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Poll bankrolled by Rahm’s biggest donor shows ‘strong chance’ for third term

Mayor Rahm Emanuel speaks to the press during the North American Climate Summit on December 5, 2017 in Chicago. (File Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)

A poll bankrolled by Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s close friend, business adviser and largest political donor shows Emanuel in relatively decent shape to win a third-term if he chooses to pursue it.

Michael Sacks, CEO of Grosvenor Capital Management, asked New York-based Global Strategy Group to take a closer look at the crowded, 2019 race for mayor to do his own assessment of where things stand.

With “lots of polls flying around” portraying Emanuel as virtually unelectable, Sacks turned to a firm he knows and trusts to take another look.

Global Strategy Group does polling for Democratic gubernatorial candidate J.B. Pritzker. The firm has also done polling for New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio and New York Governor Andrew Cuomo.

The poll of 600 likely mayoral election voters was conducted July 22 to 29. It included both cell phones and land lines and has a margin of error of plus or minus 4 percentage points.

Results for Emanuel were far from a slam dunk. But, they are encouraging, nevertheless, considering the conventional wisdom that he faces an uphill climb to win a third-term.

  • Emanuel’s job approval rating stands at 50 percent and is “above water” across all demographic groups. Despite the continuing fallout from the mayor’s handling of the Laquan McDonald shooting video, Emanuel’s highest job approval rating comes from African-Americans at 53 percent, followed by Hispanics 51 percent and whites 48 percent.
  • In a Round One sampling that includes six candidates, Emanuel leads the field with 32 percent of the vote. Garry McCarthy is a distant second at 13 percent, followed by Paul Vallas (9 percent), Lori Lightfoot and Willie Wilson (both at 8 percent) and Dorothy Brown (6 percent). County Commissioner Bridget Gainer had just 1 percent. She has since decided not to enter the race.
  • Emanuel’s share of the vote rises to 48 percent, just shy of the 50 percent-plus-one needed to avoid a runoff, when voters receive “simulated positive and negative messaging about all of the candidates” akin to television commericals. In that case, McCarthy is the only challenger to get into double-digits and just barely — at 10 percent.
  • If, as expected, there is a runoff, Emanuel holds a commanding lead over all challengers in head-to-head match-ups before any positive or negative messaging. Vallas comes the closest with 37 percent of the vote to Emanuel’s 44 percent. McCarthy is 13 percentage points behind. Lightfoot is 16 percentage points behind.
  • When voters are told only positive things about the mayor and his challengers, Emanuel opens up a double-digit lead against all comers. Lighfoot comes closest with 38 percent of the vote to Emanuel’s 48 percent. Emanuel has a 14-percentage point edge over Vallas and a 20 percentage point lead over McCarthy.
  • Emanuel is in even better shape when pollsters simulate negative advertising about him and his challengers. He mauls McCarthy with 60 percent of the vote to McCarthy’s 25 percent. The mayor also records landslide victories over Lightfoot [by a 31 percentage point margin] and Vallas [with a 29 percentage point advantage.]

Sacks said he decided to commission his own poll because, “I felt like a lot of the poll numbers being thrown around were lacking integrity.” He noted that he has also “done my own numbers work before when looking at disparate school funding claims” and before determining that Chicago’s bond rating was “too low.”

“I believe the poll shows that Rahm is the clear favorite. He basically clobbers all candidates. I can’t imagine that any of the myriad candidates see things differently,” Sacks wrote in a text message to the Sun-Times.

File Photos. Top row, left to right: Paul Vallas. | Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times; Lori Lightfoot, | Rich Hein/Sun-Times; Mayor Rahm Emanuel, | Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times; Willie Wilson. | Michael Schmidt/Sun-Times. Bottom row: Dorothy Brown | Rich Hein/Sun-Times; N
File Photos. Top row, left to right: Paul Vallas. | Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times; Lori Lightfoot, | Rich Hein/Sun-Times; Mayor Rahm Emanuel, | Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times; Willie Wilson. | Michael Schmidt/Sun-Times. Bottom row: Dorothy Brown | Rich Hein/Sun-Times; Neal Sales Griffin| Al Podgorski /Sun-Times; Garry McCarthy. | Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times; Troy LaRaviere. | Lou Foglia/Sun-Times.

In a telephone interview Monday, pollster Jeff Pollock said the “bottom line” for Emanuel is that he stands “a strong chance” to earn a third-chance from Chicago voters and “starts off in poll position to do so.”

“Is it gonna be easy? No. The last one wasn’t either. But, there are plenty of numbers here to suggest that he can be victorious,” Pollock said.

Pollock noted that the crowded field of challengers “lacks any standout candidate” and that all of those challengers “will need to invest significantly … to introduce themselves to voters and rise above the fray if they wish to force their way into a runoff” against the embattled incumbent.

“He’s sitting there in a dominant position against any one of the people” who might force him into a runoff, Pollock said.

“The data shows that he certainly has multiple paths to success. It’s really a question of what happens in the first round. Can he push his numbers up before then? But even there, the mayor has such a strong advantage, given his resource advantage. None of the other candidates are really raising the kind of resources one needs to communicate in a city like Chicago.”

Emanuel survived the 2015 run-off by spending a record $24 million and winning 64 percent of the white vote, 57.3 percent of the black vote and 39 percent among Hispanics.

Since then, he has imposed a $2 billion avalanche of tax increases just to begin to solve the $30 billion pension crisis at the city and the Chicago Public Schools.

He has also struggled to control violent crime. In fact, the new poll was taken before a weekend bloodbath that saw 71 people shot, 12 of them killed.

But, the new poll shows that the mayor’s running legal and political battle against President Donald Trump has succeeded in bolstering his standing among Hispanic voters, whose support Emanuel needs to overcome a drop in black support tied to his handling of the Laquan McDonald shooting video.

The Sacks poll paints a far more optimistic picture for Emanuel than two earlier polls conducted for the McCarthy and Lightfoot campaigns. Both portrayed Emanuel as virtually unelectable.