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Vanderbilt Poll-Nashville preview: Mayor Barry approval at 61 percent

Support remains strong for Nashville Mayor Megan Barry, report Vanderbilt Center for Democratic Institutions researchers John Geer and Josh Clinton today in a limited preview release of data from the 2018 Nashville-focused Vanderbilt Poll.

The survey of 800 Metropolitan Davidson County residents was conducted by phone (both cell and land lines) Feb. 8-19th and covered a range of topics important to local voters, including mass transit, Metro General Hospital, education, affordable housing and more. Those results will be released Sunday, March 4.

Because of the public attention and controversy surrounding Mayor Barry’s recent revelation of an extramarital affair with a member of her security team, this year’s poll included questions about how much the mayor’s personal life impacted their view of her performance. For purposes of comparison, the poll also asked the same question about President Trump. In order to eliminate any effect caused by the ordering of the questions, half of respondents were asked about Barry first, and half were asked about Trump first.

What the poll found

  • Mayor Barry’s approval rating stands at 61 percent, down from last year’s 72 percent. This drop was fairly consistent across the political spectrum, as well. In 2018, her approval rating stands at 77 percent among Democrats, down from 87 percent last year. Among independents, she’s at 61 percent, compared to 66 percent last year. Among Republicans she’s at 45 percent, compared to 56 percent last year.
  • Overall, 59 percent of Nashvillians believe Barry’s personal life has little or no impact on their perceptions of her job performance. Inversely, 59 percent of respondents said they believed President Trump’s personal life had a big or moderate impact.
  • There were only small differences between men and women’s answers. Party mattered more – Democrats and independents were much more inclined to look past Barry’s behavior than Trump’s, while Republicans were somewhat more forgiving of the president than the mayor.

“These data indicate strong public support for Mayor Barry, despite the recent revelations,” said Geer, who is the Gertrude Conaway Vanderbilt Professor of Political Science.  “Everyone should have expected a drop from 72 percent last year, given the controversial issues she has tackled, such as transit and the proposed changes for Nashville General. Any elected official would be very happy with a 61 percent approval rating, and there is little reason to believe the most recent news about photos and text messages would change the underlying support Nashvillians have for the mayor.”

There are a number of explanations for why, at the end of the day, the mayor’s personal failings are less concerning to Nashvillians than the president’s, added Clinton, the Abby and Jon Winkelreid Professor of Political Science. “Party is one reason,” he said, noting that most Nashvillians, like the mayor, are Democrats. “But it also may be the different roles the mayor and president play in public life. The president stands for the entire country and represents all of us. Nobody thinks they are defined by their mayor the way they are defined by the president. The president has always been a more aspirational role than a mayor and that may affect how we evaluate their conduct.”

The margin of error for the 2018 Vanderbilt Poll-Nashville is ± 4.6 percent.

About the Vanderbilt Poll

The Vanderbilt Poll is supported by the Center for the Study of Democratic Institutions at Vanderbilt University. The statewide poll is typically conducted just before the start of each legislative session and at the end of each session, in part to determine how closely the results of the session align with voters’ expectations and priorities. CSDI also conducts a yearly Nashville poll, as well as additional special polls. In 2015, the Vanderbilt Poll became a charter member of the American Association for Public Opinion Research’s Transparency Initiative.