Exclusive AJC Poll: Residents like Atlanta Mayor Bottoms, but say she’s off-track on key issues

Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms leads a press conference Tuesday, Aug 3, 2021 at City Hall to address a rise in crime, the recent murder in Piedmont Park and covid delta concerns.  She is supported by Deputy Chief Charles Hampton, Atlanta Police Chief Rodney Bryant and Emory infectious diseases Dr. Carlos Del Rio to address while addressing city's current issues.  (Jenni Girtman for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

Credit: Jenni Girtman

caption arrowCaption
Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms leads a press conference Tuesday, Aug 3, 2021 at City Hall to address a rise in crime, the recent murder in Piedmont Park and covid delta concerns. She is supported by Deputy Chief Charles Hampton, Atlanta Police Chief Rodney Bryant and Emory infectious diseases Dr. Carlos Del Rio to address while addressing city's current issues. (Jenni Girtman for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

Credit: Jenni Girtman

Credit: Jenni Girtman

Most Atlantans have a favorable opinion of Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms, but about the same percentage of residents think the city is headed in the wrong direction — and that many of the mayor’s policies have flopped.

A poll commissioned by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution found 57% of Atlanta voters either strongly or somewhat approve of the job Bottoms has done as the city’s 60th mayor. But a clear majority also think the city is headed in the wrong direction on some of the biggest issues facing the city: crime (70% off track); traffic congestion (60%); and affordable housing (56%).

Overall, 53% of people in the poll said the city is on the wrong track regardless of issue — including about 48% each of Black voters and Democrats, and a whopping 84% of Republicans.

The only issue which a majority of those surveyed think the Bottoms’ administration has gotten right is dealing with the coronavirus pandemic, where 51% said the city was on the right track.

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution commissioned the poll from the University of Georgia’s School of Public and International Affairs, which surveyed 842 registered voters who said they were definitely or probably going to vote in the 2021 mayor’s race.

Bottoms has decided against running for reelection. So in addition to questions about the mayoral candidates, the poll asked likely voters for their opinions on the most pressing issues facing the city, and the current mayor’s handling of them.

ExploreExclusive AJC poll: Mayor’s race a toss-up as election nears

The poll was conducted Aug. 30-Sept. 11.

Bottoms, who served on the City Council for eight years, was elected in 2017 in a razor-thin runoff against Mary Norwood.

Michael Leo Owens, a political scientist at Emory University, said the reception to Bottoms’ leadership likely stems from the fact she wasn’t a lot of people’s first choice for mayor.

“I suspect that a lot of those people were never going to be brought around to her administration,” Owens said. “It doesn’t matter what she does or says, she’s never going to get those folks.”

Most pressing issues facing Atlanta

The results below are taken from The Atlanta Journal-Constitution/University of Georgia School of Public & International Affairs poll taken between Aug. 30-Sept. 13, 2021.
The poll interviewed 842 likely voters in the Atlanta mayoral election. The margin of error is 3.4 percentage points.

Answer Respondents
Crime 44%
Affordable Housing 17%
Coronavirus 14%
Income Inequality 7%
Other 6%
Don’t know 5%
Corruption 4%
Traffic Congestion 4%

Is Atlanta headed in the right direction?

Answer Respondents
Wrong 53%
Right 32%
Mixed 10%
Don't know 5%
ExploreComplete AJC Atlanta Mayor's Race poll results Sept. 2021: Questions we asked, with the answers

Bottoms’ administration over the years experienced several notable crisis, including the 2018 cyber attack, the coronavirus pandemic, last summer’s social unrest and various moments of police misconduct and shootings amid rises in violent crime.

The mayor’s office declined to comment on the poll and instead referred to Bottoms’ previous remarks on the end of reelection bid.

“I’ve polled it. Nearly 70 percent of the people in this city still like me,” Bottoms said in May. “If the race for mayor were held today, I would win this race without a runoff.”

Esther Lewyn, a 96-year-old Buckhead resident who participated in the poll, said she doesn’t know if “anybody could have done any better” than Bottoms within the context of the last four years.

“I respect her for not wanting a second term. Why would she want to be bothered with all this stuff going on?” Lewyn said.

Lillian Hunter, an 87-year-old southeast resident who participated in the poll, said she voted for Bottoms and that she would’ve voted for her again because “she’s done a good job.”

Hunter, a Democrat, said most criticism of the mayor comes from conservatives. She said Atlanta needs more officers, “but the police need to stop being brutal to people that don’t deserve it.”

Bottoms wants to hire 250 more officers, and a mayor’s spokesman said the city has recruited 48 so far.

People surveyed said that crime was, by far, the biggest issue facing the city, with a plurality of 44%. The next closest issue was affordable housing, at 17%.

The vast majority of those surveyed were not kind when grading Bottoms’ handling of crime, with 70% saying Atlanta was on the wrong track. That includes nearly three-quarters of white voters and two-thirds of Black voters, along with almost all (93%) of Republican voters. Only 15% said Bottoms had the city on the right track in dealing with crime.

Income level didn’t really affect the answer on crime, either. About two thirds (64%) of residents making less than $25,000 a year said Atlanta is heading down the wrong track, and 61% of those making over $150,000 gave the same answer.

Suzanne Podzemny, a 35-year-old Reynoldstown woman who participated in the poll, said she dislikes how Bottoms and the city are handling crime, police accountability, and homelessness.

Do you approve of the way Mayor Bottoms is handling her job?

Answer Respondents
Strongly approve 27%
Somewhat approve 30%
Somewhat disapprove 13%
Strongly disapprove 26%
Don't know 4%

Right/Wrong track, Affordable Housing?

Answer Respondents
Wrong 56%
Right 21%
Don't know 15%
Mixed 8%

Podzemny also said she’s “super frustrated” that Atlanta is moving forward with the construction of a new police and fire training center on forested land where the old Atlanta prison farm used to be.

“It’s a lack of leadership and I put the blame squarely on (Bottoms),” Podzemny said. “I’m pretty fed up with it.”

A Bottoms spokesman touted Atlanta as “the blueprint for other cities” in handling the pandemic, as they watched the city pivot to serve residents with “a holistic approach.”

Owens said Bottoms’ decision not to run again could be undermining some of her support, but he also said “the two Cs, COVID and crime,” is challenging to Bottoms as well.

Right/Wrong track, Coronavirus?

Answer Respondents
Right 51%
Wrong 36%
Don't know 7%
Mixed 5%

Right/Wrong track, Crime?

Answer Respondents
Wrong 70%
Right 16%
Don't know 7%
Mixed 7%

“On the COVID side, many people would give her a big round of applause for all of the actions taken by her administration, including where she refused to be belittled by the governor,” Owens said. “But you still have this problem of crime.”

Lenora Stephens, a 71-year-old Cascade Road resident who participated in the poll, said the next mayor needs to stop the “killing and police brutality” in the city. She said that she thinks former Atlanta mayor Kasim Reed can get the job done.

“He had the police doing their job … Bottoms is doing a good job, but I think things could be a little bit better,” she said.

The poll showed Reed (23.5%) and City Council President Felicia Moore (20.4) deadlocked in the mayoral race, with the distance separating them within the poll’s margin of error. None of the other major candidates cracked 6%.

Right/Wrong track, Traffic Congestion?

Answer Respondents
Wrong 60%
Right 24%
Don't know 8%
Mixed 8%
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