How To Almost Lose An Election With A 70% Job Approval Rating

Tuesday night Michael Bloomberg came within 5 points of losing his job as mayor of New York City to Comptroller William Thompson even though the voters were giving him a 70% job approval. That would have been unprecedented. In the history of Edison Research exit polls the highest job approval that we have ever recorded for a losing incumbent was 63% for Senator Lincoln Chafee in Rhode Island in 2006 where voters turned him out of office even thought they liked him simply because he had an “R” next to his name instead of a “D.”
It is for surprising results like last night’s New York City mayoral race that exit poll data becomes invaluable. When pundits start scratching their heads for explanations, it is time to dig through the exit poll data to find some.
The key group of voters in New York City was the 18% of voters who approved of the job Michael Bloomberg has been doing as mayor yet still decided to vote for someone else on Tuesday. Let’s call them Bloomberg-Approving-Thompson-Voters (BATVs). Looking at the opinions of Edison’s exit poll respondents, we can discover their message to Mayor Bloomberg – “we like the job you have been doing as mayor but we didn’t like the heavy-handed way you went about winning a third term in office.”
Here is the evidence.
Term Limits: When asked if Michael Bloomberg’s decision to change the number of terms a mayor could serve from two to three had affected their vote, 45% of all voters said it had made them less likely to vote for Bloomberg. Among the BATVs, more than three-quarters (77%) said that the term limits change was a reason.
Bloomberg’s Campaign Spending: The Edison Researchexit poll asked voters whether the amount Bloomberg spent was an important factor in their vote. A majority (56%) of BATVs said that his spending was an important factor in their vote against him.
Bloomberg’s Attacks on Thompson: More than two-thirds (68%) of BATVs said that Bloomberg had attacked his opponent, William Thompson, unfairly during the campaign.
On three points this key segment of voters said that Bloomberg’s “heavy-handed” tactics had driven them away even though they like the job that Bloomberg is doing. And this wasn’t an easy decision for many of these voters. Nearly half of the BATVs waited until the last week of the campaign to decide to vote for Thompson. This explains why nearly all pre-election polling showed Bloomberg winning by 11 to 18 points the week before the election before these voters had made up their minds
As a successful businessman Michael Bloomberg has a reputation for listening to his customers. We will see during his third term whether Mayor Bloomberg is listening to the messages that the voters were giving him when they almost gave his job to someone else.

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