Mayor Nutter may have angered Philadelphians with his push to close city libraries, fire companies and pools, but a substantial majority of residents continue to stand behind him, according to a new poll.
In the first public poll since the mayor in November called for far-reaching cuts in response to the city's budget crisis, 71 percent of respondents rated Nutter favorably. Among his fans were residents whose profiles matched the demographic that elected him - affluent, white, college-educated Philadelphians.
Commissioned by the Pew Charitable Trusts, the poll also indicated that residents are more optimistic about Philadelphia's future than in the few years just prior to Nutter's election.
The poll of 1,600 adult residents was conducted Jan. 2 to Jan. 19, so most of it was completed before Nutter's Jan. 15 announcement that the city faced a second $1 billion budget shortfall in the next five years. The poll's margin of error was plus or minus 2.5 percentage points.
Released yesterday, the findings are a glimmer of good news that Nutter may want to keep close as he studies ways - including possible tax hikes - to close that $1 billion hole before March 19, when he is scheduled to deliver his annual spending plan to City Council.
At the least, the mayor can be relieved that he no longer has to focus on convincing Philadelphians that their city faces tough financial times: 81 percent of respondents described the city's financial well-being as "not too good" or in "bad shape."
"In sum, Philadelphians recognize the severity of the financial problems facing their city and have confidence in the mayor's ability to deal with them, even while they overwhelmingly reject elements of his proposal to do so," the report on the poll said.
That conclusion resonated with Karen Lash, president of the Friends of Holmesburg Library, one of 11 libraries Nutter tried, but failed, to close.
"I truly believe he is a decent human being who cares about the city," she said. "But at the same time, it doesn't necessarily mean I agree with the calls he has made or how he has gone about making decisions."
With 37 percent of respondents saying they were less than "pretty confident" in Nutter's abilities to handle the budget problems, the mayor must work harder if he wants to enact solutions that will be supported by at least two-thirds of Philadelphians.
That task will be difficult, as poll respondents were split nearly evenly between whether they preferred more services and higher taxes, or fewer services and lower taxes.
"As to what should be done now, they just don't know," said Larry Eichel, project director of the Philadelphia Research Initiative, a new unit of the Pew Charitable Trusts that oversaw the poll and is studying issues affecting Philadelphia. "Building some sort of consensus about the coming year's budget plans will clearly be a challenge for him."
Nutter said yesterday that "I don't think you have to be the Nielsen polling firm to figure out that people are upset."
At the same time, "many people say, 'But I'm glad you're the person down there making those decisions, that we think you're going to do your best,' " he said. "I think there's something to be said for that. It's a snapshot in time, and I'm overall pleased."
A year into his term, the poll indicates that the strongest backers of the mayor - an Ivy League-educated African American - are likely to be white, college-educated, and earning six-figure salaries.
For instance, 57 percent of white respondents but just 37 percent of black respondents graded Nutter's performance last year an A or a B.
That type of demographic finding is consistent with the sort of support Nutter had when he was elected. An Inquirer analysis showed that he won more votes in majority-white wards and won the five Philadelphia wards with the highest average income.
Noting that Nutter was elected with 83 percent of the vote and that his favorable rating in the poll was 71 percent, Eichel, a former Inquirer reporter, said: "That shows there is a little erosion, but not much. What we see here is people like the mayor. . . . They trust him to do the right thing on the budget, even though they don't know what that is."
The poll also suggested that Philadelphians' outlook on the city had changed substantially since the final years of the John F. Street administration.
In a January 2007 poll by Franklin and Marshall College, just 31 percent of Philadelphians who responded said the city was on the right track, with 61 percent saying it was not.
In the Pew poll, 63 percent said Philadelphia was a good or excellent place to live, and 68 percent said they expected the city would be better five years from now.
The poll was conducted by Abt SRBI Public Affairs in conjunction with Rutgers University pollster and professor Cliff Zukin. It included calls to 1,200 land lines and 400 cell phones.
The Philadelphia Research Initiative plans to issue a "state of the city" report next month as well as other polls and in-depth reports on city issues in the future.