Copyright © 2020 Albuquerque Journal
Nearly three years into his first term as Albuquerque’s mayor, Tim Keller is enjoying nearly the same high level of support that he had less than one year after he took office.
Among likely city voters, 60% approve of Keller’s performance, a new Journal Poll shows. That is close to the results of a 2018 Journal Poll that found Keller had a 61% approval rating after his first nine months in office, when many officeholders still experience “honeymoon” ratings.
Pollster Brian Sanderoff said it is unknown whether Keller’s approval dropped at any point in the past two years and then climbed back up. But he said it appears that the public perception of Keller has improved during the COVID-19 pandemic. He said that may be partly because the virus has temporarily supplanted crime as voters’ top concern.
Crime, which was a major issue well before Keller took office, remains a significant problem now. Although Albuquerque’s property crime dipped in 2019, the city recorded the highest number of homicides for any year in recent memory in 2019 and is on pace to break that record this year.
The public’s focus may have shifted to COVID-19 for now, but Sanderoff said Keller’s legacy is still tied to the city’s response to crime.
“Crime is still lurking as the biggest issue facing the city, and whether people ultimately will continue to approve of the mayor’s performance will ultimately be determined by how he’s perceive as handling crime,” said Sanderoff, president of Research & Polling Inc.
Keller has maintained a high profile during the pandemic, calling frequent news conferences to discuss how the city is responding to the crisis. While Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham has imposed closures and restrictions that are unpopular with some New Mexicans, Keller has largely avoided any city-specific regulations. His news conferences have often highlighted city efforts like business grants and child care programs meant to help residents weather the pandemic. Sanderoff said Keller has been a fixture on local TV news and social media throughout the pandemic.
“The city has done a good job communicating, and the mayor has been the public face of the city in explaining how they can help,” Sanderoff said. “Also, the city is not imposing restrictions; they’re just telling people how the city can help with those state-mandated restrictions. It’s a lot easier to be popular when you’re just saying, ‘How can I help?’ ”
Keller’s disapproval rating is 22%, according to the new poll. Another 16% have mixed feelings, while 3% didn’t know or wouldn’t say how they felt.
Approval was nearly the same among women (61%) and men (59%), though there was some disparity among age groups. Among those 18-49, 68% approve, compared with 54% among those 50 and older.
The disapproval rating of the 50-plus group is 27% – nearly double the disapproval rating of those under 50.
“Tim Keller is a relatively young mayor, he’s progressive in his outlook, and we’re finding that younger voters are more inclined to approve of him and less likely to disapprove,” Sanderoff said of the 42-year-old Keller.
Although Keller is a Democrat, Albuquerque’s elected offices are technically nonpartisan. The institutional lack of labeling may explain why there is less polarization between Democrats and Republicans.
The mayor still has a far higher approval rating among Democrats (77%) than Republicans (33%), but Sanderoff said the divide is narrower than in partisan offices.
“The fact the mayor has one-third of Republicans approving of him partially explains the 60% (overall) approval,” Sanderoff said.
Keller’s current approval rating may resemble the 2018 poll results, but Sanderoff said it is impossible to know whether that reflects a sustained level of support without a poll in the interim.
Although it did not include a specific question about Keller, a city-funded poll in November reflected growing dissatisfaction among Albuquerque residents. Fewer than half (49%) reported feeling hopeful about the direction of the city – down from 68% the year before. Nearly a third (32%) said the city had become a worse place to live over the previous year, compared with 19% who felt it had become a better place to live.
The new Journal Poll asked, “Do you approve or disapprove of the way Tim Keller is handling his job as the mayor of Albuquerque.” The poll is based on a scientific sample of 342 likely general election voters in Albuquerque who also voted in either the 2016 or 2018 general elections or both.
The voter sample has a margin of error of plus or minus 5.3 percentage points, though it is higher for subsamples.
The poll was conducted from Aug. 26 through Sept. 2, and all interviews were conducted by live, professional interviewers, with multiple callbacks to households that did not initially answer the phone.
Both cellphone numbers (74%) and landlines (26%) of likely general election voters were used.