroad tracks as the western and eastern boundaries. It includes the Southwood neighborhood which is near encampments on Ben White and a church on Menchaca that serves the homeless. People in the neighborhood have regularly reported homeless related crime.
Just west of precinct 460, around Joslin Elementary, Prop B polled even higher, with 56%. That area is even closer to the Ben White encampments and the homeless serving church than precinct 460. Biden got 76% at Joslin and a whopping 81% in Southwood/460.
Biden did much the same in two adjacent precincts on the eastern side of the tracks from Southwood, pulling 86% and 77% respectively. In those two precincts, however, Prop B failed, pulling only 46% in each precinct. These neighborhoods are buffered from the Ben White encampments by South Austin Hospital and the surrounding medical complex. So there is some evidence of a proximity factor here.
Also going against Prop B, albeit by narrow margins, were three precincts between Stassney and a little past William Cannon, and bounded IH 35 and the tracks on the east and west. Small parts of these three precincts lie south of William Cannon. Other than those, all precincts south of William Cannon delivered majorities for Prop B, sometimes large majorities.
Meanwhile back down by the river, the northernmost Travis Heights precinct, the one nearest the river and encampments, supported Prop B. The Travis Heights precinct south of West Mary Street voted no. Prop B also failed in two precincts directly north and south of St. Edwards University, including one that connects to an area of Ben White with significant encampments. Likewise a precinct due east of IH 35 went against Prop B. So, at least to an extent, those two precincts appear to defy the proximity argument. There may be mitigating factors though. The populated areas of the precinct directly south of St. Edwards is buffered by warehouses and other industrial buildings that front Ben White. Plus, a number of St. Edwards students live in the area. Areas around UT delivered some of the biggest percentages against Prop B; so that pattern could be occurring near St. Edwards as well. In the precinct east of IH 35 the IRS complex provides a buffer for parts of the populated area.
One place that proximity to encampments definitely seemed to be in play was the central downtown precinct, also the Mayor’s home precinct. It went 88% for Prop B. In November the same precinct went 69% for Joe Biden.
North of the river, the East Austin precincts that Council themselves identified as heavily affected by encampments, Prop B passed. For instance in the Sanchez precinct (438) with the huge encampment along E. Cesar Chavez at the Terrazas Library Prop B passed with 58%. Just east of there Prop B also passed, with 53%. The two precincts further to the east went narrowly against Prop B, but the Montopolis area, with major encampments nearby on East Riverside, went 55% in favor. The precincts discussed here are traditional Mexican American barrios, but have seen demographic changes for decades now due to gentrification.
Further north in East Austin, north of 11th Street, Prop B failed in most precincts, particularly in District 1 — the African American opportunity district represented by Mayor Pro Tem Harper Madison. This might mean that African American voters tended to vote against Prop B, but it is not possible to determine that for certain because of the changing demographics of the District and an inability to know who turned out and who did not.
The biggest percentage margins against Prop B were in heavily student areas near the University of Texas, but turnout there was low. Hyde Park and several other north central precincts were the exception to the pattern of margins significantly lower than they usually are for progressive causes. For instance the core Hyde Park precinct went 75% against Prop B. By comparison they went 89% for Joe Biden; meaning a considerably smaller drop-off than in precincts like Bouldin.
Even central Austin precincts near the large encampments along US 183 delivered majorities against Prop B, although not to the level of Hyde Park.
Then there’s West Austin and the southwestern and northwestern suburbs. Every precinct west of MoPac, on either side of the river, went for Prop B. Many precincts delivered more than 70%, even over 80% in some for Prop B. Plus turnout was higher in the West and thus the actual vote margins much larger.
The parts of Williamson County within the City of Austin also delivered big margins for Prop B (Williamson County results are not included in the maps at the top, but we will add that as soon as we are able). This would likely have been the case regardless, but the margin was almost doubtlessly increased by the Council’s ongoing plan to purchase an Anderson Mill area Candlewood Suites hotel to house the homeless — while giving adjacent business owners and the new Council Member representing the area barely a week’s notice of their plans. A well organized opposition effort led by the owners of an adjoining hotel and a restaurant is ongoing.
While there are more Republicans in Austin’s western precincts than in central Austin precincts, there were still many West Austin Democrats who voted for Prop B. For instance in Precinct 256, which is a well heeled area north of Windsor Road between Lake Austin and MoPac, voters supported Prop B by 83% for to 17% against. In November the same precinct delivered 62% for Joe Biden. The actual numbers here also tell the tale. The Prop B vote was 965 votes for and 200 against.
By contrast the West Campus precinct, 208, voted 79% against Prop B, but turnout was low and the actual vote margin was only 235 for and 63 against.
So clearly many Democrats voted for Prop B. Even in the central city precincts that delivered majorities against Prop B, the majorities were nowhere near the margins that those precincts usually deliver for progressive causes and candidates. Certainly these voters did not turn into Republicans. Rather, it seems that many Democratic voters did not see defeating Prop B as a progressive cause, but as an agonizing decision on the best way to begin cleaning up a policy disaster; a decision that a progressive Council had badly erred.
Traditionally, losing huge portions of one’s governing coalition and experiencing a trouncing of this magnitude calls for reflection. Whether that will occur in this instance remains to be seen.
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