This week, WAMU 88.5 and the Washington City Paper released poll results showing Mayor Adrian Fenty trailing challenger Vincent Gray in the upcoming Democratic primary. But the data — culled from 800 registered DC Democrats — paint a detailed picture of local identity and culture, beyond the September horse race. We take the city’s political pulse and explore how race and class continue to influence civic life in the District.


  • Tom Jensen Director, Public Policy Polling
  • Michael Schaffer Editor, Washington City Paper

WAMU 88.5/Washington City Paper 2010 D.C. Election Poll

WAMU 88.5/Washington City Paper 2010 D.C. Election Poll Results


  • 12:06:37

    MR. KOJO NNAMDIFrom WAMU 88.5 at American University in Washington, welcome to "The Kojo Nnamdi Show," connecting your neighborhood with the world. Later in the broadcast, everything you need to know about voting in the District of Columbia in this election campaign. We have got the executive director of the Board of Elections. But first, Sept. 14 is primary day in Washington, D.C. Later this hour, we'll look at big changes coming into the voting booth. But first, we should have a fanfare because we've got a new poll, maybe Tobey Schreiner can just sing into the microphone for a fanfare for us. But we have a new poll for "The Kojo Nnamdi Show" and the Washington City Paper, a snapshot of D.C. voters and voting behavior.

  • 12:07:38

    MR. KOJO NNAMDIWe asked 800 registered Democrats, if the election was held today, who'd they vote for. In the race for mayor, 15 percent said Council Chairman Vincent Gray, 39 percent said Adrian Fenty and 9 percent said they were undecided. In the race for council chair, Kwame Brown is polling at 48 percent, well ahead of Vincent Orange at 27 percent. But that's the top line, the horse race stuff. But this show being what it is, and the Washington City Paper being what it is, you know, we decided to use this opportunity to answer some of the other questions we've been wondering about, about our hometown. How do native Washingtonians see this town and its politics? And how do they differ with Washington transplants? Is the city really as transient as people say it is? And who uses all those bike lanes going up around the city?

  • 12:08:29

    MR. KOJO NNAMDIJoining us to go over the details is Michael Schaffer. He is the editor of Washington City Paper. Welcome, Michael Schaffer. I should say, welcome back to the Washington City Paper and Washington.

  • 12:08:41

    MR. MICHAEL SCHAFFERThank you very much. It's great to be here.

  • 12:08:42

    NNAMDIHow long have you been back now?

  • 12:08:44

    SCHAFFERI've been back at the paper about three or four months.

  • 12:08:47

    NNAMDIHow long were you gone?

  • 12:08:49

    SCHAFFERI left Washington City Paper in the fall of 2000. And then I -- you know, I was still here working as a reporter in D.C. and then moved to Philadelphia for a few years in the intervening time.

  • 12:09:03

    NNAMDIWow. It just seems like yesterday that he left. Of course, we're inviting your calls on this poll as soon as you know everything it says at 800-433-8850, or you can go our website,, get it there or you can go to Washington City Paper's website and get results of the poll there. Joining us by telephone from North Carolina is Tom Jensen. He is director of Public Policy Polling, the firm that conducted this poll. Tom Jensen, thank you very much for joining us.

  • 12:09:31

    MR. TOM JENSENThank you for having me.

  • 12:09:33

    NNAMDITom, the polls or all polls are only snapshots of what the electorate thinks at any given moment. On a technical level, tell us about how this poll was conducted and what can we and what can we not infer from it?

  • 12:09:47

    JENSENSure. We called a random sample of Washington, D.C. registered Democrats from Monday through Wednesday last week. And of course, because it's the summer and people may or may not be around at a particular time, we tried to call everybody five times, so I imagine a number of your listeners got this poll. We do automated telephone surveys where people answer the questions by pushing buttons on their phone. That's sort of a newer and less expensive way conducting polls that I think is catching on more and more as it's proven itself to be pretty accurate. And it was about a 20-question poll. And we got about 800 people to take it.

  • 12:10:28

    NNAMDIWe should, now that we polled registered Democrats, not a random sampling of D.C. residents, correct?

  • 12:10:35

    JENSENYeah. Because we were asking questions about the mayoral race and the city council chair race, we were keeping it to registered Democrats. What we did not do, though, was poll only likely voters, so this is a broader poll than just folks who are planning to vote on Tuesday. A lot of the time, when you do a poll this close to the election, you'll try to only narrow in on people who are going to vote, but we took a broader look. And as you say, that may cause horse race numbers to be a little less precise, but it gives you a broader view of what people are thinking on the issues overall.

  • 12:11:06

    NNAMDIAnd we did this, as you pointed out, the, I guess, name that they're generally known by is by a so-called robocalls. How will that affect the results?

  • 12:11:16

    JENSENWhat it does is -- there's positives and negatives to it. Some of the positives. So that everybody gets asked the questions in the exact same way. It allows you to call more people in a shorter period of time. For instance, the sample size on our poll was larger than some of the other polls that have been out there on the race recently. The negatives are that response rates tend to be lower because you can't call cell phones. It can be harder to reach young people and other folks who don't have landlines. So there are positives and negatives to the methodology. And I think overall, they about even each other out.

  • 12:11:52

    NNAMDITom, I'm gonna ask you to stay on the line, but I'm -- because I'm sure we will have callers who may have questions about the technical aspects of the poll. You can call us at 800-433-8850. But I'd much rather look at some of the big picture issues. Michael Schaffer, what is the big takeaway, your big takeaway, from this poll?

  • 12:12:09

    SCHAFFERWell, the big takeaway is that people in Washington are generally pretty happy with the way things are going in Washington. And people in Washington are also generally pretty willing to change mayors (laugh). And there is, you might say, a contradiction there, but that seems where things are at.

  • 12:12:29

    NNAMDIYou know, one of my big takeaways from this poll -- and it's really a small takeaway posing as a big takeaway -- was that only 8 percent of registered voters have children in D.C. public schools. I say that because the school's chancellor, Michelle Rhee, and D.C. public school seems to be front and center in the mayoral campaign, which would have led one to believe that there were a lot more voters with parents in D.C. public schools. We have about 45,000 students in D.C. public schools. In the last go-around, you know, if you got 45,000 children in D.C. public schools, that -- even given that single parenthood -- that it should mean at least about 65,000 parents. But the fact of the matter is that in the last go around, we had 106,000 people voting in the last Democratic primary in 2006, and when you think that of that number only 8 percent, less than 10 percent, have children in the public schools. You've got to wonder. I can't figure out why that is, and it's open to speculation. Can you?

  • 12:13:31

    SCHAFFERI can't figure out why it is either. You know, I think a lot of the questions that we try to get at in this poll have to do with the sort of psychic changes of Washington, things that we've talked about, the things that we should have, like bike lanes or...

  • 12:13:42


  • 12:13:43 know, this city is filling up with these transients who only like to eat out at restaurants, and that's the only idea of economic development that some politicians have. People will say things like that. And we tried to get, because we're sort of interested in the culture of the city as much as the politics, at what all this means. And it seems to me that the low percentage -- you know, if this is accurate, if we -- if there wasn't some error that caused this, a low percentage of parents among the electorate also suggests that as the city becomes more expensive and so on, it becomes like a lot of other nice big American cities, like San Francisco or New York, places where there's a lot of childlessness.

  • 12:14:19

    NNAMDITom Jensen, can you talk a little bit about any speculation at all, even though the poll may have been flawed in some way, about why that might have been so low?

  • 12:14:27

    JENSENYeah, I think it is just a reflection of the fact that the folks who we interviewed who are folks who are registered voters and answer polls tend to be older and thus less likely to have children. Of course, one of the other findings on the poll is that 27 percent of the respondents have had children in the public schools in the past. And the sample that we got did skew a little towards the older side. Forty-eight percent of respondents were over the age of 56, and for the most part, people over the age of 56 are not going to -- are not gonna tend to have children in the public schools at this time. So I think it is a reflection that older voters are more likely to take -- older folks are more likely to take polls and more likely to be voters, but I think that is at least partially a sampling issue.

  • 12:15:20

    NNAMDIAs we said, we posted the polling data on our website, We'd be curious about what you see in the numbers, so you can go there and call us at 800-433-8850 or raise your question, make a comment on the website itself, You can send us an email to or a tweet, @kojoshow. We're also talking with Michael Schaffer, editor of Washington City Paper, which along with this show, sponsored this poll.

  • 12:15:45

    NNAMDIMichael, is there a divide that you see on this poll between so-called D.C. natives and transplants? We try to figure out who Washington natives were, so we designed a question asking people how far they live from the high school they attended. If they live within three miles, we can call them D.C. native. If they live more than 50 miles, we can call them transplant. We found that 17 percent of voters attended high school within three miles of their current residence. We call those natives. Forty-three percent hailed from within 50 miles of D.C. Fifty-seven percent attended high school further than 50 miles away. What can we take away better from this?

  • 12:16:20

    SCHAFFERWell, I think if you look within those numbers, I saw 70 -- of the people who support Fenty, who say they're gonna vote for Fenty, 73 percent of them say they live more than 50 miles from where they went to high school. Of the people who say they're gonna vote for Gray, only 44 percent. That's still a pretty big number, but only 44 percent of them say they live more than 50 miles from where they went to high school.

  • 12:16:41

    SCHAFFERAnd another question that we asked, somewhat tongue in cheek, but to try to get up this question of nativeness, was -- is -- are the Redskins your favorite football team? And, you know, I was surprised only 48 percent of people said yes. And another 25 percent, I think, said that they preferred some other team, including 6 percent who like the Cowboys. The rest don't have a favorite team.

  • 12:17:06

    SCHAFFERIf you look at, again, who people are supporting for mayor, the percentage of Vince Gray's supporters who like the Redskins best is much higher than the percentage of Adrian Fenty's supporters who say they like the Redskins best. Again, that speaks to how long you have been here and to whether you grew up here because I think nowadays with the Internet, with the NFL package, you're kinda able to keep up with your home team no matter how long you've lived away.

  • 12:17:32

    NNAMDIAnd a lot of people have always talked about how the fact that even though Washingtonians who are native Washingtonians tend to be crazy about the Redskins. People who come from other places -- there are so many people who came from other places here that you find fan support for a lot of other teams in this area beside the Redskins.

  • 12:17:47

    SCHAFFERRight, and, you know, people actually gather at, you know, bars and restaurants. You know, the Minnesota Vikings fans are all meeting here or something like that. And we actually have started doing listings in our paper of where you can go to gather with your fellow transients, fans of teams. But, again, this -- I don't think this happens in a lot of other places. This is part of Washington's allure as a magnet for the whole country.

  • 12:18:09

    NNAMDIWe're talking about the poll conducted by Washington City Paper or sponsored by Washington City Paper and "The Kojo Nnamdi Show" of residents in the District of Columbia, registered voters in the District of Columbia, that may be affecting the upcoming primary. Bike lanes, Michael Schaffer, are they a white issue? Some people seem to think they are. What does our poll seem to show about that?

  • 12:18:29

    SCHAFFERWell, our poll shows they're not much of an issue, period. Only 8 percent of the people that we interviewed said that they or someone in their family have within the last month ridden a bike to work three times.

  • 12:18:42


  • 12:18:43

    SCHAFFERAnd, you know, I think the -- and I wonder even about that question because I think when you ask people about whether they ride a bike to work, it's a little bit like asking if they go to church. You know, they all say yes because it's the right thing to do, but I don't know in practice it actually works out that way. This may be a place because this poll used old -- because of the cell phone thing and not getting as many young people, this may be a place where we're not getting great data out of the poll, but the percentage, of the people who fit this bike criteria, they're vastly more likely to support Fenty than to support Gray.

  • 12:19:18

    NNAMDIThe only wards with significant numbers of bike commuters are Ward 1 with 14 percent, Ward 2 with 15 percent, Ward 3, 13 percent, and Ward 6, 11 percent. And so we cannot say conclusively that that is a black or white issue. What we can say conclusively is that it ain't that big an issue.

  • 12:19:37

    JENSENIt ain't that big an issue, and it reflects all kinds of other things. It reflects if you feel safe in your neighborhood because you're not going to bike around particularly in the fall and winter when it's dark early. You're not gonna bike home from work if you don't feel safe biking home.

  • 12:19:47

    NNAMDIWhat role is race playing in this primary? It's been pretty well established that Fenty has strong support among white voters. Gray has strong support among black voters. But we were able to drill down a little bit on the race issue and found out some of the dynamics at play in this election. 77 percent of Gray's supporters are African-American. 25 percent of Fenty's support comes from the African-American community. 63 percent of Fenty's supporters are white compared to 18 percent of Gray's. Something that we kind of knew before we went into this poll, didn't we?

  • 12:20:17

    SCHAFFERYeah. I think that's been pretty well-established already. Looking at race through other things was also very interesting to me. I mean, I mentioned the Redskins. There's this other -- we asked the question have you, within the last month, eaten out at a restaurant where you paid more than 25 bucks?

  • 12:20:34


  • 12:20:34

    SCHAFFERAnd this was -- one of these questions that we were hoping would kind of help tease out what percentage of people, of Washingtonians out there, of likely voters out there are from a kind of yuppie class that has some money to spend. And I think the question maybe I wrote it and maybe didn't do a good job of it because like 78 percent of the whole city -- including significant majorities of both black and white Washingtonians -- said that yes they had, within the last month, spent $25 on a restaurant meal. So this is a place where I think a lot of people assumed maybe there was a racial divide, but it really wasn't.

  • 12:21:08

    NNAMDIWell, the opposite side of that coin if you will or the other side of that coin is where are the city's food desserts, places where people can't go out to get a good meal? We have explored that on this show, parts of the city without access to grocery stores in walking distance. We found that 61 percent of voters in Ward 7 said there is not much to buy within easy walking distance, which is significantly higher than the citywide average. In Ward 8, 36 percent of voters said they lived in a food desert and that underscored another kind of reflection in the polling patterns. And that is, the people who think that the city is going in the direction that it should, and the people who think that the city is not necessarily going in the direction that it should. If you live in an area that's a food desert, obviously you're not particularly pleased with how the city is going.

  • 12:21:58

    SCHAFFERI think that we found -- first of all, we found that 93 percent of people say they're somewhat or very safe in their neighborhoods, and a similarly really high number of people say their neighborhoods have either stayed the same or gotten better. Only a small number of people say their neighborhoods have gotten worse. There is this question -- and it's one of these ones that actually doesn't break down on racial lines in city politics -- about how we organize zoning and density. And, you know, can you or should you be able to walk to most stuff? Should we organize our zoning? Should we organize our planning so that more people can walk to more things? And I think you find that there's parts of Washington that are laid out like suburbs and, you know, some people like it that way and some people don't. And you find, you know, Ward 7 for instance, is a place where it's just fairly spread out. And I don’t know how much of that reflects the economics of Ward 7 and how much of it just reflects the design of it. That you're, you know, it could be a really rich neighborhood and you still wouldn't be able to walk too much because things are pretty spread out.

  • 12:23:01

    NNAMDIAnd of course that is the ward that first elected Vincent Gray to office. He was representing Ward 7. Now, of course, he is a candidate for mayor and chair of the City Council. We're gonna take a short break. When we come back, we will talk about that snapshot of D.C. voters that you can find in the polls sponsored by The Washington City Paper and "The Kojo Nnamdi Show." You can still call us, 800-433-8850, with your observations. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.

  • 12:25:03

    NNAMDIWell we are talking about a recent poll conducted by both Washington City Paper and "The Kojo Nnamdi Show" with Michael Schaffer, he is the editor of The Washington City Paper, and joining us by telephone from North Carolina is Tom Jensen, director of Public Policy Polling, the firm that conducted the poll. We are inviting your calls at 800-433-8850. Michael Schaffer, one intriguing aspect of the poll is, is Marion Barry still the divisive figure he once was? We asked about the question in the poll and one of the questions in the poll happen to be taken from the original moniker that former "Loose Lips" columnist Ken Cummins gave to former Mayor Barry and that is "Mayor-for-Life." We asked a number of people, tongue-in-cheek of course, whether Marion Barry should be respected as "Mayor-for-Life."

  • 12:25:49

    NNAMDII guess what we were really saying was whether his long tenure as mayor should earn your respect. And among Gray's supporters, 29 percent said he should be respected as "Mayor-for-Life." 19 percent said he should exit gracefully. Among Fenty's supporters, 9 percent said he should be respected as "Mayor-for-Life." 49 percent said he should exit gracefully. And of course, among some people, there are some who said that -- 7 percent said he should still be in jail, but that's another story.

  • 12:26:16

    SCHAFFERRight. I don’t think those people have read relevant portions of the U.S. Code, but that's one. You know, you ask about things that break down along racial lines and, you know, if you combine the negative possible responses to that question, 63 percent of white voters had some sort of negative view of, I mean, either he should still be in jail or he should retire quietly and 72 percent of African-Americans. So an overwhelming majority had one of the positive views, either he should be respected as a hero and Mayor for life or he should stay in public life as long as he wants and as long as he can keep getting reelected.

  • 12:26:49

    NNAMDIAnd, of course, The Washington Post's post today has an article about his rules specifically in Vincent Gray's campaign where the former mayor seems to have kind of carved out of fairly prominent role for himself that is clearly of some concern to Vincent Gray. But he says, look the former mayor has a right to speak his mind and campaign if he will, but he is likely to continue to be a fairly divisive force in that respect.

  • 12:27:14

    SCHAFFERAbsolutely, but when 56 percent of the entire electorate and 72 percent of African-Americans have some kind of positive view of him...

  • 12:27:21


  • 12:27:21's not exactly an enormous danger to the Gray's campaign to have him out there.

  • 12:27:26

    NNAMDIWell, let me go to the phones before I bring up the issue of whether Washington is really a transient city or not because that I found fascinating too. Here is Constantine in Washington, D.C. Constantine or Constantine, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.

  • 12:27:38

    CONSTANTINEHi, great to be on your show, Kojo. I'm a young Washington, D.C. voter. I've lived here my entire life. And I was listening to your program earlier and you said that this poll didn’t reach young voters. I was wondering why and seeing how the city is becoming younger or I, at least, I perceive it's becoming younger, why it was difficult for it to reach young voters.

  • 12:28:02

    NNAMDITom Jensen, the impression I get is that the difficulty in reaching young voters in the District of Columbia is that they are not that many of them. Is that correct?

  • 12:28:13

    JENSENThat is partially it, and then the other issue is that pollsters in general have trouble reaching people who only have cell phones. And automated pollsters, in particular, like we do, are not allowed to call people with cell phone. So, it’s not like young people were under represented just because we felt like under representing them. They’re just some structural issues to polling young people and particularly those with cell phone set in a poll like this will give you a slightly older sample.

  • 12:28:42

    NNAMDIBut, Michael Schaffer, that's a significant cultural issue also, isn't it?

  • 12:28:46

    SCHAFFERIt is, and it's a tough one to get around. You know, I think even if we were allowed to call cell phones, the fact that we're calling registered voters is gonna make it tougher.

  • 12:28:55


  • 12:28:56

    SCHAFFERCollege students make up a large percentage of any city's 18 to 24-year-old demographic. How many people who come from some state where they have full representation would voluntarily disenfranchise themselves (laugh) by becoming registered Washington D.C. voters?

  • 12:29:12


  • 12:29:12

    SCHAFFERSo there -- they, you know, there's a number of things, some of them structural, some of them having to do with the inadequacies of D.C.'s Constitutional status that are gonna make this tough. And it's something that we know we need to think of other ways of asking. And, you know, to get back to the bike question for instance...

  • 12:29:26


  • 12:29:26

    SCHAFFEROkay, so only 8 percent of our respondents say, they or someone in their family bikes to work. But a lot of people drive to work and them -- fewer cars on the road than there are more bikes on the road that ostensibly the better it is for the driver. So there's, I mean, there's a lot of different people who might have interests in getting people on bikes, not all of them bikers.

  • 12:29:45

    NNAMDIConstantine, you are a young voter, born and raised in the District of Columbia. Care to reveal who you'll be voting for in the mayoral election?

  • 12:29:53

    CONSTANTINEI'll be voting for the current mayor 'cause I believe he's done a fairly good job of keeping the city -- well, I believe to be the right track. He's reformed the school system. He's done good things with the economy of the Washington, D.C., of Washington. And speaking to the bike issue, I actually bike to school every -- I bike across Key Bridge for four from -- for four years and Greg, a friend of mine, now bikes from behind the Capitol to Virginia every day for his work. And he's been saying how it's quite -- I mean, even with our bike lane, how unaware some cars seem to be about bikers, in general. And I feel like even though it’s like the bike lanes might not be an issue for many D.C. voters, the fact that I...

  • 12:30:53

    NNAMDIThey are an important issue for you.

  • 12:30:55

    CONSTANTINEA very important issue for me.

  • 12:30:56

    NNAMDIConstantine, one of the things we should have said earlier is that in this week's edition of City Paper -- City Paper Washington -- City Paper has made its endorsements. The same Washington City Paper that raised the question about whether the incumbent Mayor Adrian Fenty is a jerk has decided to endorse Mayor Adrian Fenty. And, Michael Schaffer, you said, he may be a jerk, but he is what?

  • 12:31:18

    SCHAFFERHe may be a jerk, but he's ordure. (laugh) It's got to be yours. You know, look, the thing about firing an incumbent mayor is you got to hire a new one. And to my mind, as the editor, the real issue is that the mayor is the boss of the D.C. government. And I want a mayor who I have great confidence is going to be a zealous, misanthropic maybe, a watchdog against people who screw up on the job. I'm not -- I don’t know that Gray won't be that guy, but Fenty has proven he will. He's hired excellent people around him. So that tempts to be why we endorse him.

  • 12:31:55

    NNAMDIWe of course on "The Kojo Nnamdi Show" do not do endorsements, but the City Paper's endorsements remind me about what was said about a local talk show host who nobody listens to in this town when there was a function held for him. It was said that "he is a pest but he is our pest." You know who we're talking about. Constantine, thank you very much for your call. One of the things that people say about Washington that has always bothered me is the idea that we are a transient city, but this poll apparently shows that not necessarily. 71 percent of Vincent Gray's supporters have lived in D.C. for more than 20 years, and 50 percent of Adrian Fenty's supporters have lived here for more than 20 years.

  • 12:32:34


  • 12:32:35

    NNAMDIWho knew?

  • 12:32:35

    SCHAFFERWell, we're certainly not a transient electorate. The number of people who've lived here for fewer than four years was very small, among either candidates supporters and among the electorate in general. You know, my theory of Washington is that it is full of people. You know, I grew up right just a mile from the studio here. My parents came to work for the government. They were from New York. They always said, you know, the minute we retire, we're getting out of this two-bit southern town and going home. The Washington Post would plunk down on our doorstep and the Metro Section would go untouched. And then one day, you know, they retired and guess what? They didn't leave 'cause their friends were here and their lives were here and they loved it here, and I think there's a lot of people who fit that description here, who would kind of -- don't ever think they're gonna embrace becoming Washingtonian and then they do.

  • 12:33:19

    NNAMDIIncluding about half of the members of Congress, (laugh) who, even after they leave Congress, somehow find a reason to live here. But we can't go there. As of matter of fact, we can't go anywhere, because we're out of time right now. But, Michael Schaffer, good to see you again. Thank you for joining us.

  • 12:33:33

    SCHAFFERThanks for having me.

  • 12:33:33

    NNAMDIMichael Schaffer is the editor of Washington City Paper. Tom Jensen, thank you for joining us.

  • 12:33:38

    JENSENThank you.

  • 12:33:39

    NNAMDITom is director of Public Policy Polling the -- from that, conducted the poll that were sponsored by the City Paper and "The Kojo Nnamdi Show". As I said, you can find the results of that poll at our website, We're gonna take a short break. When we come back, everything you need to know about voting in D.C. We've got the executive director of the D.C. Board of Elections and Ethics in studio. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.

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