Amid a backdrop of crisis in the City of Portland, the contests for mayor and a City Council seat remain highly uncertain, according to a new poll taken for OPB.
The survey conducted from Oct. 7-11 shows that Mayor Ted Wheeler and challenger Sarah Iannarone are virtually tied while 28% of voters remain undecided. Meanwhile, Commissioner Chloe Eudaly now finds herself running behind challenger Mingus Mapps by nine percentage points – but a whopping 40% of voters say they don’t know who they are going to support.
Pollster John Horvick of DHM Research said the survey shows that many voters are struggling over who can best deal with homelessness, the COVID-19 pandemic and the nightly protests for racial justice that have often turned violent.
“But they know they are upset with the direction of the city,” said Horvick, whose firm conducted the phone and online poll of 400 likely Portland voters from Oct. 7 to 11. The survey, which has a margin of error of 4.9 percentage points, found that 52% of voters say the city is on the wrong track, compared to 36% who say it is headed in the right direction.
One respondent, retired southeast Portland teacher Janice Hauser, said she is leaning toward Eudaly in the City Council race but remains undecided about who to back for mayor.
“It is difficult,” she said. “I feel in the past few elections, I’ve been mostly voting against a candidate than for them, and that’s not how it should be.”
Wheeler, who just barely missed gaining the majority vote he needed to win re-election in the primary, now finds that his support levels have slipped drastically as he has taken hits from both the political right and left for his handling of ongoing protests in the city.
Portland mayoral race poll results
Source: DHM Research / Margin of error: 4.9 percentage points
The new poll shows that 33% of people polled plan to vote for Wheeler while 34% say they are voting for Sarah Iannarone, an urban planning consultant. She has declared herself an “everyday anti-fascist” who has frequently attended the protests and calls for a major re-ordering of city priorities.
Another 6% say they will write-in Teressa Raiford, the founder of Don’t Shoot Portland, a Black-led group that has sought major changes in the Portland Police Bureau.
Wheeler’s low standing is dangerous territory for an incumbent. But it’s a somewhat better result for him than a mid-September poll that DHM Research conducted for the Portland Business Alliance, according to a report in Willamette Week. That poll showed Iannarone ahead by 11 points, 41% to 30% for Wheeler. Since then the business group has joined with Service Employees International Union and several other groups to launch an independent advertising campaign on behalf of Wheeler.
Wheeler’s campaign manager, Danny O’Halloran, said in a statement that Wheeler has been picking up steam as the two have participated in several debates. “(T)he more voters hear directly from Sarah Iannarone the more they see for themselves that she’s not ready to lead Portland,” he said.
Gregory McKelvey, Iannarone’s campaign manager, said he always expected the race to be tight but expressed confidence that she has a stronger grassroots campaign that “puts us over the edge.” He said he also believes that Iannarone is better positioned to pick up undecided voters who have already had plenty of chances to make up their mind about the incumbent mayor.
Several poll respondents told OPB the question is whether they want to give Wheeler another chance to redeem himself.
“I do feel like he has been a dealt a pretty tough hand,” said Kim Buchanan, a Southeast Portland retiree who once owned a small research firm. “A lot of stuff fell into his lap.”
Buchanan said she will vote for Wheeler again in part because she’s not impressed with Iannarone, who she doesn’t believe has the experience or ability to run a major city. “It’s like two bad choices,” she said with a sigh. In the council race, she’s backing Mapps, who she said “seems like a person who could work along with other people on the council.”
James King, owner of a food cart that he recently moved from downtown Portland to Beaverton, said he can’t support Wheeler.
“Everything is just so bad,” he said, arguing that the mayor has failed on issues ranging from the protests to homelessness. He said he plans to vote for Iannarone, saying that she at least seems to be listening to voters.
Perhaps above all, the poll showed a big generational divide among voters. Among voters under 45, less than a quarter support Wheeler while about 45% back Iannarone. But among 65-and-overs, 56% back Wheeler while only 19% support Iannarone.
All told, 17% percent of Iannarone’s supporters cite racism and equality as the major issue confronting Portland, while another 8% say it is police violence. In contrast, Wheeler’s supporters are only half as likely to cite either of those as the biggest issue.
However, supporters of both candidates are the most likely to name homelessness as the city’s major problem. Wheeler has boasted about his work to create new centers to provide shelter and services to the homeless. Iannarone is pushing for emergency shelters in each neighborhood and the building of more affordable housing throughout the city.
There’s also a big difference in how supporters for each candidate view their vote. All told, 59% of Iannarone backers say they plan to vote for her mostly because of their opposition to Wheeler. Conversely, 38% percent of Wheeler supporters say they back him primarily because they oppose Iannarone.
The Eudaly-Mapps race hasn’t appeared to attract the same level of attention, which may be a big reason 40% of voters say they’re undecided or considering writing someone in (although no one has formally mounted a write-in candidacy in this race).
“I haven’t really focused in on it,” said King, the food cart owner.
Mapps, a newcomer to elective politics, now leads Eudaly, 35% to 26%. He barely barely made the runoff by finishing second just slightly ahead of former Portland Mayor Sam Adams in the May primary.
Eudaly four years ago beat an incumbent, Steve Novick, to gain a seat on the council and played a key role in passing tenant protections during a period of rapidly rising rents. But she’s angered many neighborhood association activists as well as landlords and development interests.
Mapps, a former political science professor who would be the fourth African-American to serve on the city council, is running as a more conciliatory figure and is gaining particularly strong support among voters aged 45 and above.
Portland City Council race seat
Source: DHM Research / Margin of error: 4.9 percentage points
Mapps also does better than Eudaly among all income groups, a sign that he has pockets of support throughout the city. One metric that shows a strong edge for Eudaly: she’s much more likely than Mapps to be backed by Iannarone supporters. Both Eudaly and Iannarone have built their political bases among voters involved in progressive causes.
Horvick said the fact that two-fifths of voters were undecided at the time of the poll lends a lot of uncertainty to a race that has attracted relatively little attention. Still, he said, for Eudaly to be behind Mapps at this time is a “pretty tough place to be if you’re an incumbent.”
Eudaly said in a statement that her campaign is “picking up new steam” following endorsements this week from Willamette Week and the Portland Mercury. She said “it’s clear that I am the progressive choice who will work for Portlanders.”
“I think there are a significant number of Portlanders out there who are frankly just tuning in” to this race, said Mapps, adding that he was pleased that this poll and others he has seen have shown him with a lead. “I Iike where we’re at,” he added. “Put it this way. I would not want to trade places with the incumbent.”