Goofus and Gallant

The difference between Rahm Emanuel’s and Pat Quinn’s approval ratings is the difference between a politician who won an office because the voters thought he was the best candidate, and a politician who twice gained office because he wasn’t quite as bad as the other guy.

A poll of 600 voters, conducted for Emanuel, finds his approval rating at 79 percent, and his disapproval rating at only 16 percent. He’s equally popular among whites (83 percent), blacks (78 percent) and Latinos (78 percent.) 70 percent of voters give Emanuel high marks for honesty, 72 percent think he has the right priorities, and 76 percent believe he “fights for what is right for Chicago.”

Those are definitely honeymoon numbers. Emanuel has yet to submit a budget, and he’s been deft at laying the city’s deficit at the feet of his predecessor, Richard M. Daley. His struggle with the Chicago Teachers Union over longer hours without higher wages has not yet reached the point at which the public will be forced to take sides. Gapers Block’s Aaron Krager thinks the mayor should enjoy the air up there, because it’s never going to get better than this:

It would take a big scandal or catastrophe for his favorability numbers to plummet in the short-term. In the long-term they will more than likely trend downwards (they are so high right now it is about the only place for them to go). It comes with the territory and it also comes with making tougher decisions that are inevitably ahead. These decision will start to impact everyday people and they will take a notice. Their opinion of the mayor will then change.

Emanuel would really have to screw up to be as unpopular as Governor Quinn, whose approval rating was last measured in March at 30.6 percent. Quinn has repeatedly manage to bumble his way to the top because his rivals were even less politically adept than he is. Rod Blagojevich was impeached, Dan Hynes aired an that used Harold Washington to bash Quinn, and Bill Brady, as one commenter aptly put it, thought he could win despite acting like a jerk to everyone in Cook County. Quinn won the election even as his approval rating declined, and then used political capital he didn’t possess to force through a 67 percent tax increase.

The fact that Emanuel is vastly more popular than Quinn doesn’t seem to be doing him any good in their fight over gambling expansion. Maybe Quinn is just waiting for Emanuel to fail, like every other politician who’s stood in his way. He’s learned you don’t have to be popular to get ahead. You just have to be less unpopular than the other guy. 

Buy this book! Ward Room blogger Edward McClelland's book, Young Mr. Obama: Chicago and the Making of a Black President , is available Amazon. Young Mr. Obama includes reporting on President Obama's earliest days in the Windy City, covering how a presumptuous young man transformed himself into presidential material. Buy it now!

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