Pensacola, Florida
Saturday December 16th 2017

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Hayward’s Job Approval Slips

By Rick Outzen

The Pensacola Young Professionals released on Tuesday their 2016 Quality of Life Survey. The news for Pensacola Mayor Ashton Hayward wasn’t as positive as it has been in the past.

More residents believed that Escambia County was on the right track (51 percent) than believed the City of Pensacola was headed in the right direction (45 percent).  Both trends were down from 2015, with the county dropping 10 points and the city falling 25 points.

This was the first time the positive attitude towards the direction of the city fell below 50 percent since Mayor Ashton Hayward took office in 2011.

The Quality of Life Survey, funded since 2008 by Quint and Rishy Studer, is conducted yearly under the direction of PYP. The survey seeks to measure the attitudes of Escambia County voters toward our local economy, our elected leaders, and the pros and cons of our area’s quality of life. For the past seven years, the survey has provided measurable data that has helped the public discussion of issues and guided city and county leaders in their quest to improve the quality of life in the city and county.

Mason-Dixon Polling & Research, Inc., located in Washington, DC, conducts this survey on behalf of PYP, interviewing 800 Escambia County voters by telephone. The in-depth phone interviews obtain residents’ views on the direction of our city and county; the job performance of our mayor, council, superintendent and commission; the economic conditions in our county; and the best and worst aspects of our community ranging from public schools to natural beauty to cultural diversity.

The survey results have been a good indicator of the mood of voters. In 2008, less than 30 percent of the voters believed the city and county were on the right track. Commissioner Mike Whitehead and Sheriff Ron McNesby were voted out of office, and four new city council members were elected.

In 2014, 63 percent believed the city was on the right track, and Mayor Ashton Hayward easily won re-election, 65-35 percent.

In previous years, the mayor has taken pride in the Quality of Life Survey results. The PYP brochure on the annual results almost looked like a campaign piece for the mayor. In his viewpoint published in the Pensacola News Journal at the beginning of the year, Mayor Hayward touted his ratings.

“Seventy-nine percent of the people who responded to the 2015 PYP Quality of Life Survey believe that Pensacola is headed in the right direction,” wrote the mayor.  “A similar number expressed solid confidence in the vision and leadership of the city.”

Mayor Hayward added, “We are clearly on the right path. Our challenge for 2016 is to sustain that confidence and leverage it for the benefit of everyone in Pensacola.”

Unfortunately, he has not sustained that level of confidence. The majority of voters no longer believe Hayward has the City of Pensacola heading in the right direction.  The 2016 percentage, 45 percent, was the lowest since 2009 when only 30 percent believed the city was on the right track. In November 2009, city voters passed the new charter establishing a strong mayor.

Mayor Hayward’s job approval rating also dropped. Only one out of three people surveyed believed the mayor was doing an excellent or good job. His approval rating was cut nearly in half, falling 32-percentage points since the summer of 2015. From 2011-2015, the average percentage of those who felt the mayor was doing a poor job was only 5.8 percent.  In 2016, 23 percent gave him a poor rating, a four-fold jump.

When one looks at only how city residents viewed Mayor Hayward, his job approval rating was slightly higher, 35.5 percent, but less than how Pensacola residents viewed the much-maligned Pensacola City Council, which had 41.4 percent favorable job performance rating. In previous surveys, the mayor was much more popular than the council.

In contrast, the Escambia County Commission has seen a steady raise in how voters see their job performance—2014: 32 percent; 2015: 39 percent; and 2016: 42 percent. Pensacola voters have a higher rating for the commission than those living in the suburbs, 46-41 percent. City residents think the county commission is doing a better job than either the mayor or city council.

Overall, people appeared to have separated their local governments from how they feel about the community. Two-thirds were positive about the overall quality of life in Escambia County.

The elected official with the highest job approval rating was School Superintendent Malcolm Thomas, with 61 percent. The Escambia County School Board received a 45 percent job approval rating, which was down three points from last year.

Only 39 percent had a positive attitude towards the school’s performance in assisting economic development and job readiness.  About the same percentage (40 percent) was positive about the quality of public education. Less than half (44 percent), thought the quality of public education was getting better.

The 2016 Quality of Life Survey is available online at PensacolaYP.com.