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WBUR poll shows Janey, Wu lead crowded Boston mayoral field, but race still in the early innings

Acting Mayor Kim Janey (left) and Councilor Michelle Wu.
Acting Mayor Kim Janey (left) and Councilor Michelle Wu.

A new poll shows Acting Mayor Kim Janey and City Councilor Michelle Wu are currently garnering more support than their rival mayoral candidates in what’s shaping up to be a crowded field, though nearly half the poll respondents said they were undecided in a race that’s still very much in the early stages.

The poll of 552 registered Boston voters was conducted by WBUR, the Dorchester Reporter, MassINC, and the Boston Foundation.

Nineteen percent of respondents said they’re likely to support Wu, and 18 percent said they’re backing Janey. Rounding out the field were Councilor Annissa Essaibi George, who got 6 percent; Councilor Andrea Campbell, who had 4 percent; John Barros, former mayor Marty Walsh’s economic development chief, who received 3 percent; and state Representative Jon Santiago, who also had 3 percent support.

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But a whopping 46 percent of respondents said they were undecided, according to the poll data, and 1 percent refused to say who they were likely to back in the high-stakes race for the corner office.

In a related line of inquiry, Walsh topped the list in the favorability index, with 59 percent of residents reporting a favorable view of the new US labor secretary. Wu came in second at 47 percent, followed by Janey at 34 percent favorable, Essabi George at 27 percent, Campbell at 26 percent, Barros at 17 percent, and Santiago at 13 percent.

And in a sign that not all publicity’s necessarily good publicity in the rough-and-tumble world of local politics, Walsh, who became the public face of the city’s COVID-19 response over the past year with frequent press conferences, also had the highest negative rating among respondents, with 20 percent saying they had an unfavorable view of the former mayor, labor leader, and proud son of Dorchester.

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Eleven percent of respondents had an unfavorable view of Wu, followed by 6 percent unfavorable for Barros and Campbell, and 5 percent for Essabi George, Santiago, and Janey.

In addition, the data showed the candidates have ground to make up on the name recognition front.

Fifty-seven percent of respondents said they’d never heard of Santiago, 50 percent didn’t know Barros, and 44 percent hadn’t heard of Essabi George. The data showed 42 percent hadn’t heard of Campbell, followed by Janey at 35 percent, and Wu at 21 percent. Eight percent of respondents said they’d never heard of Walsh.

Pollsters also asked respondents to identify the most pressing matter facing Boston.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the COVID-19 pandemic topped the list, with 27 percent of respondents saying the health crisis was the single biggest priority.

That was followed by housing costs, at 18 percent of respondents; public education, at 6 percent; race relations and the economy/jobs, which each notched 5 percent; the eternal scourge of traffic, which registered 4 percent; public transportation, crime/public safety, homelessness, and climate change, all clocking in at 3 percent; taxes/budget issues, parking, and opioids, which all got 2 percent; and small businesses, which had 1 percent.

Less than 1 percent identified biking/pedestrian safety as the top issue, and 10 percent of respondents identified issues falling under the nebulous “other” umbrella. Six percent either weren’t sure about the top issue or declined to disclose their pick.

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Travis Andersen can be reached at travis.andersen@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @TAGlobe.