Mayor Rahm Emanuel faces growing voter disenchantment, particularly among African-Americans, even as the overall number approving of his job performance holds steady at the halfway point of his first term, a new Tribune/WGN-TV poll shows.
The survey showed 50 percent approve of the job Emanuel is doing, roughly the same as a year ago. But those disapproving of his job performance stand at 40 percent — up from 29 percent a year before.
Compared with last year, Emanuel’s negatives are up significantly among African-Americans. Now, more black voters disapprove than approve of his handling of the mayor’s office. That’s turned around from a year ago. Though Emanuel’s approval rating among white voters is similar to last May, the number of those who disapprove also is growing.
And although Emanuel billed himself as an agent for change in taking over City Hall after 22 years of Richard M. Daley, the poll found more than half of voters say they think Chicago is the same as it was under his predecessor.
Still, the poll found a majority of voters like Emanuel and find him honest.
Those are the midterm ratings of Emanuel in a poll of 800 Chicago voters that has an error margin of 3.5 percentage points. Interviewers conducted the phone survey from April 30 to Monday.
A politician seeking to keep his office, as Emanuel has vowed to do, wants a job approval rating above 50 percent. Emanuel is approaching that benchmark with less than two years to go before he stands for re-election.
Although no challenger has emerged yet, the poll points to serious political concerns for the mayor.
More African-American voters disapprove of Emanuel’s job performance than approve, 48 percent to 40 percent. That’s a sharp turnaround from a year ago, when 44 percent of black voters approved of Emanuel’s job as mayor while only one-third disapproved.
Emanuel convincingly won election without a runoff in 2011 on the strength of carrying every majority-black ward in Chicago. He earned credibility as President Barack Obama’s first White House chief of staff.
Several potential factors may be driving the change in attitude among African-American voters.
The mayor found his last 12 months dominated by issues of increased gun violence. He has maintained a battle with unionized public school teachers over proposed school closings in a system serving a majority of minority students. And the issue of job growth and economic development has been a problem as unemployment remains above 10 percent.
Emanuel also is undertaking a massive renovation of the CTA’s Red Line from Cermak Road south to 95th Street — a five-month closing primarily affecting black commuters. That move was largely embraced by local African-American aldermen.
Asked in a recent Tribune interview whether he still had the backing of black voters who helped elect him, the mayor replied, “Nothing’s ever static in life. If you think it is, well, nothing’s static.”
Emanuel, whose campaign finance records show that he regularly conducts political polling, said he has reached out to the black community far beyond his predecessor as the city’s chief executive. He said his work has included improving access for minority workers and contractors on public works projects, combating food deserts, building neighborhood parks and revitalizing Malcolm X College.
“They know I believe in taking on the very forces that have not allowed the city to progress in their own community,” Emanuel said of African-American voters. “And I’m going to continue to work at it every day.”
Among white voters, Emanuel’s job approval standing is better, with nearly 6 in 10 giving him good marks as mayor. That figure is similar to what the mayor scored a year ago. But the percentage of white voters disapproving also increased: from 21 percent a year ago to 32 percent.
Latino voters approved of Emanuel at a 54 percent clip, while 39 percent disapproved. A year ago, those percentages among Latino voters were 49-30, so the mayor’s negatives continued to rise there as well.
Although a message of change has remained Emanuel’s effusive mantra well into his second year in office, 53 percent of voters said they think Chicago is about the same as it was under Daley. A total of 24 percent of voters said they believed the city was better off under Emanuel while 21 percent said they thought Chicago was worse off.
A similar survey a year ago found that more than 6 in 10 voters thought it was too early in Emanuel’s tenure to tell whether he was good for the city.
With voter attitudes hardening as Emanuel settles in at the helm of City Hall, the survey shows a majority no longer believing his campaign vow to fix a government that “can no longer be an insiders’ game, serving primarily the lobbyists and well-connected.”
The poll found 52 percent said they believed Emanuel had not kept his campaign pledge, while 35 percent said he had. A similar poll a year into office found voters equally split at 39 percent.
Aside from his job approval rating, voters were asked their general impression of Emanuel. The mayor’s hard-charging and sometimes combative style is backed by a majority of Chicago voters, according to the poll. Fully 53 percent had a favorable view of the mayor while 40 percent had an unfavorable view. Again, more African-American voters rated Emanuel unfavorably than favorably, 48 percent to 43 percent.
If there is a high point for Emanuel, given Chicago’s political history, it is the poll’s finding that 54 percent of city voters believe the mayor is “honest or trustworthy” compared with 34 percent who disagree.
Although about two-thirds of white voters and 57 percent of Hispanic voters attest to Emanuel’s honesty, the margin is closer among black voters. Fewer than half — 44 percent — consider the mayor honest and trustworthy while 39 percent said the opposite.
Geographically, Emanuel’s greatest job support comes from the wealthy liberal bastion of the lakefront wards. He has the largest disapproval from heavily African-American wards.
Almost half of lakefront voters, 46 percent, believe Emanuel has made the city better off, while 12 percent thought the city was worse off and 39 percent said it was the same.
By comparison, a quarter of residents in black wards said they think the city is worse off, while 17 percent said better off. Additionally, 54 percent of those surveyed in black wards think the mayor has not kept his pledge to keep government from being an insiders’ game. Among lakefront voters, 49 percent think he has kept his vow.