Most D.C. voters like the direction the city is going in, but also have doubts about Mayor Vincent Gray.
A new poll finds that while Mayor Vincent Gray remains in the lead among a crowded field of challengers for D.C.'s top office, the scandal stemming from his 2010 campaign continues to color how residents view him.
A poll conducted by NBC4, WAMU 88.5, the Washington Informer and the Marist College Institute for Public Opinion is one of extremes. The majority of registered Democrats surveyed — 56 percent — approve of Gray's job as mayor, yet 63 percent say that he doesn't deserve re-election. Seventy percent say that he did something unethical or illegal during the 2010 campaign, but 74 percent say the city is headed in the right direction.
But with five weeks to go until the April 1 primary, Gray remains ahead of his competitors.
Among Democrats are who are likely to vote, Gray leads the crowded field with 28 percent. Council member Muriel Bowser comes in second at 20 percent, while Council members Jack Evans (D-Ward 2) and Tommy Wells (D-Ward 6) are at 13 and 12 percent, respectively. Restaurant owner Andy Shallal claims six percent, Council member Vincent Orange (D-At Large) stands at four percent and 12 percent of respondents say they are undecided.
The numbers are consistent with a January poll from The Washington Post that put Gray ahead of his challengers, though Bowser, who was endorsed by the paper's editorial board last week, has since gained ground.
"If you have an incumbent with a 56 percent approval rating and 74 percent of Democrats thinking the city is headed in the right direction, this would not be a contest," says Lee Miringoff, the director of the Marist College Institute for Public Opinion. "But when you look at whether people say they are more or less likely to vote as a result of this scandal, clearly the cloud is there over Gray's candidacy."
The scandal refers to the federal investigation into Gray's 2010 campaign. Four people associated with the campaign have pleaded guilty to crimes, and the investigation is ongoing. According to the poll, more than half of likely primary voters say they're less likely to vote for Gray because of the campaign finance investigation.
The poll also shows a racial divide on how the scandal — and Gray's support — is playing out.
Eighty-two percent of white voters say they're less likely to vote for Gray because of the 2010 scandal, while only one-third of black voters say the same thing. Gray enjoys the support of 41 percent of black Democrats, contrasted with only 10 percent among whites. Bowser's supporter is more evenly split — 23 percent from blacks, 18 from whites — while Wells and Evans draw largely from white residents.
And according to Democrats polled, 44 percent say the economy and jobs is the top priority when it comes to deciding how to vote, with ethics coming in second at 22 percent.
Miringoff says it's a fluid race with interesting electoral dynamics, considering the incumbent's strengths and weaknesses.
"It's an advantage to Gray he can depend on his approval rating. District voters are pleased with the direction of the District, but the scandal is there and the opportunity is there clearly for Bowser to make a move in the closing weeks," he says.
Even if Gray does pull off a win on April 1, he won't be assured a victory in the general election: the poll found that while 43 percent of voters say they would cast ballots for him in November, 40 percent say they won't.
The poll surveyed 1,138 residents last week by phone — both landline and cell phone — and has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.6 percentage points. The margin of error for likely primary voters polled is larger, plus or minus 4.8 points.
All eight Democratic candidates will join us here at WAMU 88.5 on Wednesday evening for a special live D.C. Mayoral Candidate Forum, hosted by Kojo Nnamdi with WAMU reporters Kavitha Cardoza and Patrick Madden. The debate will air live from 7 to 9 p.m. on WAMU 88.5 and stream at WAMU.org.