A vast majority of Chicagoans don’t consider Mayor Rahm Emanuel to be honest and trustworthy, don’t think he was justified in withholding the Laquan McDonald video and don’t believe his statements about the controversial police shooting, all fueling a record-low job approval, a new Chicago Tribune poll has found.
The survey results confirm a public crisis in confidence for the second-term mayor, who has faced weeks of street protests, accusations of a cover-up and a federal civil rights probe of his Police Department after fighting the public release of police dash-cam video that showed the shooting of the African-American teen by a white police officer.
Some protesters have called for Emanuel to resign, but the poll revealed that a bare majority of Chicago voters don’t think the mayor’s missteps have been so grave that he should quit. Still, 4 in 10 surveyed do want the mayor to resign, including half of black and Latino voters.
The poll reveals the deep public distrust of Emanuel that has developed since the McDonald shooting video was released in late November. Nearly 75 percent of Chicago voters do not believe the mayor’s explanation of how he learned of the details of McDonald’s shooting death, and more than two-thirds say the mayor was not justified in withholding the shooting video.
But the negative voter attitudes toward Emanuel extend beyond his handling of the McDonald case, accentuated by public concern over crime in general, policing, the fate of the city’s public school system and the mayor’s inability to relate to Chicagoans, the poll found.
All of it has led to an all-time low job approval for Emanuel as mayor: Only 27 percent of Chicagoans approve of his job performance, while a record 63 percent disapprove. The poll was conducted by Research America Inc., featuring live landline and cellphone interviews with 985 registered city voters from Jan. 20-28. It has an error margin of 3.2 percentage points.
The mayor’s job approval is down by nearly half from a poll conducted in March 2015, when Emanuel was locked in a runoff election with Cook County Commissioner Jesus “Chuy” Garcia. At that time, 52 percent of voters approved of Emanuel’s job performance while 33 percent disapproved. The mayor’s previous low job-approval rating was 35 percent in August 2014, as he prepared his re-election bid.
A year ago, Emanuel was able to boost his approval rating after spending millions of dollars airing a steady stream of TV ads designed to rehabilitate his political image. The success was thanks in large part to African-Americans coming back around. In August 2014, only 26 percent of black voters approved of the mayor’s job performance, but that number jumped to 51 percent during the campaign. Now, in the aftermath of the McDonald shooting, only 20 percent of African-American voters approve of Emanuel’s leadership while a record 71 percent disapproved.
Among Hispanic voters, two-thirds said they don’t like the job Emanuel is doing, while only 23 percent approve. A majority of white voters — 55 percent — also aren’t satisfied with his job performance, while 37 percent approve. Those approval numbers from both groups are record lows for Emanuel in Tribune polling.
Underlying that deep public disapproval is a widespread lack of trust in Emanuel, the poll found.
Overall, 59 percent of city voters said they viewed Emanuel as not honest and trustworthy, including 64 percent of Hispanics, 63 percent of African Americans and 51 percent of whites. Only 27 percent of city voters said they considered the mayor to be honest and trustworthy.
The loss of public confidence in Emanuel can be traced to voters’ poll responses when asked about the mayor’s handling of, and reaction to, the McDonald shooting.
That timeline has led some to allege Emanuel sought to cover up details of the shooting as he pursued a second term, allegations the mayor has denied.
The Tribune poll found most don’t side with the mayor’s reasoning for withholding the video. Only 21 percent of voters agreed with Emanuel’s decision to fight the McDonald shooting video release, while 68 percent said the mayor’s actions to delay the release were not justified.
Even voters who approved of Emanuel’s overall job performance were sharply split over his handling of the McDonald video, with 45 percent saying the mayor was justified and 40 percent saying he wasn’t. Among those who disapproved of his job performance, 82 percent said Emanuel was not justified in fighting to keep the McDonald video secret.
Emanuel has said he was not aware of the gravity of the McDonald shooting until six months after it happened, shortly before the city agreed to its April settlement with the dead 17-year-old’s family. The mayor has said he did not watch the shooting video until it was released publicly, and has said he was not aware police reports contradicted the video until around 13 months after the shooting, when the reports were released to the public.