There’s a lot of anecdotal talk about the attitudes toward Amazon’s HQ2. The residents of some cities seem overjoyed at the prospect of hosting the tech giant’s second corporate office; residents of others treat it as the villain in Harry Potter, the retail behemoth that shall not be named, lest saying it bring the curse of increased traffic and an influx of unwanted newcomers. But while it’s useful to ask around and see whose eyes roll versus whose eyes get wide at the prospect of Amazon coming to town, it’s not exactly scientific.
More scientific is a poll, conducted by Elon University and American City Business Journals, that asked a series of questions of hundreds of residents of each of the twenty cities on the HQ2 short list. The methodology on the poll involved paid, opt-in surveys of hundreds of people in each metropolitan area. (Opt-in surveys don’t have a traditional margin of error, but the “credibility interval” hovered around +/-6 points in Austin and Dallas.)
The questions dug fairly deep into what people are feeling when it comes to the $5 billion, 50,000-worker facility. There’s a lot to learn about a lot of the cities on the list (Atlanta is both a front-runner and the city that seems to want it most), but we’ll focus on what we can learn about Austin and Dallas—the two Texas cities under consideration—from the way their residents responded to a series of nearly twenty questions about the facility.
Austin Wants It Less Than Almost Anybody
There are only two cities where more than 7 percent of the people surveyed said that they didn’t want their city to host HQ2: Austin, with 13 percent, and Denver (which had a whopping 17 percent). That’s more than double the number that Dallas had (6 percent), and the ambivalence (or outright hostility) in Austin is consistent throughout a number of the questions: Only 30 percent of Austin respondents—fewer than any in other city—said that their perception of Amazon was a “10” company on a ten-point scale. Seventy-one percent of Austin respondents—more than any other city—would prefer, if HQ2 does come to town, that it is located somewhere out in the suburbs. Seventy-four percent of Austin respondents, already concerned about the rising cost of housing, believe that HQ2 would drive up home values and rent even more—again, a larger percentage than any other city. It goes on: Fewer than half of the Austin respondents think that HQ2 would raise average wages (compared to 69 percent of respondents in Atlanta and Indianapolis). Sixty-one percent of the respondents believe it’ll increase the cost of living for current residents (fewer than half of those surveyed in every other city except Denver and Washington, D.C. said the same, and none more than Austin). Only 14 percent of Austin respondents agreed that they’d be willing to pay more in taxes to bring HQ2 to town—tied for the lowest percentage in the competitive cities. A full third of Austin respondents said they would not accept a single minute of increased commute times as a result of HQ2. Thirty-three percent of the respondents said that they thought 50,000 new well-paying jobs in the city would be bad for existing small businesses. Only 16 percent of Austin respondents said that the city needed HQ2 “a lot”—while cities like Pittsburgh, Atlanta, Philadelphia, and Chicago were all in the 40 percent range. In other words, Austin has been near the top of the betting odds for landing HQ2 since the project was announced, but if that headquarters does end up there, a whole lot of people will be unhappy about it.
Dallas Is a Lot More Enthusiastic
Dallas has been a 20:1 shot for HQ2 for much of the time since the short list was unveiled. That’s not the very bottom of the list, but it’s not near the top, either. That middle-of-the-pack prospect for HQ2 is also reflected in the attitudes residents display toward it. No city seems as thirsty for HQ2 as Atlanta, but Dallas—true to its identity—seems to think that Amazon would be very happy there, and that it would be a good thing for everybody involved, even if they’re not quite rolling over to show Jeff Bezos their belly.
To that end, 78 percent of Dallas residents surveyed say they would welcome HQ2. Forty-three percent of respondents have the fondest of feelings toward Amazon as a company. Sixty-one percent of Dallas respondents think it would have a positive impact on wages across the city. Fewer than half of the respondents believe it would increase the cost of living for people already in the city. Eighty-three percent of Dallas respondents think HQ2 would make the city more attractive to other businesses—a number unmatched anywhere but Atlanta. Even in a fiscally conservative state like Texas, 60 percent of Dallas respondents are in favor of offering special taxpayer incentives to lure Amazon to town (only 47 percent of Austin respondents felt the same). Twenty-one percent of the respondents in Dallas said they’d be willing to pay more in taxes to bring Amazon to town—more than anywhere except Indianapolis. Thirty-one percent of Dallas respondents would accept an extra 15 minutes to their daily round-trip travel time if it got them HQ2. A full half of those surveyed think it’d be good for existing small businesses to have Amazon come to town. Twenty-nine percent—nearly double the percent from Austin—said that Dallas needs Amazon “a lot,” while more than half the respondents, at seven percent, said Dallas needs HQ2 “not at all.”
Also—as mentioned above, and in absolutely classic Dallas form—a whopping 95 percent of those who responded to the survey said that, regardless of whether they want HQ2 to come to town, Dallas is far and away the best choice Amazon can make. Even Atlanta, which wants HQ2 more than anything, isn’t that confident. (Poor Indianapolis, whose respondents want the facility much more than Dallas does, could only get up to 87 percent in this category—while Austin, home of the “Don’t Move Here” t-shirt, came in at 85 percent.)
The Politics of HQ2 Are Interesting
Buried in all of the “how do you feel about HQ2” questions is another one that’s kind of a tangent. The survey asked residents of all of the cities if they thought Amazon coming to town with 50,000 tech-industry jobs would make their city more conservative or more liberal—then it asked them how they felt about that.
In both Dallas and Austin, a majority of respondents didn’t think it’d make a huge difference. (Interestingly, Dallas was twice as inclined—8 percent versus 4 percent—to think that Amazon bringing its second headquarters to town would make their city more conservative, which is not the typical stereotype of young tech industry workers.) But when asked how they’d feel about that, a whopping 79 percent of Austin respondents said that they thought it’d be a good thing if the city became more conservative as a result of HQ2. In Dallas, that number was 73 percent, which is closer to the average. (In every city, at least 65 percent of respondents said they’d like it if their city became more conservative.) Also interesting: not a single Austin respondent chose the “no opinion” option on the question, while 17 percent of Dallas folks didn’t feel strongly about the politics of it one way or the other.
Reading too much into that question might lead to some false conclusions, though. The number of Austinites who actually answered that question was small—only 13, according to the poll data—so it’s hardly a representative sample of the city. In Dallas, the question was asked of 30 people, which is also not exactly representative.
For proof that it’s hard to draw conclusions based on that sample size, consider that when 113 Austinites were asked the inverse question of, “Would it be a good thing if your city became more liberal?” 55 percent of the people who responded agreed that it would. In Dallas, meanwhile, 117 people were asked that version of the question, and 52 percent agreed that it would. We don’t know exactly how the questions were framed, or why so few people were asked about whether they wanted the city to become more conservative versus more liberal, but while the responses are interesting, they’re far from conclusive.