Still Liking Bill

Poll shows Knoxvillians pretty happy with city government

If Bill Haslam were running for mayor instead of occupying the governor’s office, he would win in a walk. If you examine the internals of the poll Madeline Rogero released last week, you see that the recently departed mayor has a favorability rating that remains at 74 percent. (Rogero favorability is at 60 percent, Ivan Harmon at 45 percent and Mark Padgett at 42 percent.)

If you look at the right track/wrong track number for city government, the number of people who think the city is on the right course is 20 points higher than those who think it’s not.

What I surmise from these numbers is that few people are mad or upset at city government. People still like the departed mayor and most people think things are swell in the city. In election terms, there aren’t a lot of angry voters out there about to rise up and run to the polls.

It is a continuity election, as the professional pols put it. Not a change election.

Another question in the poll concerns the importance of having experience in city government. It scores 62 percent as “very important.” (Advantage city department head Rogero.) The question about the importance of private business experience, Padgett’s main theme, rates a 42 percent in the “very important” category.

So people are happy with city government and think experience in city government is important. Maybe that explains why Rogero is well ahead in the race. She’s at 40 percent in the poll, Harmon’s at 20 percent and Padgett at 13 percent.

It is a rich irony, after the bitter campaign of 2003 between Rogero and Haslam, that Rogero may be perceived as the “incumbent” in the race—experience in a city government that most people are happy with.

The number of undecideds is at a high 22 percent. But the number of Republicans undecided is twice as high as the number of Democrats. That seems to me to indicate a large number of Republicans who haven’t decided whether to vote for Harmon, the only Republican in the race, or vote for a Democrat. Or a large number of Republicans who won’t tell a pollster they intend to vote for a Democrat.

Do voters want a hard-charging executive or a conciliator? A question on the ability to make decisions with very little consultation scored 54 percent. A question about the ability to bring people together to get things done scored a 78. I leave it to you to decide who that favors.

On most questions, gender didn’t seem to matter. But on the importance of neighborhoods, women scored it 10 points higher than men. And worries about crime was 11 points higher among women. Everybody thinks jobs and low taxes are important.

Among African-Americans there were a few questions where the numbers varied significantly. On the issue of strong neighborhoods being very important African-Americans were at 80 percent with whites at 68. African-Americans rated crime as a worry 10 points higher than whites.

The poll confirms Rogero’s status as the front-runner. The only worrisome aspect is the high number of undecideds, and she is short of a majority to win without a runoff. But it does not appear that the Democrats will be split between her and Padgett. She has a base. Harmon has a base of Republican support. Padgett does not have a base.

(You have to be careful when a candidate pays for and releases a poll. That’s why I examined the cross tabs, the questions, answers and the vital statistics data. I found the poll internally consistent and it mostly confirms conventional wisdom about the race. Public Policy Polling also has a good reputation among pollsters for its accuracy. I would add that polling in a city election is tricky, you have to find the people who will actually vote, which can be difficult in a low turnout election. But I found the poll useful enough to use. I would also be happy to analyze and report on the internal questions and answers of any other candidate that would like to share their polling information, as the Rogero campaign did.)

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