One year in, Lightfoot’s approval rating at 75%, according to poll taken shortly before looting hit city
“She’s almost like the aunt you had down the street. You respected her, even if she was grabbing you by the ear and telling you you were doing something wrong,” said political consultant Pete Giangreco.
Mayor Lori Lightfoot has been on the defensive against those who contend that she protected downtown against looting and mayhem at the expense of Chicago neighborhoods.
Chicago aldermen have accused the mayor of being caught flatfooted by violent protests she should have anticipated, then belatedly imposing a curfew and sealing off downtown. They say that paved the way for the destruction to spill out into South and West Side neighborhoods.
If the mayor’s popularity takes a hit because of the allegations, Lightfoot apparently can afford it.
A poll conducted in late May for the Illinois Clean Jobs Coalition showed Lightfoot’s favorability rating at a sky-high 77%, and her job approval rating at 75%.
The Chicago sample of the statewide poll by Global Strategy Group, Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s pollster, was a relatively small 126 people. That means the margin for error is plus or minus 8 percentage points.
But even if Lightfoot loses 8 percentage points, she would still be in rare air for a big-city mayor who has endured countless controversies during her first year in office.
On April 2, 2019, Lightfoot swept all 50 wards on the way to a 73.7% landslide over Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle.
If the new poll is right, she has held her ground since then — even after enduring a teachers strike, eliminating an $838 million budget shortfall, firing a police superintendent and leading the city through a pandemic.
Peter Giangreco, a veteran Democratic political strategist, does communications for the Illinois Clean Jobs Coalition. He also advised Susana Mendoza’s losing mayoral campaign against Lightfoot.
Giangreco said he’s stunned that Lightfoot’s numbers a year in are “pretty close to the vote she got.”
“Usually, what happens with big-city mayors or governors or presidents is you get a little bit of a honeymoon period, then your numbers dip. Especially when you start as high as she did in the 70s. Nobody stays there,” Giangreco said.
“The events of this last week notwithstanding, through a lot of tough times — a long, hot summer of crime and all of the other challenges that they’ve faced over a whole year — her numbers didn’t erode.”
Before the poll, Giangreco believed Lightfoot’s landslide had more to do with “people voting against Toni” because of her ties to indicted Ald. Edward Burke (14th) than for Lightfoot.
“She has consolidated all of the people who voted for her, plus all of the people who didn’t want to vote for Toni into a bloc that she owns,” Giangreco said.
“If you had asked me a year ago, do you think she keeps up these numbers, I would have said next to impossible. The events of the last week may have had a negative impact on these numbers.
“But it’s amazing that her numbers are this high, given the teachers’ strike, the long hot summer where crime had spiked, the continuing fiscal problems the city has. You would have thought the honeymoon was over, and that’s not the case.”
The Illinois Clean Jobs Coalition is a group of businesses, labor unions, environmental groups and faith leaders pushing an act that calls for closing coal plants, the pollution equivalent of getting 1 millions cars off the road and 100 percent renewable energy by 2050.
The poll was conducted May 18-22. In addition to questions about the still-pending Illinois Clean Jobs Act, respondents were asked extensive questions about the pandemic.
More than anywhere else in the state, Chicagoans surveyed want to take a go-slower approach to reopening the economy. They’re much more concerned about another spike in COVID-19 cases.
That tells Giangreco the strong persona Lightfoot has built in leading the city through the pandemic — shutting off the lakefront, cutting off citywide liquor sales and driving around the city breaking up large groups — has boosted her popularity.
“She’s almost like the aunt you had down the street. You respected her, even if she was grabbing you by the ear and telling you you were doing something wrong,” Giangreco said.
Lightfoot’s political director Dave Mellett acknowledged the “sample size is small. But Mellett said Lightfoot’s numbers are “not far from what we saw” during polling done before the March primary.
“Across the country, a lot of leaders demonstrating strong leadership during the COVID crisis have seen even better numbers than they have before everything started. Andrew Cuomo and Mayor [Bill] de Blasio are two examples,” he said.