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What Else Does That New York Times Poll Tell Us About Chicago?

You may have heard: Chicagoans are dissatisfied with the direction of our city. We dig deeper into the data.

Downtown as seen from Hyde Park’s Promontory Point.   Photo: Zbigniew Bzdak/Chicago Tribune

A few days ago the New York Times teamed with the Kaiser Family Foundation to do a rather in-depth polling of Chicagoans about the state of our city. The lede sums up the not-entirely-surprising results:

The people of Chicago are deeply riven by race, class and neighborhood, distrustful of the police, fearful of the growing rate of violent crime and united chiefly in their disapproval of the mayor’s performance and their conviction that the city is headed down the wrong track.

So I was curious: what lurks in the details of the poll? First, I was curious how well their sample reflects demographic trends. The results suggest it reflects them pretty well. For instance, they asked how long the respondents had lived in Chicago, and the data’s pretty striking.

The age demographics of white respondents seem to reflect the era of white flight and the surge into the central city of recent years; of Hispanic respondents, a swell of immigration that recently tapered off; of black respondents, the disappearance of in-migration in the most recent generation. None of which is surprising, it’s just interesting and encouraging to see the sample mirror broader trends.

How about where those people live? That, too, mirrors broader trends. They asked the respondents whether their neighbors were the same race, and the results pick up on the city’s general segregation and its nuances.

“Latinos are clustered in community areas on the northwest and southwest sides, the census estimates show, but these neighborhoods aren’t nearly as segregated as the city’s African-American neighborhoods,” Steve Bogira writes. “Latinos are a buffer group, often living with whites or African-Americans.” Black neighborhoods, generally speaking, don’t gentrify, meaning they’re also more likely to remain segregated. And in the NYT/Kaiser polling, black respondents are an enormous outlier in “all the same race,” while Hispanic respondents are an outlier in “all of a different race.”

And it’s hard to talk about segregation without talking economic opportunity. Here’s what respondents looked like by race and family income. The buckets are different sizes—some are $10K increments, some are $15K increments, and the first and last increments are larger—so that skews things a bit, but the patterns are stark.

It’s also hard to talk about segregation without talking housing. Respondents were asked if they felt certain things happened to them because of their race or ethnic background. Black respondents were outliers in both housing and job discrimination.

Employment figures fall along similar lines.

One of the more interesting approaches the pollsters took was asking respondents how many degrees of separation they were from the victim of a gun crime in the past three years. Had they themselves been a victim? If not, then who do you know who has? The possible answers go out in concentric circles.

And those concentric circles varied by race. The circle is smallest for black respondents; wider for Hispanic respondents; widest for white respondents.

What should we do about it? Respondents were asked if certain things played a major or minor role in the city’s crime rate. A substantial majority of respondents of all races said that “lack of educational opportunities,” “lack of good jobs,” and “lack of family structure” played a “major role.” A bare majority of Hispanic respondents (54 percent) and black respondents (52 percent) said that “lack of police presence” played a major role, compared to just 37 percent of whites.

So the pollsters followed up—if you said more than one thing played a major role, what played the biggest role? Here’s what they heard.

The number one response, unfortunately, is the one government has the least control over—lack of family structure. Black respondents divided their votes pretty evenly, and were the only group of respondents to break 10 percent on the answer “all equally.”

They’re also the group most likely to say that Chicago is headed in the wrong direction: 85 percent, compared to 75 percent for Hispanics and 72 percent for whites. It’s a tall order for the current mayor, or whoever wants to challenge him. It’s even taller because of who’s the most likely to be registered to vote. Of the three groups, only black respondents broke 90 percent.


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