As early voting swings into motion, a new poll shows City Councilor Michelle Wu of Roslindale with a commanding lead over her competitors, confirming the findings of other recent surveys that point to a battle brewing for second place in the preliminary contest for Boston mayor.
With roughly a week to go before Tuesday’s preliminary election, Wu sits atop of the pack with 31 percent, outside the poll’s margin of error, according to the Suffolk University and Boston Globe poll of 500 likely voters. Wu’s standing is an improvement over where she was in June, when a Suffolk/Globe poll found her with support from 23 percent of likely voters.
Three other contenders are bunched together in the race for second place — Kim Janey, who is the acting mayor, at 20 percent; and City Councilors Annissa Essaibi George at 19 percent and Andrea Campbell at 18 percent. John Barros, the city’s former chief of economic development, trails far behind at 3 percent.
Janey’s standing actually decreased by 2 percentage points, while Essaibi George and Campbell gained support, since the June poll. The top two finishers in the Sept. 14 preliminary will face off against each other on Nov. 2.
The survey suggests that Wu has a clear path toward advancing to the Nov. 2 final, said David Paleologos, director of the Suffolk University Political Research Center, which conducted the poll. “Her margin is bigger than the remaining undecideds and [the number of people refusing to take the survey]. This establishes her position and it really makes the final week of the mayor’s race about number two.”
As the window closes on voting, Paleologos said that a pair of upcoming debates — one Wednesday, the other Thursday — could help voters on the fence make a decision about whom to embrace. Turnout is expected to be low, as it historically is in preliminary municipal elections, and the so-called “soft voters” — those who have at least two favorites in the race — and undecided voters could be the key factors in the election. Already, the number of undecided voters has decreased by more than half — from 22 percent in a Suffolk-Globe poll in June to 8 percent, he added.
Watch for the candidates, who by and large have been cordial to each other, to get testy as they try to keep up with Wu.
For Boston’s acting mayor, who has been on the job since March, the poll revealed something of a conundrum, in which Janey received high marks for the job she has done, but that approval isn’t translating into higher support for her candidacy.
Sixty-one percent of likely voters gave her a favorable job ranking, with many backing her leadership on the pandemic as well. Sixty-four percent said she did well on that score, 83 percent agreed with her new mask mandate for indoors, and 84 percent support the acting mayor’s decision requiring that all 18,000 city workers show proof of COVID-19 vaccination or submit to weekly testing.
The poll showed other factors working for Janey, who is from Roxbury. She benefits from having the highest support of Black voters among the candidates. The new poll shows Janey building on her lead among this group with 46 percent of Black voters supporting her — a 4 percentage point gain from the June poll.
Janey also leads among voters who did not graduate from college, including high school graduates and those who attended high school and did not graduate. She also leads among people ages 65 or older.
Campbell — buoyed by a recent Globe endorsement — seems most likely to gain from Wu’s surge in the quest for second place, Paleologos said. She is perceived among likely voters as philosophically aligned with Wu, according to the poll. In fact, 43 percent of voters who picked Wu as their first choice for mayor said Campbell was their second choice, Paleologos said.
Some of those “soft Wu voters” may feel assured that Wu will make the final and thus decide to vote for Campbell instead, Paleologos said.
Eduardo Sanchez, a 22-year-old who lives in West Roxbury, said he is drawn to Campbell, who lives in Mattapan, because she embodies positive aspects of the other major candidates. “She’s progressive like Wu. . . . she has the lived experiences like Janey, she’s a mother and very relatable like Annissa,” said Sanchez, who also noted Campbell’s detailed plans for leading the city.
Essaibi George also appears strong in several categories. She’s leading — with 56 percent — among people who say crime is the most important issue in the mayoral race.
That’s one of the reasons Troy Anthony, a 58-year-old Roxbury resident, said he will vote for Essaibi George. (Campbell is his second choice). Anthony said he believes Essaibi George will “give people more say so” on issues of inequity in Roxbury and Mattapan, where he was raised. Combatting violence, economic struggles, and redlining in Black and brown neighborhoods top his list of priorities.
Essaibi George “has the ideas for the Boston that we need,” said Anthony, founder of Platinum Music Group.
Wu, who is originally from Chicago, has support that runs deep across the city. She has 70 percent of the Asian-American support; 50 percent of people who have lived in the city for 10 years or fewer; 45 percent of people with a master’s degree or higher; 43 percent of people who self identify as very liberal; and 40 percent of voters ages 18 to 34, the poll found.
Alexa Gomez, a 31-year-old who recently moved to the North End after 11 years in another part of the city, said she plans to vote early this week for Wu, noting the candidate’s outspokenness about affordable housing and accessibility issues in public transportation.
“I like how she is making living in the city more possible,” said Gomez, who works in the legal department of an insurance company. “It’s really expensive, even when you have a good job. I can’t imagine what it is like for people who are lower income.”
In the survey, crime (at 10 percent) trails education (20 percent), housing (19 percent), racism and equity (17 percent), and the economy and jobs (14 percent) as the issues voters said they care most about. Just 4 percent of the respondents identified police reform as a top issue, followed by climate change (3 percent), opioids and drugs (1 percent), and the coronavirus (less than 1 percent).
As the preliminary race gets closer to the end, undecided voters and the campaigns’ get-out-the vote machines will help solidify who gets the number-two spot in the race, assuming Wu’s lead holds, Paleologos said.
Kathleen Gilroy, a 64-year-old Back Bay resident, said she has yet to settle on a candidate, noting that she has been “really busy” and not totally tuned in to the contest. She promised to take a “deep dive” into the candidates’ positions before voting.
One thing she does know is that she’d like a candidate who has solid management experience and can do the job. “You can’t do anything without being a good manager,” she said.
Many people watching the race worry about the Black vote splintering, especially as Campbell, who is Black, becomes more assertive in her criticism of Janey, who is also Black. Many fear a repeat of the 2013 election that drew diverse candidates, but ultimately saw Charlotte Golar Richie, another Black candidate, placing third behind John Connolly, a former city councilor, and former state representative Martin J. Walsh, who went on to become mayor. Both are white.
This time around, the Black vote is disproportionately in Janey’s favor, but it is still a group with a large number of undecided voters. Fifteen percent of the Black respondents in the poll were undecided.
Hispanic voters make up another large bloc of undecided voters — 14 percent. Among white voters, Wu leads at 39 percent, followed by Essaibi George at 22 percent, Campbell at 21 percent, and Janey at 11 percent. Only 4 percent of white respondents were undecided.
The poll was conducted Thursday through Saturday with live callers connecting with 500 people on their cellphones and landlines who said they will likely vote in the preliminary election, which ends Tuesday. The poll has a margin of error of plus or minus 4.4 percentage points.
It found that 36 percent of those polled said none of the candidates has gone particularly negative, though 48 percent of them were undecided on the issue.
The poll also shows that 54 percent have never personally met any of the candidates running.
Irene Maksymjuk, an MIT instructor who lives in Brighton, said she has three candidates that she really likes — Wu, Barros, and Campbell. She’d like to get a better sense of their positions on housing, education, and climate change, to name a few.
She’s not particularly excited about the race, though she feels it is historic. “Quite frankly, the state of the world seems to be so poor,” she said. “[It] seems to be eclipsing the mayor’s race in Boston.”
Globe correspondent Diti Kohli contributed to this report.
Meghan E. Irons can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @meghanirons.