City Hall

PubliQuestion: Voters—Especially Young Voters—Shrug Off McGinn's Bumpy Start

By Sandeep Kaushik March 25, 2010

We're excited to announce the introduction of PubliQuestion, a new—and we hope recurring—experiment in insta-polling. The idea is simple: Every couple of weeks, or when a issue of major civic interest is breaking, PubliCola, in partnership with the polling experts at Seattle’s EMC Research, will poll on the topic du jour and offer the results to our readers.
Do you have a favorable or unfavorable opinion of Mike McGinn?
Favorable:  33%
Unfavorable: 25%
Undecided: 43%

Do you approve or  disapprove of the job Mike McGinn is doing as Seattle Mayor?
Approve:   31%
Disapprove:   23%
Not sure:  45%

Do you approve or disapprove of the job the Seattle City Council is doing?
Approve: 33%
Disapprove: 26%
Not Sure: 41%

Read on, we also polled the three viaduct options head to head to head—tunnel, surface-transtit, elevated.

In addition, each poll will include several more in-depth questions for purchase. For example, today's poll gives you the low-down on what voters in Seattle think of Mike McGinn. Weighted crosstabs and the responses to additional questions, like "Who would win if the Mayor's race was today?" are available for a $5 fee.

PubliQuestion: Seattle Voters Split on Mayor Mike McGinn When it comes to how Seattle voters perceive Mayor Mike McGinn, the generation gap is more like a chasm.

That's the conclusion we draw from our initial PubliQuestion poll, in which we measured public support for Mayor Mike McGinn.

As PubliCola readers are well aware, McGinn has been caught up in multiple battles in his first months in office, including a controversial proposal for a seawall ballot measure that has inflamed tensions with the City Council, an abortive (or at least delayed) effort to slash 200 strategic advisors from the city payroll that has provoked a noisy backlash from city employees, the departure of respected department heads like former Budget Director Dwight Dively (who decamped to play the same role at King County after McGinn demoted him), the failure to get his ballot in on time in a school levy election (after making a possible mayoral takeover of the Seattle schools an early campaign theme) and the high-profile resignation of McGinn campaign confidant and mayoral advisor Chris Bushnell, whom PubliCola caught inflating his academic resume.

So how is the public reacting to this storm of bad press? Apparently, mostly with a shrug. Our poll of 681 registered voters in Seattle found that the jury is mostly still out on our new mayor. Forty-three percent of Seattleites, a plurality, said they were undecided when asked if they had a favorable or unfavorable opinion of Mayor McGinn. Asked about the mayor’s job performance, 45 percent said they were unsure. Among those who have an opinion, 33 percent view the mayor favorably, while 25 percent give him the thumbs down.

On the job performance question, the split is similar: Thirty-one percent approve of the job McGinn is doing, while 23 percent disapprove, the same eight-point margin. Those aren't great numbers, but they're not as bad as one might have expected, given the intensity of the anti-McGinn sentiment in certain corners of the press. And in case you were wondering McGinn’s numbers are almost exactly the same as those for the Seattle City Council—33 percent approve of the job the council is doing, while 26 percent disapprove.

It's when you dig into the numbers that things get interesting. First, there is a gender divide, with men more skeptical and women more supportive of the mayor (at least among those who have formed an opinion). Men are almost evenly split on job performance (31 approve-28 disapprove) while women solidly approve of his performance (32 approve-19 disapprove). Mayor McGinn garners strong support from Democrats and Independents; both groups give him a net favorable job approval (+10 among Dems, +15 among Independents), while as might be expected of the green former Sierra Club leader, Republicans (a tiny fraction of the Seattle electorate) heartily disapprove (-41 net job approval).

But the biggest split is generational. Voters under 35 are the bedrock of McGinn’s support. They are the only demographic group where he gets majority favorable and job approval ratings. Under-35s have a high opinion of McGinn and like the job he is doing by a more than three to one margin (57-17 favorable). In contrast, middle-aged voters (45-59 years old) tend to think poorly of how the mayor is doing (24 percent approve, 30 percent disapprove), while the 60+ crowd is close to evenly split. The City Council, on the other hand, barely breaks even with the under-35 set (29-28 job approval) while posting strong job approval numbers with middle-aged voters.

Based on these results, PubliQuestion has two advice points for our civic Commander-in-Chief:

• Keep on truckin’. McGinn’s early controversies may have caught the attention of the city’s hypercivic types, but they haven’t had much impact with less engaged voters (another data point: perfect voters, who tend to pay more attention to day to day developments in politics and civic affairs, are generally down on the mayor, -7 net job approval, while those who voted in fewer than two of the last four elections, and presumably don't pay much attention to political news, remain very positive at +33 net job approval). And as we mentioned, a plurality of voters has yet to form an opinion on the McGinn administration. That means that McGinn, whatever his early missteps, still has a real opportunity to shape his image in a positive direction, and all that talk in the blog comment threads (you know who you are) about his inevitability as a one-termer is premature at best.

• Stay cool. The support of those green urbanist younger voters, who don’t have much connection to the city’s established centers of power and don’t much care what the Seattle Times editorial page thinks, are McGinn’s political lifeline, and are probably more influenced by his image as a eco-urban outsider than they are by the print (or web) headlines. The next mayoral election is years away, but if McGinn ever loses the support of New Seattle, or begin to seem like just another conventional politician, he is going to be in a world of political hurt.

More on our PubliQuestion poll tomorrow, including surprising details about how McGinn's preferred surface-transit viaduct replacement option stands up against the deep-bore tunnel and a viaduct rebuild in a head-to-head vote. But in the meantime, are you curious how McGinn would fare against Greg Nickels and Joe Mallahan if a primary were held today? To learn more about our poll results (including complete crosstabs), click here.

Our process worked like this: We pick the topics and brainstorm interesting (and we hope revealing) questions, and EMC writes the poll to make sure the wording is neutral and analyzes and interprets the results. Aristotle provides our calling sample through their VoterListsOnline tool. The poll is fielded using cutting-edge robo-polling technology developed by Precision Polling, another Seattle-based firm whose polling technology is reducing the cost of professional polling.
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