Democratic mayoral candidate Bill de Blasio has emerged from the primary campaign with a sizeable lead over Republican Joe Lhota, winning support of nearly two-thirds of likely New York City voters in the first general election poll.
De Blasio leads Lhota 65 percent to 22 percent among likely voters, according to the NBC 4 New York/Wall Street Journal Marist poll released Tuesday. Nine percent of voters are undecided and 4 percent support either Independence Party candidate Adolfo Carrion or another contender.
The results of the survey, the first since last week's primary, suggest Lhota faces a difficult path to win over the city's voters, even though the city hasn't elected a Democratic mayor in 20 years.
De Blasio, the city's public advocate, is ahead by double-digit margins among likely voters in almost every demographic group looked at by the poll. Voters also chose de Blasio when asked which candidate could better handle a host of issues facing the city, though Lhota narrowed the gap when it came to crime prevention and handling the city's finances.
The poll also shows de Blasio winning support of 25 percent of likely Republican voters surveyed, while Lhota has 13 percent of likely Democratic voters in his corner -- a trend Lhota must reverse in order to win in New York's lopsided political landscape. Just 13 percent of likely voters with a candidate preference indicated that they might vote differently than they feel now.
"In a city where there are six Democrats for every Republican, to be successful, the Lhota campaign has to attract a lot of Democratic detractors to his side, and right now the opposite is occurring," said Lee Miringoff, director of the Marist College Institute for Public Opinion. "He is losing more Republicans to de Blasio than he is capturing Democrats from him.”
The primary campaign appears to have taken more of a toll on Lhota than de Blasio, according to the poll, taken by phone Sunday and Monday. The Democratic nominee has emerged from the contentious and fractured primary largely unscathed, enjoying favorable ratings from nearly two-thirds of voters citywide.
His campaign's populist bent and contrast to the Bloomberg administration appears to have resonated with registered voters. More than two-thirds of those surveyed agreed with his campaign's central theme that New York is made up of two cities -- one comprised of those struggling and the other of those experiencing success. The same share of voters -- 68 percent -- said they want the next mayor to deliver a break from the policies of Mayor Bloomberg.
Lhota, meanwhile, is viewed favorably by 29 percent of voters, and 41 percent said they had a negative perception of the former MTA chief, who defeated John Catsimatidis in the primary.
The numbers and dynamics of the race mean Lhota needs a "game change" to win over voters who think they have already made up their minds, including the 30 percent of voters who have not yet formed an opinion about Lhota, Miringoff said.
"There’s not a lot on the table right now, so he needs to change the nature of this race,” Miringoff said.
In a statement Tuesday, Lhota spokeswoman Jessica Proud said, "We always knew we'd be the underdog in this race and once New Yorkers learn more about Bill's radical policies, they will be looking for a practical alternative. Joe's experienced leadership and solutions to expand the middle class will resonate with everyday New Yorkers in all five boroughs.”
The poll paints a picture of an electorate that is clamoring for change, yet pleased with the progress New York has made in recent years. Sixty-one percent of voters also say the city is better than it was 20 years ago, a sentiment Lhota may be able to tap into by framing de Blasio as an overly liberal proponent of radical change.
“Lhota’s argument that New Yorkers don’t want to turn back the clock would have resonance with New York voters because they do feel the past two decades have generally been positive for the city," Miringoff said.
An endorsement from former Mayor Rudy Giuliani can help shore up support among Republicans, but it could turn off the wider swath of voters he needs to win. Some 51 percent of registered voters surveyed in the poll said that association makes them less likely to back Lhota, while 29 percent said it makes them more likely to support him.
The poll surveyed 930 registered voters and 632 likely voters. It has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.2 percentage points among registered voters and 3.9 percentage points among likely voters.
The poll also marks a low point for the outgoing mayor.
Just 42 percent of voters said they approve of Bloomberg's job performance, his lowest rating by Marist since August 2011. Twenty-two percent rated his current performance as poor.
“It all adds up to a sense that, although people are not displeased at how things have gone in the past decades, they nonetheless feel it’s time to turn the page," Miringoff said.