Mayor Bill de Blasio on Thursday signed into law a bill dramatically expanding the number of workers who can take paid sick leave. Fans and foes seem to agree that it’s a fairly significant piece of legislation. But sick leave was not one of topics broached by Quinnipiac University pollsters when they conducted a survey of 1,200 New Yorkers a few days ago.
Quinnipiac, one of two major polling institutes that regularly cover New York City politics (Marist is the other), put out two de Blasio polls this week, one on specific policy areas and another on general opinions about the mayor. The latter found that solid majorities are optimistic about the future and confident in the mayor’s honesty and leadership, but fewer than half approve of the job de Blasio is doing.
That number appears to bolster the idea that de Blasio is losing the city. “After electing the progressive firebrand Bill de Blasio in a historic landslide last fall, New York City voters’ opinion of their new mayor, just three months on the job, is pretty much, ‘Meh,’” is how the Christian Science Monitor put it.
Meh? Ugh! Approval rates rise and approval rates fall. At this point in Mike Bloomberg’s first term, his approval rating was at 62 percent. Within fifteen months, he was at an ice-cold 32 percent. A couple years later he was re-elected by a large margin. We could spend hours talking about the unique dynamics of Bloomberg’s trajectory, but that’d be boring. The take-home message is that de Blasio’s numbers are going to go up and down for as long as he’s mayor.
The more specific questions in both Q polls may say more, albeit indirectly, about where the mayor stands. As mentioned above, sick leave was not one of the things the surveys asked about. Nor did they query about stop-and-frisk, racial profiling, the city budget, the Domino development deal or the VisionZero proposal—major decisions the mayor has taken so far.
They did ask about charter schools, horse carriages, pre-K taxes, the mayor’s motorcade and a “telephone inquiry about the arrest of a politically influential clergy member.” The answers on those all look pretty grim for the mayor. More people want more charter schools than fewer, and most people prefer Governor Cuomo’s plan for funding UPK to the mayor’s proposed high-earners’ tax. Most people oppose the idea of banning carriage horses (which the mayor supports), think de Blasio’s call about Bishop Findlayter’s arrest was “special treatment,” and don’t buy the argument that the reason for “the mayor’s car disregarding traffic regulations” was “protecting the mayor’s security.”
This is just a single poll, of course, and it’s still early days and all that, but if you want to worry about something, it’s a warning sign. The problem isn’t that the mayor faces some broad opposition to some of his agenda. Even very popular mayors sometimes do unpopular things—that sort of comes with the gig. It’s only an issue when your mayoralty comes to be defined by those unpopular things. That’s the bigger problem here—that the narrative of de Blasio’s mayoralty is being dominated by bad headlines and unpopular stances, when the real story is broader, deeper and more favorable.
When I was a kid I remember being at a family party where the grown-ups were discussing Field of Dreams. One relative talked about it as a movie about the relationship between the Kevin Costner character and his father. “Really?” said another. “I thought it was about baseball.” And yeah, if you just watch the movements on the screen, it is just about baseball, and one man’s unorthodox approach to farm economics. But it’s a way better movie if you look a little deeper.