We like Mike

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The most underreported story in New York City is that Mayor Bloomberg’s approval ratings are getting stronger — most recently hitting 54%, a high for his third term. This, remarkably, is happening despite ongoing fiscal challenges in the city and state.

Yet the press and pundits continue to write Bloomberg’s third-term narrative as one of defeats and decline — as though, after the mismanaged snowstorm, the ill-fated choice of Cathie Black as schools chancellor and other bumps in the road, the mayor has succumbed to a supposedly inevitable curse.

This is simply a myth.

I have been a close observer of public opinion polling in New York City ever since John Lindsay’s successful reelection campaign in 1969, and have advised Mayor Bloomberg’s three election campaigns.

I don’t pretend to be an independent observer. Still, never in close to 40 years of polling have I seen a more radical disjunction between perceptions of job performance and what the polls actually show.

Bloomberg is the fourth three-term mayor of the city in modern times. Fiorello LaGuardia left the city in 1945 with a massive debt and a bloated bureaucracy. Robert F. Wagner’s third term was portrayed as a “city in crisis” by the New York Herald Tribune in 1965.

Ed Koch faced a seemingly endless series of corruption scandals during his third term; those reduced his approval ratings to as low as 33% by June 1989.

Bloomberg is the singular exception in modern times: a third-term mayor whose ratings have improved during the course of the first three years of his third term.

After the unanticipated blizzard 15 months ago, Bloomberg’s approval dropped to a record low. Just 37% said that he was doing an excellent or good job, according to a Marist College/NY1 poll taken in January 2011.

Three-fifths of voters rated his performance as fair or poor.

But since September 2011, the mayor has received net positive overall approval ratings in Quinnipiac polls in October 2011, December 2011, February 2012 and March 2012 — with close to 50% saying they like his job performance each time.

Why? Because the public likes the policies. Let’s look at them one by one.

Crime. Despite a barrage of coverage about controversial stop-and-frisk practices and supposed “spying” on Muslims, New Yorkers enthusiastically endorse the mayor’s policies on crime and terrorism.

That’s probably because of the results: Crime has indisputably dropped to record lows during Bloomberg’s tenure. New York has had fewer than 600 murders every year for the past10 years. City residents recognize this success — approving of the way the mayor has handled crime (67% to 27%), according to a Quinnipiac poll released on March 13.

Education. In recent months, coverage of the city’s schools has highlighted a series of bitter fights with the teachers union on using data to evaluate teachers and removing ineffective ones from the classroom. This, to be fair, has taken its toll: a few polls show broad public doubt about the overall direction in which Bloomberg is taking the schools.

But dig deeper and that disapproval looks weak. The most recent Quinnipiac poll found that voters support Bloomberg’s education policies.

They back merit pay by 69% to 26%. They like Bloomberg’s initiative to base teacher layoffs on performance rather than seniority, 84% to 10%. They believe that firing teachers should be easier, 59% to 34%, and approve of the release of teacher evaluations, 58% to 38%, with parents of public school students approving 59% to 36%.

Public health . Despite frequent mockery that Bloomberg’s health policies represent the nanny state at its worst, voters have made up their minds.

The March Quinnipiac poll also found that an overwhelming 82% to 14% of voters support the use of letter grades to evaluate restaurants.

And according to a Quinnipiac poll released in October 2011, New York City voters agree by 70% to 27% that the Bloomberg administration is “correct” to encourage restaurants to use less salt. They say the law requiring fast-food restaurants to post caloric information is “useful,” 79% to 19%.

And even though the push for new bike lanes provokes angry outbursts by some, recent polling finds that New York voters support (72% to 23%) a plan to rent up to 10,000 bicycles from lots around the city, and say (59% to 34%) that they want bike rentals in their neighborhood.

Following the snowstorm fiasco, a New York Post columnist wrote “the job is beneath (Bloomberg) now,” while the New York Times later referred to Bloomberg’s third term as “an episodic drama of debacles large and small.”

Memo to all these doubters: New York likes Mike.