Poll: Democrats Say They Prefer Mike to Ferrer

article smith Poll: Democrats Say They Prefer Mike to FerrerWho
needs the Republican Party? Mayor Michael Bloomberg could well win the Democratic primary if he participated in it this September, according to a new poll.

Conducted
by Pace University’s polling institute in cooperation with The New York Observer, the poll found that 62 percent of the Democratic Party faithful has a favorable opinion of the Mayor—more than hold favorable opinions of any of his Democratic rivals. The poll, which was conducted in cooperation with WNYC Radio and WCBS 2 News from June 22 to 28, has a 4.9 percent margin of error.

“It’s
good to be a Democrat, it’s good to have a social conscience and a heart, but you’ve got to mind the store,” said Maeve Leary, an executive assistant from Pelham Bay in the Bronx who was among the 30 percent of Democratic primary voters giving Mr. Bloomberg a “strongly” favorable rating. “I just think he has the stature you need to lead New York.”

The
campaign-style poll of 400 “prime” Democratic voters—that is, voters who have participated in a recent municipal Democratic Party primary and say they will vote this year—may be a more accurate predictor of the actual Democratic primary vote than most public polls. They tend to survey either registered voters at large, like the Quinnipiac University poll, or simply adult New York City residents, like the New York Times poll.

The
poll’s findings, however, mirror a pattern that the Democratic candidates have found hard to shake since the race began. Fernando Ferrer leads the field, with 30 percent of respondents saying they would vote for him. He was trailed by Manhattan Borough President C. Virginia Fields at 19 percent; City Council Speaker Gifford Miller at 10 percent; and U.S. Representative Anthony Weiner at
9 percent.

A
candidate needs to win 40 percent of the vote to avoid a runoff, and the poll numbers mean that a runoff now “appears all but inevitable,” said Jonathan Trichter, the director of the Pace University poll.

But
the elephant in the room is Mr. Bloomberg, a lifelong Democrat who changed his party registration to run for Mayor in 2001. The poll and follow-up interviews suggest that the Mayor is not only drawing support from “Giuliani Democrats”
like Ms. Leary—white voters from the outer boroughs who’ve grown accustomed to voting on the Republican line in local elections. He’s also winning praise from a new group of die-hard Democrats, many of whom say they’re likely to cast their first-ever votes for a Republican this fall.

“I
think he’s turned out to be a fairly decent Mayor,” said Frederic Suffet, a sociologist who lives on the Upper East Side and describes himself as a “card-carrying liberal” with little affection for former Mayor Rudolph Giuliani. “I like the fact that he was able to bring the schools under some centralized control, even though there was a time when I thought local control was the way to go.”

Like
several other Democrats, he cited Mr. Bloomberg’s low-key personal style as a particularly appealing feature.

“In
an age when it seems like we have to know everything about politicians, about every aspect of their private lives, I just sort of like the fact that he does his public performance and makes himself available publicly, but he’s rather reticent about his private life,” he said.

Halfway
across the city, Maxine Clark, a retired executive assistant who lives in Crown Heights, Brooklyn, also had praise for Mr. Bloomberg’s personality.

“He
speaks his mind, and that works for me,” she said. “I like people who don’t flimflam depending on which audience they’re speaking with.”

But
Ms. Clark, like Mr. Suffet, is no Giuliani Democrat.

“I
don’t like Giuliani at all—you mention his name and I see red,” she said.
“But
I don’t put Bloomberg in the same category as Giuliani.”

The
news wasn’t entirely positive for Mr. Bloomberg. While 62 percent of prime Democratic voters view Mr. Bloomberg favorably—compared with 59 percent who view Mr. Ferrer, the Democratic front-runner, favorably—his disapproval rating of 31 percent is higher than any Democratic candidate. (Respondents often viewed more than one candidate favorably, so the total favorable rating for Mr.
Bloomberg and Mr. Ferrer adds up to more than 100 percent.) And when the unfavorable views of each candidate are subtracted from the favorable views, Ms.
Fields has the highest “net favorability” rating, followed closely by Mr.
Ferrer.

But
the poll also had discouraging news for Mr. Ferrer, who is battling back from the familiar cycle of scrutiny and decline that afflicts early front-runners.

More
than half of the poll’s respondents had heard, read or seen something about Mr.
Ferrer recently. But within that group, 30 percent said the new information made them less likely to support his candidacy, while just 23 percent said what they learned made them more likely to support him.

The
other leading Democratic candidate, Ms. Fields, also saw mixed results in the poll. Among African-American women—her political base—only 49 percent said they would support her. In interviews, two black women who said they supported Mr.
Bloomberg—Ms. Clayton and Mary Price, another Brooklyn resident—gave little weight to their shared demographic profile.

“I’m
interested in Virginia Fields—but I can’t see her doing a better job than Bloomberg,” said Ms. Price, a retired postal clerk from East New York.

The
poll’s results also suggest that Democratic primary voters are less critical of Mr. Bloomberg’s education policies than his opponents are. Almost a third of those polled, 31 percent, said that public schools are better today than they were four years ago; only 19 percent said the schools have deteriorated.

Pace’s
Mr. Trichter argued that Democrats would be better served to spend more time talking about affordable housing. Eighty-two percent of the poll’s respondents said they believe the current real-estate boom is bad for them, while only
13
percent said rising housing prices are a good thing.

Still,
there are many weeks between now and November’s election, and perhaps an equally wide gap between voters’ political instincts and their self-knowledge.

The
Educated Mayor

In
another section of the poll, interviewers asked Democrats for the characteristics of their ideal candidate.

The
Democratic primary voters ranked having a graduate degree as the most important factor in their vote, over any racial, religious or gender characteristic.

The
ideal candidate, according to the survey, would be a black man with a graduate degree—traits that describe the last Democratic Mayor, David Dinkins, a lawyer, but which hardly account for Mr. Bloomberg’s popularity among Democrats.

Two
characteristics were particularly unpopular among voters, who were asked to rate on a scale from 1 to 10 the likelihood that an attribute would add to their support for a candidate. Voters showed a particular lack of affection for gay and lesbian candidates and for a “devoutly religious” candidate.

“A
candidate would run poorly in the Democratic primary who is on either end of the culture wars,” Mr. Trichter said.

According
to the survey, the least viable candidate in a Democratic primary would be an Asian-American lesbian.

However,
determining the accuracy of voters’ self-definitions, as manifested through their responses to pollsters, is not an exact science. A Republican billionaire might not be the most popular of Democratic candidates, in theory. But in practice, Mr. Bloomberg should perhaps have considered switching back to his original Democratic registration for the 2005 contest.

“He
knows what he is, and he’s comfortable with himself,” said William Marsh of Staten Island, a retired firefighter and another Democrat who plans to vote for the Mayor. “He doesn’t do the grandstanding that Rudy Giuliani and even Ed Koch used to do. He shows up, and he shows up on both ends—the tragedy of New York as well as the excitement of it.”