Calgary mayor's approval rating gets 'rough ride' as term begins, survey suggests

Less than 40 per cent of Calgarians polled in a new survey approved of the performance of Mayor Jyoti Gondek after her first five months in office.

Poll finds Jyoti Gondek's approval ratings below 40% after first 5 months in office

Jyoti Gondek speaks to the media after being sworn-in as the new mayor of Calgary in October, 2021. According to a new survey from ThinkHQ Public Affairs, the mayor is off to a "bumpy start" to her term in office. (Jeff McIntosh/The Canadian Press)

Less than 40 per cent of Calgarians polled in a new survey approve of the performance of Mayor Jyoti Gondek after her first five months in office — a term that's been marked by the collapse of an arena deal, rising property taxes and frequent protests in a downtown neighbourhood.

ThinkHQ's online survey of 1,101 people earlier this month shows the mayor's approval rating sitting at 38 per cent, while 53 per cent of respondents disapproved of her performance. The numbers are "unusually low" for a new mayor this early into their first term, according to the firm's president, Marc Henry.

Henry, who was chief of staff to Dave Bronconnier during his term as mayor, pointed out that Naheed Nenshi finished his first year in office with approval in the mid-eighties. Bronconnier, Nenshi's predecessor, had approval ratings in the mid-seventies during his first months in office, the survey said.

Meanwhile, the ThinkHQ survey, administered from March 14 to 21, showed 45 per cent of respondents approved of their councillor's performance, and only 31 per cent of people disapproved. 

Naheed Nenshi, speaking to the media the day after being elected to the office in 2010, enjoyed an approval rating in the mid-eighties after his first year in the mayor's position. (Jeff McIntosh/The Canadian Press)

The survey was conducted using an online panel. A margin of error for a comparable probability-based random sample of this size is plus or minus 2.9 percentage points, 19 times out of 20.

"Five months into her first term and it's clear that Mayor Gondek is having a rough ride," Henry wrote in an analysis of his survey, which was released on Tuesday.

Henry said those months have been eventful, "but perhaps not in the way a new mayor would want."

He pointed to the the collapse of the arena deal, protests in the Beltline neighbourhood and property tax increases

But responding to the survey's results, Gondek said the data is from a "very specific point in time" when Calgarians, including herself, are dealing with uncertainty and economic pressure.  

"I think people are frustrated — and when people get frustrated, they look to their leaders and they express their disappointment," Gondek told reporters.

"And I'll tell you this: If I ran to be popular, I would have done nothing but sit quietly in my first few months. I didn't do that because we were elected as a council with a specific mandate to do a lot of heavy work."

She said council was elected to make difficult decisions in a difficult time, and to bring people out of the troubled times that they are in.

"But there's no one, no single person that can do that in 100 days," Gondek added. "We can do that in the four years that we have a term, and we will do that."

Henry said the poll's suggestion that council has better approval ratings than Gondek could be a challenge.

"Typically, the mayor is far better known and liked than individual councillors, and that standing really does re-enforce the 'first among equals' relationship," Henry wrote.

"Councillors, unless they truly feel strongly about an issue, are more likely to 'go along' with a popular mayor — give them a vote or at the very least not debate against them. It's not so much fear as it is deference."

Henry said Gondek has about 1,300 more days in office to improve Calgarians' perception of performance, but added that it is "not an easy task."

Lori Williams, who teaches politics at Mount Royal University, agreed that it is unusual to see a new mayor with these kind of approval ratings. But she said a lot has changed in politics recently.

"Five months into her first term and it's clear that Mayor Gondek is having a rough ride," said Marc Henry, president of ThinkHQ Public Affairs. (CBC)

"We're also in a very different political climate now than we have been in the beginnings of any of the more recent new mayors in Calgary's history," Williams said in an interview.

"This is a time where there's a lot of anger, dissatisfaction with government policy."

She said it's important to bear in mind that while the failure of the arena deal feeds into Gondek's ratings, it's due to the perception that she was responsible, even when she wasn't involved in negotiations.

"Some of these perceptions are holding Jyoti Gondek responsible for things that she had nothing to do with, like the increase in the provincial portion of municipal taxes and the arena deal," Williams said.

"But the association is there nevertheless, and it presents a greater challenge."

Williams noted that the survey suggests Gondek is more popular among Calgarians under the age of 35 (45 per cent approve) and women (43 per cent approve).

She said it's not impossible to generate more support as time goes on, but added that there are broad economic and health issues affecting the political climate — and the mood of Canadians.

"It's definitely a rough, rough road for any politician," Williams added.

With files from Tony Seskus and Scott Dippel