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Why Is This Man Smiling?

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Happy Nutter.jpgIs there such a thing as a happy conundrum?  If there is, Mayor Nutter is enjoying one as you read these words.

The latest Pew poll is out and it shows that, in general, Philadelphians are miserable about the economy, seriously worried about crime and delighted with the mayor's performance.

In the latest poll done for Pew's Philadelphia Research Initiative, Nutter's job-approval rating was 60 percent, the highest it has been since Pew began asking the question in 2009.  To contrast, President Obama's approval rating in the latest Gallup poll is 47 percent.

Nutter's job approval rating has always been high among whites (it's 69 percent in the latest poll), it was his improved standing among blacks that gave him the boost in the Pew poll, which was taken in early January but released today.

In its 2011 survey, only 42 percent of blacks approved of the job the mayor was doing. In 2012, the approval number jumped to 52 percent.

Why the surge?

It's hard to tell.  The pollsters didn't probe the minds of respondents.  They didn't ask why. So, in the absence of facts, I am free to speculate.

My belief is the mayor has bolstered his standing among blacks by talking a lot about crime.  He's been finger-wagging about flash mobs; he's been calling out perps and killers as low-life's and assholes (to use his term). He imposed a strict curfew on teens during our flash mob summer (and the Pew poll finds that Philadelphians love, love, love the curfew).

 In other words, he's filled the symbolic role as the stern father who won't take any sass and who insists that people straighten up and fly right.

Black Philadelphians -- not to mention white Philadelphians -- respond to that. You get points for being a straight-talker. You get points for reacting angrily to acts of violence.

People are afraid and worried about crime -- the Pew poll said 74 percent of residents call crime a serious of very serious problem -- and Nutter has given voice to that worry. He is making the speech thousands of mothers and fathers would make if they had the bully pulpit.

The results reveal a truth about Philadelphia. The mayor is not only the chief executiveNutter approval.jpg of government. For better or worse, he personifies the city.

Still, Philadelphians are not happy campers. They may be willing to give Nutter a pass, but the recession has knocked the optimism out of them. Thirty five percent said the city is in worse shape today than five years ago, compared to 23 percent who said it has gotten better. That's a jump in pessimists from last year's poll.

Why this dour mood? It is the recession, which is officially over, but it still very much evident at the  street level. In this year's poll -- as in last year's -- 53 percent of the respondents reported that they or someone in their household experienced a period of unemployment in the last 12 months. That's the same number as last year. The needle is also stuck on those who labeled their own financial situation as "excellent" or "good". It was 33 percent last year. It is 33 percent this year.

A word about crime. As the old saying goes, perception is reality. The number of major crimes has decreased significantly in the last five years, but people still react viscerally to crime reports. While the Pew pollsters were in the field, for instance, there were several high-profile homicides -- a young man killed in an assault in Old City, am ambush that killed three teenage boys in Juniata Park. These could have fed the fear factor reflected in the poll.

-- Tom Ferrick

 

 

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