Poll: Chicago Voters Sour on Rahm, Tax Hikes

The eventual and tormented release of the Laquan McDonald shooting death video in January pulverized Mayor Rahm Emanuel's political standing with Chicago voters.

Now a political recovery of sorts has begun. But barely.

A new automated poll commissioned by The Illinois Observer of 582 likely 2016 voters finds that Emanuel's job performance rating remains underwater, but signs of recuperation have emerged.

The August 29 survey conducted by Illinois Public Opinion Strategies, Inc. shows Emanuel with a job approval of 32.3% and a disapproval of 49.0% or 17-points underwater. 18.7% are undecided. The poll's margin of error was +/- 4.75%

As grim as that may look, it's an improvement over a Chicago Tribune survey published on February 1 several weeks after the release of the McDonald video.

In that Tribune poll, Emanuel's job approval rating stood at 27% and his disapproval clocked in at an ugly 63%. And almost 75% said Emanuel's subsequent explanation of his knowledge surrounding the details of McDonald's death was unbelievable.

The passage of time and an aggressive effort by Emanuel to mend fences with voters, particularly African-Americans, has paid some dividends, pushing down his disapproval rating and generating a slight bump in his approval.

But, man, he's got a long way to go.

Emanuel's fundamental political weakness is on vivid display in a hypothetical 2019 match up against potential candidates who may want his job, according to The Insider poll.

In a head-to-head contest that includes ex-Governor Pat Quinn, 2011 mayoral candidate and Cook County Commissioner Jesus "Chuy" Garcia, and Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart, Dart leads Emanuel 24.8%-21.1%. Garcia and Quinn trail the mayor by a point or two, coming in at 20.1% and 19.2%, respectively. The poll, which identified each candidate by their current office, has 14.7% undecided.

If Emanuel were to run again, the survey suggests that he could be eliminated in the first round of a crowded primary field unless he dramatically improves his standing with voters. Moreover, that Emanuel's support nearly matches Quinn's should equally unnerve the mayor's political team.

Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle, who insists that she will not run for mayor, has a far more formidable position among Chicago voters with 48.7% approving of her job performance and 33.9% disapproving. 17.4% are undecided.

Weighing on Emanuel's political fortunes likely includes more than the fallout from the McDonald episode, but also the bevy tax and fee increases being imposed on and waved at Chicago voters. When confronted by the raw numbers of the hundreds of millions of dollars demanded from taxpayers to rescue public employee pension funds voters are recoiling with intense disapproval, according to the poll.

Asked if they approve or disapprove of "Mayor Rahm Emanuel and the Chicago City Council's action to raise property taxes by $839 million in order to fully fund public employee pensions" voters responded with a thumping "no." Just 18.3% approve of the property tax increases and 71.3% disapprove. 10.4% are undecided.

Questioned on their reaction to "Mayor Rahm Emanuel's appointed Chicago Board of Education decision to raise property taxes by $250 million" and voter approval sinks further to 16.4% while disapproval ticks up to 75.0%. 8.6% are undecided.

Wait. There's more.

Reaction to "Mayor Rahm Emanuel's plan to raise Chicago homeowners' water and sewer bills by $239 million in order to fully fund public employee pensions" is also underwater, drowning, actually. The poll says 17.2% approve and 74.7% disapprove and 8.1% are dizzy with indecision.

While the mayor is attempting to orchestrate the city's financial rescue and manage the political radioactivity that tax and fee hikes generate, Emanuel is also seeking to manage Chicago's crime-related violence and the political forces on both sides of that issue: supporters of the Black Lives Matters movement and backers of the Chicago Police Department.

The Illinois Observer's poll reveals that each camp finds favor and disfavor in nearly equal measure among Chicago voters.

The survey says that 43.2% of voters have a "favorable" opinion of Black Lives Matter and 35.8% have an "unfavorable" opinion of the group. 21.0% are undecided. Meanwhile, 47.9% have a "favorable" opinion of the embattled Chicago Police Department and 34.7% have an "unfavorable" attitude about CPD. 17.4% are undecided.

The mayor must maneuver carefully around crime and policing issues with public opinion nearly split regarding their views regarding two key players.

Emanuel's challenge going forward is to overcome the blow to his credibility in the wake of the McDonald scandal - and it was a scandal - and he seems to be inching forward on that front. But he'll need to amp up the pace of progress on that issue and others if he wants to be a viable contender for a third term in 2019.

Stay tuned.