2/20: A “Fair” Assessment

By Dr. Lee M. Miringoff

It might be said that in polling you get what you ask for.  That’s the case in the word choice of questions that measure the approval rating of an elected official.  Different polling organizations use different approaches.  For more than three decades, The Marist Poll, has relied upon a four-point question asking respondents to pick from “excellent, good, fair, or poor.”  “Excellent” and “good” in this measure are combined as a positive score.

caricature of Lee Miringoff

In the interest of transparency, all of our poll results are released publicly sometimes creating a poll-watchers give-and-take.  This is the case in the minor dust-up in our latest NYC measure of Mayor Bloomberg.  Some have argued that our measure undercounts how well the mayor is doing because some voters who say “fair” have a positive view of his job performance.

Several points need to be made.  First, we recognize that many voters who believe that Mayor Bloomberg is doing a “fair” job would tell us, if asked, they “approve” of his job performance.  Therefore, on a two-point approve-disapprove question, his job performance would be scored somewhat higher than it is on our four-point measure. But, a two-point measure, which includes some “fair” responses as positive, represents exceedingly tepid support for the mayor and nothing you would want to build a campaign around if you are seeking to replace him next year.  It inflates his standing for 2013 beyond his campaign value.

Second, an approval rating with a four-point measure offers a look at the intensity of voters’ views… the “excellents” and the “poors.”  And, because of our long history of polling New York public officials, we can provide trend data on this question.  Third, the combined “excellent” and “good” responses can serve as a barometer of an office holder’s re-election prospects.

In the case of Mayor Bloomberg this election year, it’s a useful way to assess the potential impact of his endorsement or whether a candidate is helped or harmed by being too closely identified with him.  The results from this Marist Poll of Mayor Blomberg’s approval rating is 50%.  In fact, when New Yorkers are asked specifically whether his endorsement would make them more likely to vote for a candidate, 36% say “yes” and 44% say “no.”

The Mayor need not apologize for a decent approval rating as he approaches a dozen years in office.  But, these numbers suggest that candidates this year will not be running on the mantle of anything that resembles making their election Bloomberg’s fourth term.  Among the Democrats, City Council Speaker Quinn will need to deftly pick and choose from the city’s accomplishments.  For the other Democratic candidates, it requires them to both try to tie Quinn to the mayor while separating themselves from the pack of alternatives. The mayor’s influence is not much different for candidates vying for the Republican nomination.  It’s Rudy Giuliani’s endorsement that matters for the GOP nod.