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Less than a year after he won reelection in resounding fashion, Albuquerque Mayor Tim Keller’s approval rating has cratered.
A third – 33% – of likely Albuquerque voters currently approve of the job he is doing, according to a new Journal Poll.
A plurality – 40% – disapprove, while 21% of those surveyed volunteered that they have mixed feelings. The rest did not know or would not give an opinion.
The new results reflect a steep decline in Keller’s support.
A year ago, in the midst of a bruising campaign for a second term, Keller registered a 50% approval rating in a Journal Poll. He then sailed to victory in the 2021 election, picking up 56% of the vote and easily outpacing the 26% earned by his nearest challenger in the three-way race.
Other Journal Polls showed a majority in Albuquerque approved of Keller during his first term, including 60% in 2020 and 61% in 2018.
But voter concern about crime and homelessness are likely factors in the latest results, pollster Brian Sanderoff said.
“There are many government agencies and branches of government that play a role in addressing crime; however, the mayor and the city police department are front and center with the public,” said Sanderoff, whose firm, Research & Polling Inc., conducted the new poll.
Keller said Wednesday the results are no surprise given the outcome of the city’s own citizen survey from earlier this year. That poll, also conducted by Research & Polling, found that 52% of Albuquerque residents are concerned about the city’s direction.
The mayor said he, too, is frustrated with some of the city’s challenges and what he called the current “hard times,” but that they validate some of his initiatives, including the forthcoming Gateway Center homeless shelter and services center.
He added that polling numbers sometimes relate to things that are outside a mayor’s control.
“At the end of the day, mayors take the heat for all of America’s problems, so that’s just part of the job,” Keller said. “It shows our city needs continued help from every level of government.”
Crime has for years ranked as a major community problem, and the violence in Albuquerque has proven relentless.
Albuquerque had a record 114 homicides last year. It was not just the highest total number but also the worst per capita homicide rate in city history, surpassing even the 1990s crime-wave peaks that many other U.S. cities have managed to remain below during the current crisis.
And Albuquerque is on pace to shatter its record, with 110 homicides so far this year.
Overall crime in Albuquerque also rose in 2021 for the first time since 2018, albeit marginally, due to a rise in both property and violent crime. It marked the first increase in property crime since the city notched back-to-back 10% drops, pushing decreases in overall crime even as violence steadily rose over the past several years.
Homelessness, meanwhile, has remained a persistent and pervasive challenge.
Albuquerque residents have expressed frustration with the city’s response to the issue. According to the city government-funded poll conducted in June, 70% gave the city’s handling of homelessness a bad review, compared to just 9% who rated it favorably.
Since that poll, Keller has made some high-profile and controversial decisions intended to address the problems. That includes closing Coronado Park in August – thus shuttering a large, unsanctioned encampment – and using his veto authority to enable safe outdoor spaces. Safe outdoor spaces are organized camp sites where people who are homeless can legally sleep in tents or cars while accessing showers and other amenities.
“Homlessness in Albuquerque is an issue that people confront as they walk the streets or drive through town,” Sanderoff said. “It’s a visible issue and it’s an issue that’s been the hot news topic.”
After a first term during which his initiatives often sailed through an agreeable City Council, Keller has been at increasing odds with a legislative body that now leans conservative. Less than a year into his second term, he has issued eight vetoes. That’s compared to just five throughout his first four-year term.
Sanderoff said it’s also possible that larger issues, like inflation, could have played a role in Keller’s low approval rating, though it is not clear. In a statewide Journal Poll in August, respondents named inflation and economic uncertainty as the top concerns facing New Mexico families.
Keller, a Democrat, has a 49% approval rating among Albuquerque Democrats, the new poll found. Only 20% disapprove.
He fares even better among those who identify as “liberal.” In that crowd, 60% support the job he’s doing.
But among Republicans, only 9% approve and 70% disapprove.
The poll found no major variations in how people judged Keller’s performance based on ethnicity or age, though his approval is slightly higher (38%) among those 65 and older.
Perceptions did vary by educational attainment; those with a graduate degree were most likely to approve (45%), while those with a high school education or less disapproved at the highest rate (57%).
While Keller’s approval has dramatically fallen in the last year, Sanderoff noted that a significant percentage (21%) of poll respondents gave mixed reviews, meaning he “has not lost” them.
“The verdict is still out for many of the voters,” he said.
Keller noted that those who approve and those who reported mixed feelings together make up a block – 54% – that nearly equals his performance in last year’s election and that he sees opportunity to turn those on-the-fence respondents into believers.
“I think there is certainly plenty of runway left,” he said.
The Journal Poll is based on a scientific, citywide sample of 344 voters who cast ballots in the 2018 and/or 2020 general election and who said they are likely to vote in the upcoming election. The sample also includes people who registered to vote since January 2021 who said they are likely to vote in the upcoming election.
The poll was conducted from Oct. 20 through Oct. 27. The voter sample has a margin of error of plus or minus 5.3 percentage points. The margin of error grows for subsamples.
All interviews were conducted by live, professional interviewers, with multiple callbacks to households that did not initially answer the phone.
Both cellphone numbers (85%) and landlines (15%) of proven general election voters were used.
Matthew Reisen contributed to this report.