The Big Picture: What We Found
The pessimism that permeates national and local media coverage of Chicago is not fake news. It's very real. "It's bad across the board," our pollster, Jill Normington, told me and Max. A majority of people think Chicago is off track no matter how Jill cuts the data — by age, education, race, gender, liberal vs. conservative, etc. Further, 84 percent of respondents felt that our state and city's financial woes were hurting business expansion in Chicago. Below I explain why we launched the poll and who we polled, and then I unpack this data on negativity in more detail and present the three insights from the poll I found most surprising.
Why launch the Temkin/Harris Poll?
IN SUMMER 2017, Max Temkin and I were seeking a better understanding of the city in which we live. Max came up with the idea to do a poll — the Temkin/Harris poll. And I began the hunt for a respected pollster. We chose Jill Normington of Normington, Petts & Associates in Washington, D.C., whose clients include U.S. Senator Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.).
Normally, Jill only polls self-declared "likely voters." That's because the purpose of the poll is to help elect her client, and politicians do not care about the opinions of people who don't vote.
Max and I aren't running for office. We just wanted an unfiltered pulse on our community. So we asked Jill to poll registered voters. The result is that our sample of 500 Chicagoans contains more young people and more Hispanics than a pool of likely voters; but it looks a lot more like Chicago as a whole.
This may seem like a minor detail. But for any student of politics, the distinction is important. And it means you shouldn't use this poll to predict who will win an election. It can be used, however, to summarize how Chicagoans feel about a person, problem or institution. Scroll down to read what we found as well as the top-line (overall) results.
Respondents by Race
Respondents by Political Affiliation
Percent of Respondents by Education
Percent of Respondents by Age
Is Chicago on the right track?
The numbers here are just terrible. Interestingly more voters (69 percent) than non-voters (59 percent) said the city was off track versus on track. In fact, the best number in the entire break-down on this question was among non-voters; possibly this modicum of satisfaction explains their lack of participation. African-Americans surveyed were almost as equally negative (75 percent) as people who identified themselves as conservative (78 percent). And surprisingly, whether one had a college degree made zero difference in the responses. If I were to sum up the feelings of the Chicago electorate, I'd say, "Angry," and this could be an omen for incumbent alderman.
Is Chicago headed in the right direction or on the wrong track?
By Education: Are we on the wrong track?
By race: Are we on the wrong track?
The Police Department
Half of voters surveyed gave the police department a favorable rating, the highest among the President, governor, mayor and two leading Democratic gubernatorial challengers. (That means they chose either "very favorable" or "somewhat favorable.")
What most people want to know is how the results break down by race. Of African-Americans polled, it does change, although not as much as I expected. The breakdown is: 11 percent very favorable; 24 percent somewhat favorable; 23 percent neutral; 17 percent somewhat unfavorable; and 20 percent very unfavorable. And at 37 percent total unfavorable among African-Americans, that's almost exactly where Rahm Emanuel stands (36 percent).
African-Americans' Opinion of the Chicago Police Department
Who's To Blame
Chicago has financial problems, but voters have no clue who to blame. Leading the rankings is Gov. Bruce Rauner with 22 percent of respondents, which is remarkable given he's not even a local official; followed by former Mayor Richard Daley (20 percent); Mayor Rahm Emanuel (16 percent); the State Legislature (16 percent); "don't know" (12 percent); the City Council (10 percent); and holding the least blame: unions representing city employees (4 percent). With a margin of error of plus or minus 4.4 percent, the only thing for certain is that Chicagoans do not know who to blame, and they don't blame workers. At all.
As a communications consultant, what this tells me is that the governor's endless union-bashing has done little to reassign blame, in Chicago at least. And the gap between blame assigned to Rauner and blame assigned to workers is so large as to be impossible for him to close. Further, the attacks Mayor Emanuel has launched at the governor over school funding seem to be effective.
From a political perspective, Rauner, at least, has the buffer of suburban, rural and downstate Republicans. Mayor Emanuel does not, leaving me to consider whether the 2012 teacher strike inflicted serious and lasting damage on him (although I have no polling data from that period to prove it).
Whom do you most blame for Chicago's financial problems?
The first fact to establish is that middle-aged and old people vote. And the difference is stark. Of the people age 18 to 44 surveyed, 67 percent said they would definitely vote versus 87 percent among people aged 45 to 59, and 81 percent age 60 and up. That's a substantial difference. So let's break down where these likely voters get their news.
Where do Chicagoans over 45 get their news?
What We Missed
Due to the timing of this poll, Max and I did not fully capture the electorate's response to Chris Kennedy's selection of Ra Joy as his running mate. We also did not anticipate how controversial the soda tax would be, and thus did not poll on that issue or on Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle. We acknowledge the omissions.