Jackson Mayor Chokwe Antar Lumumba discusses the city's water crisis during a press conference at City Hall in Jackson, Miss., Tuesday, August 30, 2022. Credit: Eric Shelton/Mississippi Today

Jackson residents generally believe Democratic Mayor Chokwe Antar Lumumba is doing a better job than Republican Gov. Tate Reeves dealing with the city’s failing water system, according to a poll conducted Thursday and Friday — but both received low marks.

Of the poll respondents, 34.8% found Reeves’ handling of the crisis totally unacceptable while 21.6% found it poor. Meanwhile, 31.3% found Lumumba’s efforts totally unacceptable while 15.2% rated it as poor. The poll found 35.6% gave Lumumba great or good marks while only 22.6% said the same for Reeves.

The survey was conducted by Blueprint Polling, a sister company of Chism Strategies – a Mississippi-based firm that has long done political and public policy surveys.

Blueprint polled 491 Jackson voters on landlines and cell phones this week. The poll has a margin of error of plus or minus 4.4% and was weighted in an attempt to match the demographics of Jackson voters – heavily African American and Democratic. African Americans made up 84% of the respondents.

Jackson residents, based on poll results, were split on the long-term issue of how to fix the water system. Estimates put that fix at more than $1 billion, according to the city. The poll found 30.6% of respondents favored the state providing funds for the fix with the city continuing to operate the system, while 30.1% favored the creation of a regional water board. Another 20.6% favor a state takeover.

More white voters (40%) favor a state takeover while 24.2% of Black voters do. Black voters are not keen on the city continuing to run the system with only 32.1% supporting that option compared to only 21.4% of white voters.

The water system has been in a state of disrepair for years, but the problems intensified in recent days. On Monday night, the governor declared a state of emergency, citing the lack of water pressure throughout the city for many of the more than 170,000 customers on the system and the lack of safe drinking water for all the customers. President Joe Biden issued a federal emergency order later in the week, deploying federal personnel and resources to help state and local officials deal with the immediate problems, but not the long-term fix.

Jackson has been under a boil water notice since late June. The problems grew in recent days because of Pearl River flooding impacting the reservoir, which is the city’s primary source of water, and the inability of city officials to adequately staff the system’s water treatment plants.

The pollsters surmised that “we expect opinions to continue to evolve as voters learn more about the city’s recent management history over the Jackson water system.”

In addition, the pollsters pointed out the survey was conducted before U.S. Rep. Bennie Thompson, who represents most of Jackson, weighed in on the problems facing the system. Thompson said on Mississippi Today’s “The Other Side” podcast that the state had not lived up to its obligations in helping maintain the system, but by the same token he would not favor the city having sole authority of the system unless it could demonstrate an ability to adequately do so.

Because of Thompson’s position as the only Democrat in the congressional delegation and because of his relationship with the president and his high ranking position in Congress, “it is doubtful that any lasting solution will be reached without Congressman Thompson’s approval.”

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Bobby Harrison, Mississippi Today’s senior capitol reporter, covers politics, government and the Mississippi State Legislature. He also writes a weekly news analysis which is co-published in newspapers statewide. A native of Laurel, Bobby joined our team June 2018 after working for the North Mississippi Daily Journal in Tupelo since 1984. He is president of the Mississippi Capitol Press Corps Association and works with the Mississippi State University Stennis Institute to organize press luncheons. Bobby has a bachelor's in American Studies from the University of Southern Mississippi and has received multiple awards from the Mississippi Press Association, including the Bill Minor Best Investigative/In-depth Reporting and Best Commentary Column.