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By Rick Pearson and Michelle Manchir, Chicago Tribune

CHICAGO — A majority of Illinois voters continue to give home-state President Barack Obama positive marks for his job performance, but that doesn’t mean they want their tax dollars used to help bring his library to Chicago, a new Chicago Tribune poll shows.

The survey also found that a majority of the state’s residents want to see the president’s signature health care law improved rather than repealed. But voters were split on Obama’s use of executive actions to bypass partisan stalemates in a divided Congress.

The poll of 800 registered voters was conducted from Sept. 3-12, before Monday’s announcement by the Obama library foundation that two Chicago universities — the University of Chicago and the University of Illinois, Chicago — are among the four finalists to host the future facility.

Asked if state tax dollars should be used to lure the library and help in its construction, 54 percent statewide said no, while 39 percent said yes. Another 7 percent had no opinion.

In the spring, Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Democratic House Speaker Michael Madigan pushed to commit $100 million from the state toward the library if it is built in Chicago. But the plan stalled out amid criticism that it was folly to make such a commitment while the state’s finances were in dire shape.

The poll found Chicago voters supportive of a state investment in a future Obama library — 61 percent to 31 percent. But voters in every other region of the state were opposed. In the collar counties, which tend to lean Republican, and in the 96 counties outside the Chicago region, the opposition was 2-to-1.

A Tribune poll conducted among city residents last month had found Chicago voters much more split — 47 percent supported the use of tax dollars compared with 45 percent who opposed using the money.

Presidential libraries traditionally are built with private money and then administered by the National Archives through taxpayer money and funding from library foundations. The estimated price tag for the Obama library is $500 million, and an amount equal to 60 percent of construction costs will be needed to set up an endowment used to offset costs from the federal government under a federal law.

Democratic voters backed the use of state construction tax dollars, 60 percent to 33 percent. Republicans overwhelmingly disapproved, 86 percent to 10 percent, as did independent voters, 60 percent to 31 percent.

White voters were against using tax money by a 2-to-1 margin, while black voters supported the idea by a better than 3-to-1 margin.

Poll respondent Charles Mikutis, a retired utility inspector who lives near West Chicago and tends to vote Republican, is opposed to the use of tax money.

“The idea of a presidential library is to provide a national trust of historic documents and mementos for educational purposes. This should be done with private funds. It’s a personal thing; it’s his museum funded by those strongly in favor of him,” said Mikutis, 74.

But respondent Jennea Bivens, 39, a psychologist from Chicago, said that if the library could bring tourism dollars to benefit the community, she supports using tax dollars to lure it here.

“Our money’s getting used for other stuff, why not a presidential library?” said Bivens, a Democrat. “I think that would be a good piece of history that would make the community better.”

The two Chicago universities, along with Columbia University in New York and the University of Hawaii, were selected as finalists from 13 contenders. Each has until Dec. 11 to submit a formal proposal, including site development plans.

Unlike in most national polls taken since July, Obama’s job performance rating remains positive in the state where he launched his political career. Fully 52 percent of voters said they approved of the job he was doing compared with 40 percent who disapproved. Another 8 percent said they didn’t know how to judge his presidency.

Those figures have remained relatively consistent in Tribune polling since fall 2010 and through Obama’s 2012 re-election.

Driving the statewide numbers was the 76 percent approval rating Obama received from Chicago voters, compared with 14 percent who disapproved. But more voters in the collar counties and Downstate disapproved than approved of the job Obama is doing.

To circumvent a gridlocked Congress in which Republicans control the House and Democrats lead the Senate, Obama increasingly has resorted to the use of his executive authority to try to move issues. Such action is expected on immigration reform after the Nov. 4 midterm elections.

Among Illinois voters, 40 percent said Obama should use his executive authority to do even more to bypass Congress, while 30 percent said he has exceeded his presidential power. Another 24 percent said he has used his authority enough.

The poll also found 54 percent of voters wanting to see improvements in the Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare, compared with only 25 percent who want to see the health care law repealed. Another 15 percent said the law should be left as is.

The poll found support for improving the law across geographic, age, and income lines.

Among Democrats, 61 percent said improve the law, 29 percent said leave it as is, and 6 percent said it should be repealed. Among Republicans, 53 percent said Obamacare should be tossed, 37 percent said improve it, and 2 percent said leave it as it stands. Among independents, 57 percent favored improving it, 28 percent said repeal it, and 8 percent said leave the law alone.

AFP Photo/Mandel Ngan

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Photo by Michael 1952/ CC BY 2.0

Reprinted with permission from ProPublica

As an editor, I've long had mixed feelings about the journalistic tradition of marking particular chronological or numerical milestones. No one wanted to avoid the “Sept. 11: One Year Later" package — and I was eager to do it given the six previous years I'd spent directing global coverage of al-Qaida — but the annual stories seemed far more forced by Sept. 11, 2005.

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