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Poll: Chicagoans more in step with teachers than city over walkout

The Chicago Sun-Times/ABC7 Poll found 49% of voters either strongly or somewhat support a walkout, while 38% are opposed. CPS parents were more likely to support a strike – and to blame Lightfoot for the ordeal. 

Members of the Chicago Teachers Union and SEIU Local 73 march through the Loop on Oct. 14.
Members of the Chicago Teachers Union and SEIU Local 73 march through the Loop after a rally, three days before the unions could walk off the job on strike, Monday afternoon.
Ashlee Rezin Garcia/Sun-Times

Nearly half of Chicago voters would support a teachers strike, and they would be more likely to hold Chicago Public Schools and city officials responsible for the walkout than the union and its leaders.

But if Chicago teachers do hit the streets, only a sliver of voters would personally blame Mayor Lori Lightfoot for the work stoppage.

Those are the key findings of a Chicago Sun-Times/ABC7 Chicago poll conducted by Public Policy Polling. The survey was done Friday and Saturday with automated telephone interviews of 618 Chicago voters.

The poll, which has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.9 percentage points, offers a lens into the public relations war that has been waged in recent weeks by the city and Chicago Teachers Union to win the hearts and minds of city taxpayers and CPS parents. Winning public support is paramount as negotiations come to a head and pressure mounts on the two sides to work out an agreement.

The survey found 49% of voters either strongly or somewhat support a walkout, while 38% are opposed.

About 35% said they would hold CPS or city officials responsible if a strike happens, and another 12% would personally blame Lightfoot.

The Chicago Teachers Union and teachers in general, meanwhile, would provoke the ire of 19% of voters, while another 16% would hold union leader Jesse Sharkey responsible.

Chicago Teachers Union President Jesse Sharkey (front row, second from left) and Vice President Stacy Davis Gates (third from left) march with members of the CTU and SEIU Local 73 through the Loop after a rally, three days before the unions could walk off the job on strike, Monday afternoon, Oct. 14, 2019.
Chicago Teachers Union President Jesse Sharkey (front row, second from left) and Vice President Stacy Davis Gates (third from left) march through the Loop Monday.
Ashlee Rezin Garcia/Sun-Times

CPS parents, who made up a quarter of the voters polled, were more likely to support a strike – and to blame Lightfoot for the ordeal. More than half supported a strike and nearly one in five parents placed responsibility personally on the mayor.

Asked who would be hurt most by a strike, 62% said CPS students. Voters expect minimal impacts on parents, taxpayers and the city’s reputation. Only 2% said the CTU would be harmed by a strike.

Despite more voters being in support of a strike than against one, it appears the mayor could be held relatively harmless by voters if one were to happen.

While former Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s early reputation by many accounts took a hit when the CTU went on strike in 2012, Lightfoot is still receiving generally positive reviews from voters in her first five months in office.

The freshman mayor’s approval rating stands at 54%, with 15% expressing disapproval. Almost a third of voters say they’re not sure what to think of Lightfoot’s performance.

Among those who voted for Lightfoot, 66% approve of the job she’s doing. She received positive reviews from 48% of voters who backed rival mayoral candidate Toni Preckwinkle.

A few months before the 2012 teachers’ strike, Emanuel’s job approval rating stood at 52% with 29% disapproving, according to a Chicago Tribune/WGN-TV poll. But Emanuel’s numbers took a nosedive in later years according to subsequent polls.

Mayor Lori Lightfoot discussed contract negotiations with the Chicago Teachers Union during a press conference at Daniel Webster Elementary School.
Mayor Lori Lightfoot discussed contract negotiations with the Chicago Teachers Union during a press conference at Daniel Webster Elementary School.
Ashlee Rezin Garcia/Sun-Times

So Lightfoot can take comfort in her reviews, the pollster said.

“That’s a heck of an approval rating for any elected official,” said pollster Jim Williams, who conducted the survey. “Even more unusual is the lack of disapproval. Normally anyone you look at is under water. ... This is a particularly sparkling rating.”

The city and union returned to the bargaining table Monday with both sides saying they hoped to reach an agreement early in the week ahead of a Thursday strike deadline.

Hundreds of teachers were joined by school support staff and Chicago Park District workers represented by SEIU Local 73 at a downtown rally and march Monday afternoon.