Two weeks before the Oct. 14 primary, the race for New Orleans mayor remains a tossup among three leading candidates, all of whom have strong favorability ratings, according to an exclusive poll conducted for WWL-TV and The New Orleans Advocate.
The poll released Monday shows City Councilwoman LaToya Cantrell in the lead among all voters surveyed, with 27 percent. Former Municipal Court Judge Desiree Charbonnet is close behind, with 26 percent. Former Civil District Court Judge Michael Bagneris is third, with 19 percent.
The telephone poll of 500 likely registered Orleans Parish voters was conducted Sept. 25-27 by Dr. Ron Faucheux, president of Clarus Research Group. The poll has a margin of error of 4.3 percentage points.
"The race clearly has three top candidates at this point, and it's possible any two of the three could still make a runoff, but what's interesting is there is no candidate that dominates the race and there's no candidate that dominates any single voter group," Faucheux said. He said that could be attributed to a "low temperature" for the race overall and the relative civility among the three front-runners.
According to the poll, 18 percent of voters remain undecided. “When you have nearly one in five voters who are undecided, it means that there's still a lot of votes out there and the last ten days of this election, I think, are going to be critical,” Faucheux said.
What is clear is that for the first time in the city’s history, a woman could be poised to make a runoff election for mayor. Currently, women candidates are getting 53 percent of the total vote (which equates to 65 percent of the decided vote), while male candidates are getting about 28 percent of the total vote (which equates to 35 percent of the decided vote).
“The majority strength of women candidates at this point in a mayoral election is a first for New Orleans,” Faucheux said. “New Orleans has a strong majority of female voters, but I do find it interesting that not one candidate has emerged as the women's candidate or the men's candidate. LaToya Cantrell is doing best among men right now, and Desiree Charbonnet is doing best among women."
Charbonnet garnered 28 percent support of the female voters surveyed, while 23 percent supported Cantrell, and 19 percent Bagneris. Among male voters, Cantrell led with 31 percent, followed by 24 percent for Charbonnet and 20 percent for Bagneris.
There is some distinction among the top three candidates when it comes to white and African-American voters. Among African-American votes, 30 percent of those surveyed favored Cantrell. 28 percent supported Charbonnet and 15 percent supported Bagneris. All three candidates are African-American. Among white voters, 24 percent favored Bagneris. Cantrell and Charbonnet are close behind, however, at 23 and 22 percent respectively.
“What you see in terms of both white votes and African-American votes is that they're all scattered, they're all split up and every candidate is getting a good portion of every group,” Faucheux said.
Of the other 15 candidates running for mayor, businessman Troy Henry garnered four percent in the poll. Businessman Frank Scurlock and certified public accountant Tommie Vassel received just two percent each. Support for all other candidates equaled two percent as well.
All three of the leading candidates have high favorability ratings, according to the survey. Charbonnet’s favorability rating was the highest, at 63 percent. 18 percent of those surveyed gave her an unfavorable view and 19 percent said they couldn’t form an opinion.
61 percent of those surveyed gave a favorable rating of Cantrell, compared to 21 percent unfavorable. 18 percent could not respond. Bagneris scored a 52 percent favorable, 25 percent unfavorable, with 23 percent undecided. Scurlock’s unfavorable rating was the highest at 40 percent. Observers surmised that his candidacy was hurt by recent news accounts of a lewd conduct charge he faces in California, where he is accused of masturbating in an Uber vehicle earlier this year.
The poll was taken before a series of attacks on Charbonnet by businessman and onetime potential mayoral candidate who formed a political action committee after deciding not to run for mayor himself. Charbonnet has been the target of a TV ad from Torres. A separate political action committee has sent out mailers accusing Charbonnet of hiring friends and political allies years ago, questioning the background of some of her supporters and raising concerns about bundles of donations from city contractors.
Still, Faucheux said the campaign to date has been mostly tame, which will likely change in the coming days. "This campaign so far has been remarkably free of attacks, generally speaking the major candidates have not been attacking each other, so we'll see if that changes, and if that does change, it could have a significant impact on the race,” he said.
“I think all the candidates have to sharpen their campaign messages in the coming days. I think they have to make sure they're well-funded the last week or two, which is not always easy to do. They have to get out their votes on election day and they have to tie their messages together.”
Early voting is underway this week and continues through Saturday. The primary is the following Saturday, Oct. 14. A runoff would be Nov. 18.
“I don’t think there is a perceived front-runner,” Faucheux said. “You have three candidates who are in position where if they run the right campaigns and they get some lucky breaks, any two of the three could make the runoff and then it becomes an entirely new ballgame.”