On the eve of his first day as Los Angeles’ next mayor, former City Councilman Eric Garcetti was perceived favorably by 53 percent of voters, and 17 percent view him unfavorably, according to new results from a USC Price School of Public Policy/Los Angeles Times City Election Poll.
In addition, voters also expressed confidence in Garcetti’s leadership, with 62 percent of all respondents saying that the city will be better off four years from now with Garcetti at the helm. Only 11 percent felt that LA would be worse off.
In comparison, outgoing Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa ended his eight-year tenure in the city’s top post with 47 percent of voters maintaining a favorable view of him and 40 percent with an unfavorable view. The poll surveyed 500 registered voters across LA.
“Angelenos are clearly feeling more optimistic about their city’s future, and Antonio Villaraigosa deserves credit for their improved attitude,” said Dan Schnur, director of the USC Price/LA Times Poll and director of the USC Jesse M. Unruh Institute of Politics, based at the USC Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences. “Given the length and severity of the state’s and region’s recession, these are very good poll numbers for an outgoing mayor.”
Jeff Harrelson, partner and chief product officer of Republican polling firm M4 Strategies, who conducted the poll with Democratic polling firm Benenson Strategy Group on behalf of USC Price and the Los Angeles Times, added, “The mayor is leaving office with some very mixed voter opinions of his accomplishments, and the new mayor is actually going to be starting with a very clean slate with voter perspectives — they don’t really know him, but they’re willing to give him a chance to prove himself.”
Los Angeles voters rated mass transit, public safety and infrastructure, such as airports, roads and bridges, as the three areas that improved most under Villaraigosa.
In contrast, respondents said that education, the city’s budget deficit and economic opportunity were the areas that declined the most under Villaraigosa’s leadership.
School improvement, job creation and the city’s budget were also seen as the three biggest issues Garcetti and the new LA City Council will face.
More than 70 percent of voters were confident that Garcetti could effectively handle crime and boost public safety, and he also received solid confidence ratings — 66 percent — on transportation issues. His ability to navigate the city’s financial and budget situation was rated slightly lower, with 54 percent of voters expressing confidence.
“The level of support for Garcetti is fairly high but fairly general. People like him and have high hopes for him, but they don’t quite know why,” Schnur said. “What their campaign didn’t provide for voters was a very strong sense of Eric Garcetti, and that’s both an opportunity and a challenge for him as he takes office.”
USC Price Professor Dowell Myers noted that the public’s broad support of the incoming mayor may stem from “an upswing in the economy.”
“We’re recovering from the recession, and the outlook for Garcetti’s term is so positive,” Myers said.
By the end of this year, Garcetti and the LA City Council must negotiate new contracts with unions representing LA’s police officers, firefighters, clerks, tree trimmers and Department of Water and Power employees. Fifty-three percent feel that Garcetti and the City Council should maintain a balanced budget, versus 37 percent who advocate maintaining current salaries for employees.
When asked about the pension benefits provided to city workers, 36 percent of those polled felt that LA employees received too much, while 30 percent said those workers receive the right amount. Seventeen percent thought city employees weren’t paid enough.
“Right now, I think voters are feeling fiscally conservative and are really not in the mood to support new spending that could put the city into a deeper financial hole,” Harrelson said.
The poll also gauged the public’s thoughts on a range of current city services. More than 70 percent indicated their satisfaction with first responders such as firefighters and 911 operators, parks and recreation, and libraries.
However, voters raised concerns with the city’s handling of street repairs, affordable housing and public education in the LA Unified School District. More than 60 percent of those surveyed said they were dissatisfied with each of those areas.
Yet overall, many Angelenos felt optimistic about the state of their city. Sixty-seven percent thought Los Angeles has a better quality of life than any other U.S. city. Voters ranked traffic congestion as having the biggest negative impact on living in LA.
Amy Levin, vice president of Benenson Strategy Group, said the positive attitude among LA voters mirrors a broader, national perception that “things are trending in the right direction and that the worst is behind us.
“The optimism in Los Angeles has some to do with a new administration but is more attributable to a general, national cautious optimism,” Levin said.
In addition, the poll surveyed voters on issues relating to housing. Forty-nine percent of voters said they support new residential development, while 39 percent prefer limiting growth. More than half of the city’s voters support plans that offer financial incentives to housing developers who will build along mass transit lines, with 51 percent in support and 37 percent opposed. However, voters rejected proposals that offer direct cash payments to such developers, with 62 percent opposed to only 30 percent in support.
The USC Price/LA Times Poll was conducted June 24-26 by M4 Strategies and Benenson Strategy Group on behalf of USC Price School and the Los Angeles Times. The full sample carries a margin of error of plus or minus 4.4 percentage points.