In November 1991, the New York Times / WCBS-TV News conducted a poll among New Yorkers in which 60 percent said things had gotten so bad in the city they would leave tomorrow, if they could.
But that startling figure, which Giuliani uses, had changed by the time he prepared to take office. Just before Giuliani defeated incumbent Mayor David Dinkins, the Times and WCBS did the poll again. Between Sept. 29 and Oct. 3, 1993, they asked 1,223 adults some questions about New York City. The responses were generally pessimistic; the Times referred to them as "grim." Nearly two-thirds viewed the economy as bad or very bad, almost as many thought crime had gotten worse, and so on.
Here was the New York Times description of the "want to leave" issue: "In its most provocative finding, the survey determined that 45 percent of respondents said things had got so bad in New York that they would move out tomorrow if they could. Some pollsters played down the significance of the finding, noting that similar surveys in Chicago and London also showed many residents said they wanted to leave immediately." That 45 percent may be disturbing, but it's not 60 or 70 percent, as Giuliani said.
In fact, despite the "grim" findings about New Yorker attitudes, the percentage who wanted to leave had been dropping sharply in the two years before Giuliani took office. From 60 percent in 1991 to 45 percent in 1993. It fell to about 33 percent in eight years under Giuliani.
As for 70 percent wanting to stay, the Giuliani campaign cites a New York Times /CBS News poll in August 2001, just before the 9/11 attacks and in the midst of a campaign to elect a successor to Giuliani. The New York Times reported that "barely a third" of the respondents said they would move out of the city if they could and added that "about 60 percent" of New Yorkers wanted to stay in New York. It should be noted that the question had a couple of important predicates, including a longer-term time horizon: "Looking ahead about four years, if it was entirely up to you, would you want to be living where you are now, or would you want to be living somewhere else in New York City, or outside the city." A variation on earlier surveys limited the choice to NYC or "somewhere else," but the negative results varied only a little when both versions of the question were used.
So the "city that I was handed" at the end of 1993 did not have 60 or 70 percent who wanted to leave, but only 45 percent, according to the polls, and the city Giuliani managed for nearly eight years had 60 percent who wanted to stay, according to the poll he cites, not 70 percent.
There's no disagreement among sources here. Giuliani just misquotes the numbers, and does so in a way that reflects better on him. We find his statement to be Barely True.
Editor's note: This statement was rated Barely True when it was published. On July 27, 2011, we changed the name for the rating to Mostly False.