How much trouble is Rahm Emanuel actually in?

The wave of violence that swept across Chicago over the Fourth of July weekend led to 14 deaths and at least 82 people shot. It was an exclamation point on the regular violence of the city, violence that continues to result in many murders -- though fewer murders between 2012 and 2013.

For Mayor Rahm Emanuel, it was also a particularly bad moment for city residents to be polled on his reelection. They were. And Emanuel fared badly.


Emanuel in 2012. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)

The Chicago Sun-Times poll, conducted by We Ask America on Wednesday, July 9,  showed Emanuel trailing two rivals by wide margins. Karen Lewis, head of the city's teachers' union, led Emanuel by nine points. The head of the county board, Toni Preckwinkle, led Emanuel by 24 points.

In both cases, Emanuel got the lowest amount of support from blacks, who comprise about 33 percent of the city's population. Both Lewis and Preckwinkle are black, which may explain some of that support. But it is also the city's black community that has seen the worst violence; nearly all of those killed over the Fourth of July were black or Hispanic.

From a raw political perspective, though, the poll is not as bad for Emanuel as it might at first seem, and not only because of the timing. To the Sun-Times, the pollster "cautioned that the results are a snapshot in time," reinforcing that the moment was particularly bad for the incumbent mayor. The Democratic primary takes place in February 2015, during the winter, when the level of violence in the city will almost certainly have receded. We compiled this graph using data from Redeye Chicago. In both 2013 and 2014, February has been a low in monthly murders.

Chicago

Emanuel's camp -- which dismissed the methodology behind the new numbers as "entirely laughable," (which is a bit of an exaggeration) -- can also take heart in the fact that the campaign has not even begun. Neither Lewis nor Preckwinkle has declared her intention to run for the office; in fact, Preckwinkle told reporters last month that she likely wouldn't. In September 2010, even closer to the election that gave Emanuel his current job, Emanuel got only 7 percent of support from Chicago voters, according to another Sun-Times poll. By the time the campaign swung into gear, Emanuel won handily. (He raises LOTS of money that funds LOTS of TV ads; and he is a savvy political operative in his own right.)

But he is vulnerable. His fight with the teachers' union runs deeper than the possibility of a Karen Lewis candidacy. And his relationship with President Obama is not the boon it was in early 2011, when Obama's approval ratings were higher.

Most of all, though, there's the violence. Chicago continues to be a symbol of big-city violence, in part because it is advantageous for detractors of Emanuel and the president (a.k.a. Emanuel's old boss) to highlight the killings. Chicago's murder rate was down in 2013, but it hasn't declined consistently. Between 2011 and 2012, it increased dramatically. As a function of population, the rate of killings in Chicago is lower than many other places.

That's little consolation to communities that are losing members of their families. The election won't come down to the number of murders over July 4th weekend 2014, which is what this new poll was tied to. But it will come down to how Chicagoans feel Rahm Emanuel has done as mayor. And among the metrics that will be used for that is the number of people gunned down in the city's streets.

Philip Bump writes about politics for The Fix. He previously wrote for The Wire, the news blog of The Atlantic magazine. He has contributed to The Daily Beast, The Atlantic, The Daily, and the Huffington Post. Philip is based in New York City.
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