Nearly 6 out of 10 voters support hosting the conference and think the international gathering will be a boost to the city. And more than half of those surveyed say they believe protests would be peaceful.
For the president, who moved an accompanying G-8 meeting of leaders of the world's top economies from Chicago to Camp David, a successful NATO conference depends on both the diplomatic results as well as how his hometown handles an international security event.
For Emanuel, who lobbied the White House to host the summit, success won't be measured as much inside McCormick Place convention center as on the streets of the city he's led for a year.
"If everything goes smoothly, it's a great opportunity for Chicago to step outside the shadows of other major cities in the U.S. and the world," said Marc Hetherington, a professor of political science at Vanderbilt University.
"There's always a downside risk to all of these things," Hetherington cautioned. "One of the things that provides more (risk) than usual is people are just in such a sour mood about government in general right now."
Chicago has long sought to put to rest the images of the 1968 Democratic National Convention, the result of actions that a federal panel blamed on a "police riot," which damaged the city's reputation for decades.
Later, the 1996 Democratic National Convention that renominated President Bill Clinton went off without serious problems. Obama's historic victory speech before tens of thousands on a warm Chicago night in Grant Park brought the downtown's energetic skyline to the world in November 2008.
But the city's efforts to boost its image were dealt a setback most recently by the International Olympic Committee's quick dispatch of Chicago's bid for the 2016 Summer Games, despite an in-person plea from Obama.
Now, the NATO summit is viewed as a form of consolation prize bestowed by the president upon Emanuel, his friend and former chief of staff.
"We are bringing the world to see the city of Chicago, and Chicago to the world," Emanuel said Wednesday, echoing his host role refrain. "They're going to see the most American of American cities."
It was a sentiment with which Freddie Jones, a poll respondent from the South Side, agreed. "It's good exposure for the city and I'd like to show off our city," said Jones, 85, a retired schoolteacher. "It goes down in people's memory. It's another notch in the belt."
As for gridlocked traffic, Jones said, "Anything worth having is worth being inconvenienced for."
A total of 59 percent of voters in the six-county metropolitan area and 58 percent of city voters agreed that hosting NATO would improve Chicago's international standing, the poll found. About 3 out of 10 surveyed disagreed.
Tom Crawford, 56, an information technology consultant in the health care field from St. Charles, said he believes NATO "makes Chicago more of an international city."
"Anything the mayor can do to bring in worldwide events is good for tourism, and it puts Chicago on the map," said Crawford, who works in downtown Chicago. "It's great for the economy, not only for this year, but future years."
When it comes to the protests, Crawford said he believes the burden is on how well the police force has been trained.
"The mayor is a control freak, and he's probably laid some heavy orders on the department and police (superintendent) on how to handle the situation," Crawford said. Emanuel "doesn't want to embarrass the president, I'm sure. That's all Obama would need in his hometown. It could do him in."