Boston Mayor Marty Walsh’s re-election campaign appears to benefit from a generally positive appraisal that voters give city life, according to a WGBH News poll.

The telephone survey of 456 likely voters, conducted Oct. 14-17, found Walsh held a commanding 39-point lead ahead of the Nov. 7 election. He drew the support of 58 percent, compared to 19 percent for City Councilor Tito Jackson. 

The strong support for the first-term incumbent reflected an optimistic mood among the voters surveyed. Fully 91 percent of voters would “recommend their neighborhood to a friend,” and 84 percent think “Boston is a city where hopes and dreams can be realized for people like me.”

But survey respondents expressed concerns that life was not good for everybody, everywhere in the city. Just 31 percent think all neighborhoods are improving, while 52 percent say some neighborhoods are improving, but not others. More than one in ten (14 percent) say life is not improving.


Evaluations of life in Boston varied along racial and economic lines. Fully 62 percent of white voters and 67 percent of those with incomes over $100,000 rated the quality of life excellent or very good, compared to just 36 percent of black voters and 49 percent of those with incomes under $60,000.

On the question about Boston being a city for realizing hopes and dreams, more than half of white voters (56 percent) strongly agree, compared to just a third percent of black voters.

These racial dynamics extend, to a degree, to the mayor’s race. While black voters supported Walsh over Jackson (45 percent to 27 percent), they did so by a much narrower margin than white voters (67 percent to 16 percent).

Poll results for the entire sample have a margin of error of 4.6 percent. That margin is larger for subsamples based on race or income. Nine percent of the likely voters said they have Latino or Hispanic descent, too few to break out their opinions separately.

Housing Costs — The Worst

When asked to name the biggest issue facing Boston, the cost of housing (26 percent) was mentioned the most frequently, followed by crime and gun violence (11 percent), public schools (11 percent), overdevelopment (6 percent) and income inequality (6 percent).

The respondents were also asked what are the worst things about living in Boston. Topping that list was the cost-of-living/high rent/gentrification, at 24 percent. It was followed closely by transportation issues (23 percent). Rounding out the top five were crime (10 percent), weather (5 percent), and racism (4 percent).

Housing costs were a concern cited across most groups of voters, but especially middle-income households earning $60,000 to $100,000. These voters were more likely to rate it as the worst thing about Boston (32 percent) than those earning more (19 percent) or less (23 percent).

Black voters were more likely than white voters to label housing costs the worst thing (26 percent, compared to 20 percent). White voters were more likely than black voters to cite transportation as the worst thing (31 percent versus 13 percent).

The Surprising Best Thing about Boston

Contrary to popular belief, Boston voters appeared to be generally satisfied with their ability to navigate the city. In fact, when asked to name the best thing about living in Boston, the top response was the ability to get around/transportation options (26 percent), followed by culture/diversity (13 percent), and education (9 percent). 

Of course, not everyone survey agreed. Transportation issues were also near the top of the list of the worst things about living in the city, too.

But most voters appeared content with their ability to get around. Eight out of ten (79 percent) agreed with the statement: I am satisfied with my ability to get around Boston easily. A slight majority, 53 percent, went as far as to strongly agree.

Again, there were differences along racial lines. White voters (45 percent) and those with incomes over $100,000 (44 percent) were notably less likely to strongly agree that they can get around easily, compared to black voters (66 percent) and those with incomes under $60,000 (63 percent).

City’s Report Card

The poll asked the likely voters to grade the city on nine issues using a scale from A to F. Overall, the city’s report card is probably not one to pin proudly to the fridge.

The average rating across all issues was C+. Boston’s highest marks were for city services (B) and policing (B-). Among whites, the grade for policing was B+, while blacks give it a C+.

Areas receiving C+ grades included new development and construction, crime, and racial equality. Black voters gave Boston lower marks than whites on racial equality (C- compared to C+) and on crime (C- compared to C+).

Public schools were given a C.

Voters gave the city a C- for its handling of homelessness and the opioid crisis. The cost of housing received the lowest grade of the nine issues, a D+.

Other Issues: Racism, Immigrants

Although most voters feel life in Boston is improving, fully 74 percent agreed “there is still a lot of racism in Boston.” That included 40 percent who strongly agreed with that statement.

Fully 89 percent of black voters agreed there is a lot of racism in Boston, including 56 percent who did so strongly. By comparison, just 69 percent of white voters agreed, only 32 percent strongly.

On the other hand, there was even more agreement (83 percent) that “Boston is welcoming to new immigrants.” In this case, there was nearly equal agreement between black and white voters. The question did not distinguish between immigrants who are in the country either legally or illegally.

Chris Anderson is co-founder and president of Anderson Robbins Research in Boston.


WGBH News' 2017 Poll On Likely Boston Voters by wgbhnews on Scribd