Metro

Walsh has 31-point lead over Jackson in mayoral race, poll shows

Mayor Martin J. Walsh (left) and opponent Tito Jackson gathered signatures last month in Dudley Square.

John Cetrino for The Boston Globe/File

Mayor Martin J. Walsh (left) and opponent Tito Jackson gathered signatures last month in Dudley Square.

Mayor Martin J. Walsh holds a commanding 31-point lead over his closest rival, Councilor Tito Jackson, in a new Suffolk University/Boston Globe poll that shows just how hard it will be to derail Walsh’s reelection bid even as voters are unhappy with the city schools and the cost of housing, and are divided over the state of race relations.

With 14 weeks to go before the Sept. 26 preliminary contest, more than 60 percent of voters surveyed said they view Walsh favorably and approve of the job he is doing as mayor. While many respondents said they also view Jackson favorably, he remains a virtual unknown to almost half of the city’s voters.

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Walsh would trounce Jackson if the preliminary contest were held today, 54 percent to 23 percent, with more than 18 percent of registered voters undecided, according to the poll. The incumbent, who is white, came out on top by wide margins in every voter segment, besting Jackson, who is African-American, and two lesser known mayoral competitors.

“The poll shows that even among black voters and Hispanic voters, Walsh is beating Tito Jackson among all categories, race, gender, age, geography,’’ said David Paleologos, director of the Suffolk University Political Research Center, which conducted the poll with the Globe. “There isn’t a part of the city that isn’t supporting him.”

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Walsh’s dominance is similar to what was seen in a March 2013 Globe poll that showed his predecessor, former mayor Thomas M. Menino, beating former councilor John Connolly, 50 percent to 21 percent.

In addition to providing an early look at the horse race between Walsh and Jackson, the poll offers a window into key issues for voters.

Residents said they were not focused on the federal corruption investigation that remains a lingering threat to Walsh’s tenure in City Hall and his campaign. Two of Walsh’s department heads have been accused of union-related extortion during preparations for the Boston Calling music festival in September 2014.

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But the results also offered a glimmer of hope for Jackson, as respondents expressed frustration with the quality of public schools and bemoaned soaring housing prices. Jackson has made Walsh’s performance on education and housing among his core issues.

According to the survey, just 6 percent of the voters said the city schools have gotten a lot better over the past four years, with 20 percent saying the system has gotten somewhat better. More than half of the respondents said the schools either have stayed the same, gotten worse, or a gotten a lot worse since Walsh took office.

On the price of housing in the city — renting or buying — at least 71 percent in the poll said they were very dissatisfied or dissatisfied with the housing costs.

“Affordable housing is just disappearing in the City of Boston,’’ said Chris Creed, a 53-year-old Hyde Park resident who participated in the poll. “They are building million-dollar apartments downtown and they are not concerned about the guy that is working for a living.”

The issue of race also divided poll respondents. When asked if racism is prevalent in Boston, 42 percent said it is, while 45 percent said it is not.

But that is the overall poll result. Among black Bostonians the view is much starker. Fifty-seven percent of blacks think Boston is racist compared with 37 percent of whites who share that view.

Mary Ann Arabadjis, an 80-year-old Charlestown resident who responded to the survey, said the city’s race relations have improved, but things are still bad. Arabadjis, who is white, said she still sees blacks at the housing development, but not in the neighborhood’s Gas Light District where she lives.

“I don’t want to attack Boston,’’ she said, “But I would like it even better if I had neighbors who had a little color on their skin.”

Walsh is doing well by one key measure — his personal connection to voters. Nearly four in 10 people in the poll said they had met Walsh, who assumed office in 2014.

But he has a ways to go to match his predecessor on this score. Four years ago, 60 percent of voters polled said they had met Walsh’s predecessor, the late Thomas M. Menino, a testament to the former mayor’s constant travels throughout the city over the course of his 20 years in office.

“I think he’s done a reasonably good job,’’ said Liz Hardy, a 67-year-old Hyde Park artist who took the poll said of Walsh. “It’s not easy running a big metropolitan city.”

By contrast, Jackson enjoys a 40 percent favorability rating, but his biggest challenge is that he is largely unknown outside his district, which includes Roxbury. Nearly half of the respondents — 45 percent — have never heard of Jackson or have not formed an opinion of the 42-year-old Grove Hall resident, the poll finds.

Boston City Councilor Tito Jackson looked on as Boston Mayor Martin J. Walsh delivered remarks earlier this month.

Jim Davis/Globe Staff

Boston City Councilor Tito Jackson looked on as Boston Mayor Martin J. Walsh delivered remarks earlier this month.

The poll of 500 registered voters was conducted with live telephone interviews from June 19 to 21. The results were weighted by gender, race, neighborhood, and other factors to approximate a 2017 electorate. The poll has a margin of error of plus or minus 4.4 percentage points.

Other highlights include:

 Walsh (at 61 percent) was viewed more favorably than Governor Charlie Baker (57 percent) and slightly less favorably than US Senator Elizabeth Warren (67 percent) in the Boston survey.

 The mayor also had a 65 percent job approval rating, while 21 percent disapprove of the job he is doing and 14 percent remained undecided.

 Forty-nine percent of the respondents said they were better off now than they were four years ago; 23 percent said they were worse off, and 26 percent said they were about the same.

 Among white respondents, Walsh tops Jackson, 65 to 19 percent. The mayor is up 41 percent to 30 percent among blacks; and 45 percent to 34 percent among Hispanics.

Walsh and Jackson both said the poll’s lopsided result won’t affect how they campaign.

Jackson, dismissing polls and pundits as distractions, pledged Saturday to continue his grass-roots campaign and seemed geared up for a political fight. He said his campaign “is what democracy looks like” and highlighted the nearly $100,000 he currently has in the bank compared with Walsh’s millions, which Jackson describes as a “bloated developer war chest.”

Walsh was encouraged by the polls, said he will be campaigning hard through the fall and addressing housing, education, and race in the city – issues his administration has targeted over the past three years.

“Because a poll says Marty Walsh is up by 31 points doesn’t mean Marty Walsh isn’t going to take this race extremely seriously and work really hard to be re-elected mayor of Boston,” he said.

The other mayoral candidates who qualified for the preliminary ballot did not fare well in the poll: Just 4 percent of the respondents said they would back Robert Cappucci, a former police officer and former elected school committee member; and only 1 percent support Joseph Wiley, a customer service representative at MassHealth.

“If I were Walsh, I’d be very encouraged by the poll, especially with the job approval numbers and the fact that he has a massive lead,’’ Suffolk’s Paleologos said.

Jackson’s challenge, Paleologos said, is to resolve his “name recognition problem’’ by meeting more people and telling his story.

If Jackson can sway voters he meets, connect with the undecideds, and improve his name recognition, Jackson could come within 20 points of Walsh by the September vote, he added. Paleologos said Jackson also should focus on solidifying his base in District 7 — which also includes parts of Dorchester and the South End.

“There isn’t a silver bullet here,’’ Paleologos said. “He has to build at the grass-roots level and hope that some of the Walsh supporters are ‘soft supporters.’ . . . They could be swayed with a different vision of how the city should be run and managed.”

Jackson’s message has resonance with supporters who feel they are being left behind in the city’s building boom.

“He’s someone who has been working in my district,’’ said one of the poll’s respondents, who asked to be identified by only her first name Minnie. “Tito Jackson is my number one vote. Mayor Walsh would be number two.” ​

Perhaps the biggest uncertainty in the race is the federal corruption case hovering over the Walsh administration. Still, less than half of the respondents (45 percent) said they were aware that two city officials were charged, and 37 percent were not aware of the case at all.

Hardy, the Hyde Park artist, said she was troubled by the corruption case, though she doesn’t think Walsh was personally involved. Even so, she said the mayor should tell the public whether he has been called to testify before a grand jury in the case.

“He said his administration has transparency, then he should be able to say whether [or not] he has been before a grand jury,’’ she said. “He should be open and honest.”

Check out the raw data from the poll:

Read the poll questions:

Meghan E. Irons can be reached at meghan.irons@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @meghanirons.
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