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Rahm Emanuel’s allies dismiss negative Internet poll on mayor

Mayor Rahm Emanuel talks with medifollowing City Council meeting Wednesday December 12 2012. I John H. White~Sun-Times

Mayor Rahm Emanuel talks with media following City Council meeting Wednesday, December 12, 2012. I John H. White~Sun-Times

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Updated: February 21, 2013 6:31PM

Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s political allies on Thursday dismissed as unreliable and “way off” an Internet poll that showed Emanuel’s approval rating taking a nose-dive following the teachers strike and the continuing bloodbath on Chicago streets.

The statewide survey of 600 Illinois voters conducted for Crain’s Chicago Business showed a precipitous drop in Emanuel’s approval rating among suburban and Downstate voters.

Voters who described themselves as approving of the mayor — either strongly, somewhat or leaning in a positive direction — fell from 34 percent last fall to just 19 percent. Emanuel’s disapproval rating rose from 33 percent last fall to 50 percent.

The fall from grace was smaller but still significant among Chicago voters, who will pass judgment on Emanuel in 2015, assuming the mayor stands for re-election.

Only 19 percent of Chicagoans surveyed now approve of the job Emanuel is doing — either strongly, somewhat or leaning that way — down from 37 percent last fall.

Chicago voters who describe themselves as disapproving of the mayor in some way held fairly steady — from 33 percent last fall to 35 percent. But 30 percent of Chicagoans surveyed now have “mixed feelings” about Emanuel, up from 21 percent last fall. Voters who described themselves as unsure rose from 12 percent to 16 percent.

It all adds up to, what Crain’s described as a “minus-16” rating for Emanuel in Chicago, compared to a “plus-4” in September.

Mayoral allies were quick to dismiss the new survey, arguing that Internet polls are notoriously unreliable because they are not based on random sampling.

They further argued that the Crain’s numbers directly contradict surveys conducted by Emanuel’s own pollsters and results of statewide and regional polls commissioned recently by other politicians.

“His standing is far more robust than is reflected in this polling — both inside the city and outside. I’ve seen other polling …This poll is off to me in almost every way,” said David Axelrod, Emanuel’s former White House colleague and friend of 30 years.

“When you’re a chief executive dealing with tough issues, and we’ve got some right now, there can be some fluctuation in numbers. But, these are far off the mark.”

Another mayoral confidante, who asked to remain anonymous, dismissed Internet polls as “cheap, ridiculous, completely random and unreliable”— so much so that political campaigns steer clear of them.

“We’ve seen statewide, congressional, aldermanic and ward numbers that are not only contrary to these numbers, but show the mayor in very strong standing among the electorate,” the Emanuel confidante said.

John Anzalone, a political pollster who has done work for state Senate Democrats and President Barack Obama, said when Crain’s internet poll last fall showed Emanuel with an approval rating of 37 percent in Chicago, Anzalone’s firm had the mayor at over 52 percent.

“This thing is funky. It was funky back in October and it’s funky now. Our numbers are way different than theirs,” said Anzalone, who was “in the field for another client” he refused to identify.

“We’re using strict methodology, probability-based sampling and both land-lines and cell phones. If you’re doing just internet, you’re missing a huge universe of voters. You’re missing young people and minorities who are on their tablets and cell phones. You’re also missing low-income and older voters who aren’t responding to internet polls.”

In between the two Crain’s polls, Chicago teachers went on strike for the first time in 25 years fueled by their anger against a mayor who stripped them of a previously-negotiated, 4 percent pay raise and offered schools and teachers extra money to waive the teachers contract and immediately implement his longer school day.

With the Chicago Public Schools facing a $1 billion shortfall, Emanuel is now confronting the political quagmire of school closings, which threatens to touch off a political firestorm in the black community.

The mayor also has struggled to control a spike in homicides and shootings fueled by gang violence that claimed the life of 15-year-old Hadiya Pendelton.

If the Crain’s poll is even remotely accurate, it could impact the presidential ambitions that Emanuel continues to insist he doesn’t have, despite persistent speculation to the contrary.

But Axelrod said, “If I were him, I would not be worried about either the polls or future aspirations. I’d be worried about dealing with the fundamental challenges facing the city — and that’s where his attention is. People know they’ve got a guy there who’s fighting hard. Nobody thinks he’s sitting there with his feet on his desk.”

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