Former mayor Marty Walsh is still very popular with Boston voters.
According to the latest Suffolk University/Boston Globe poll, Walsh’s favorability is 68 percent and his job approval rating is 72 percent — big numbers that would put an equally big grin on any politician’s face. Walsh should feel especially pleased, given the condemnation he has taken in the Boston media since he left to become US secretary of labor. The poll shows he’s held in high regard, despite his disastrous appointment of a Boston police commissioner who has since been terminated over allegations involving long-ago domestic abuse.
Walsh’s numbers also say something about the Boston mayoral race. After all, the same voters who like him will be choosing his successor. While “favorability” is personal to a politician, it also reflects satisfaction with their agenda. If Walsh could slip the Biden administration yoke of imposed silence and talk Boston politics, he would probably attribute his high marks to the city’s fiscal stability, his response to COVID-19, and for showing up everywhere around the city — the reward, you might say, for attending every street festival and Christmas tree lighting to which he was invited.
So who inherits the good will associated with Walsh’s stewardship while still representing some desired change? The poll of 500 likely voters showed City Councilor Michelle Wu and Acting Mayor Kim Janey pulling ahead of the rest of the field — and there’s an intriguing Walsh connection to their standing at this moment in time.
With voters who approve of Walsh, Wu and Janey are virtually tied as the choice for next mayor. At the same time, Wu has the most support — (34 percent) followed by Janey (25 percent) — from voters who disapprove of Walsh. “These two candidates, through campaigns and policies, have managed to garner strong support among those who felt Walsh did a great job or a poor job. That’s the magic of politics,” said David Paleologos, director of the Suffolk University Political Research Center, which conducted the poll.
In a telephone interview, Paleologos said he’s not sure Walsh’s favorability would be as high as it is in this poll if he were still mayor. The negative news might affect him more, he said. However, he believes the polling results point to overall satisfaction with the city’s direction. “I’m seeing a premium for calm and thoughtful change, not seismic change,” he said.
Based on this poll, housing ranks as the top issue with voters, followed by “racism/justice/equality.” The issue of police reform is at the bottom, with 6 percent. Those surveyed support Janey’s decision to fire Police Commissioner Dennis White following the resurfacing of domestic abuse allegations against him — which White has denied. But the controversy over White’s appointment by Walsh has not affected the former mayor’s standing, nor has it substantially undermined people’s faith in the Boston Police Department.
Those people surveyed in this poll care about economic inequity and social justice but still feel relatively good about the city of Boston. As a caveat, Paleologos notes the poll represents responses from people who said they were likely to vote in the preliminary election, and who could name the month — September — when it would take place. It was also harder than usual to find engaged voters, he said. A poll that once would have taken two days to complete now took four. Availability and interest in politics are lower, a phenomenon he attributes to “Trump fatigue.” Between now and Sept. 14 — preliminary election day — that could change, and could influence turnout and result.
These poll results regarding Walsh may also say something about the media not seeing the political forest for the scandalous trees. A controversy that truly disrupts the voters’ view of a politician’s integrity and purpose can certainly affect their standing. But the totality of what a politician does in office matters to voters more than a single incident — at least, according to this poll.
That’s good news for Walsh and leaves his would-be successors looking to thread the needle between continuity and change.