Poll: Philadelphians Feel Less Positive About Their City

Poll: Philadelphians Feel Less Positive About Their City

A new poll from The Pew Charitable Trusts' Philadelphia Research Initiative shows a downward drift in Philadelphians' attitudes toward their city and its government.

This slightly-less positive outlook appears in the forms of fewer residents approving the city's overall direction, poorer ratings for most city services, lower assessments of the quality of life in the neighborhoods, and reduced job-approval numbers for Mayor Michael Nutter and City Council this year compared to last. Most of the declines are in single digits.

The wide-ranging survey of 1,604 Philadelphians was conducted by Abt SRBI Public Affairs, working with Rutgers University Professor Cliff Zukin. The poll also gauged public attitudes on casino gambling and some of the policy questions facing city leaders.

Some of the numbers¬—including those about the city's overall direction and the mayor's job performance—are not as low as they were in an April 2009 survey conducted at the height of that year's city budget crisis.

“It's hard to say exactly what is behind this shift in attitudes,” said Larry Eichel, project director of Pew's Philadelphia Research Initiative. “But the across-the-board nature of it suggests to our pollster that the deep and lingering impact of the recession on the lives of Philadelphians may have something to do with it.”

As a group, Philadelphians are disheartened about their own economic situations. More than half of the residents polled—52 percent—report that they or someone in their household were unemployed and looking for work at some point in the last 12 months. Sixty-three percent describe their own finances as “only fair” or poor.

The downward drift is evident in these findings:

  • Sixty percent of residents rate their neighborhoods as excellent or good places to live, compared to 61 percent last year and 65 percent in 2009.
  • Ratings for city services have dropped off. Over the past two years, the declines in the combined good and excellent ratings are down anywhere from 1 percentage point for senior services (from 50 percent to 49 percent) to 13 percentage points for street maintenance and repair (from 33 percent to 20 percent).
  • Roughly equal numbers of Philadelphians see their city as being “headed in the right direction” (40 percent) as view it as “off on the wrong track” (39 percent). Last year, right direction outnumbered wrong track, 41 percent to 34 percent. In January 2009, it was right direction 46 percent, wrong track 37 percent.
  • Those who approve of Nutter's job performance outnumber those who disapprove by 52 percent to 37 percent; last year, the margin was a bit wider, 53 percent to 32 percent. As in the past two years, the mayor polls better with whites and Hispanics than with African Americans.
  • In the past year, City Council's job-approval rating has declined, moving from positive to slightly negative.  Thirty-nine percent approve of the job City Council is doing, while 42 percent disapprove. In 2010, 42 percent approved, 34 percent disapproved.

Philadelphians still voice optimism about their city's prospects in the long run. Only 19 percent expect the city to get worse in the next five years, and 62 percent rate the city an excellent or good place to live.  Sixty-nine percent of residents feel “very proud” or “somewhat proud” to say that they live in the Philadelphia area. That figure is higher than the 60 percent of suburbanites who expressed such pride in a poll last fall.

Residents are closely divided on two of the key choices that have been facing city government. In the poll, respondents were asked to select between more government services and higher taxes on the one hand, or fewer services and lower taxes on the other; 43 percent opted for more services/higher taxes, 44 percent for fewer services/lower taxes.

And when asked whether the city should seek to save money by reducing guaranteed pension benefits for new employees, 44 percent said yes, 45 percent no. There is a big split between African Americans and whites on this question. Fifty-two percent of blacks want new employees to get pension benefits equal to those of current city workers and retirees while only 36 percent of whites take that position. Answers also vary according to income; 50 percent of those with family incomes under $30,000 want the city to provide equal pension benefits compared to 29 percent among those with family incomes above $100,000.

On a separate issue, Philadelphians remain generally in favor of casino gambling in the city, supporting it by 53 percent to 34 percent, a result little changed from a year ago before the first casino opened within the city limits. As for a possible second casino in Philadelphia, 47 percent oppose the idea and 42 percent favor it. Only 2 percent of all respondents, 31 out of the 1,604, said that they had gambled more last year due to having casinos nearby in the city and suburbs.

Additional results of the Philadelphia Research Initiative's third annual benchmark survey will be released later this month.

How the study was conducted
The Philadelphia Research Initiative survey was conducted by telephone between January 31 and February 13 among a citywide random sample of 1,604 city residents, ages 18 and older. Interviews were conducted with 1,202 landline users and 402 cell phone users to reach a broad representative sample of Philadelphians.

The final sample was weighted to reflect the demographic breakdown of the city. The margin of error for the entire sample is approximately +/- 2.5 percentage points. The margin of error is higher for subgroups. Surveys are subject to other error sources as well, including sampling coverage error, recording error and respondent error.

Abt SRBI Public Affairs designed the survey and conducted all interviewing, working with Cliff Zukin, veteran pollster and professor of political science and public policy at Rutgers University.