D.C.’s Democratic primary is just days away, and the dust is still settling over a major legal development that indirectly implicated incumbent Mayor Vincent Gray in a campaign corruption scheme from four years ago. The Washington City Paper and The Kojo Nnamdi Show commissioned a recent poll to study the race and other major issues in local Washington. City Paper editor Mike Madden joins Kojo to explore what the results mean about the city’s evolving identity.


  • Mike Madden Editor, Washington City Paper

D.C. Mayoral Poll Results


  • 12:06:40

    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, the "Bug Guy" is back. University of Maryland Prof. Mike Raupp is here to explore how this never-ending winter is affecting life for the stinkbugs and mosquitoes we're likely to see later this year.

  • 12:07:11

    MR. KOJO NNAMDIBut, first, it's peak election season in the District. This very moment, D.C. will hold a Democratic primary next Tuesday, April 1. And a recent poll commissioned by this show and The Washington City Paper contains a lot of insights about how those races are shaping up in the sprint to the finish and where voters and D.C. stand on a number of issues, from legalizing marijuana to using public funds for building a new soccer stadium for D.C. United.

  • 12:07:39

    MR. KOJO NNAMDIFor more insights from that poll, you can go to kojoshow.org and washingtoncitypaper.com where you can comb through the data yourself with charts and other graphics. You can also read several forthcoming stories about the poll in this week's print edition of the City Paper and on wamu.org. Joining us to explore what those poll results say about the races on the ballot next week and the identity of the electorate deciding them is Mike Madden. He is editor of Washington City Paper. Mike, good to see you.

  • 12:08:11

    MR. MIKE MADDENGood to see you, Kojo.

  • 12:08:12

    NNAMDIYou can join the conversation. If you have questions or comments, call us at 800-433-8850. Are you going to be voting in next week's Democratic primary here in Washington? Have you decided who you're supporting? Give us a call. Tell us how you came to that decision, 800-433-8850. Mike, it's been a rather hectic final stretch.

  • 12:08:33

    NNAMDIDuring the course of the past month, a whole lot has happened. Our data is corroborated by polls that came out from The Washington Post and NBC 4 yesterday that, with all these things going on, Mayor Vincent Gray is now running in a dead heat with his closest challenger. Before we get into other things that we measured, what have you learned about the state of this particular race from the survey we conducted?

  • 12:08:59

    MADDENWell, our poll was the first one to go out immediately after Jeff Thompson, who financed the shadow campaign that is at issue in the federal investigation into the 2010 election, pleaded guilty to conspiracy charges. And so what I found really fascinating about our results was that it showed basically that the mayor's support remained constant. It remained what it's been in a lot of surveys at around -- we had him at 27 percent. And The Post had him at 27. Channel 4 yesterday had him at 26. I mean, that seems to be about where the mayor's support is.

  • 12:09:33

    NNAMDIMm hmm.

  • 12:09:36

    MADDENIt doesn't seem to go up. It doesn't seem to go down. So, you know, we find that there are a lot of voters who are sticking with the mayor in spite of the revelations that have come out. But what's going to be -- the determining factor of the race may be whether -- where the other voters go.

  • 12:09:53

    MADDENYou know, we found 27 percent supporting the mayor and the remainder either undecided or, you know, the vast majority of them supporting other candidates. So do they vote for Muriel Bowser who's tied with the mayor at 27 in our poll and leading in some of the other ones? Or do they fracture among the other candidates in the race?

  • 12:10:11

    NNAMDIIs it fair to conclude from our poll and others that we have seen that Muriel Bowser's rise in the standings came in some measure in the wake of Jeffrey Thompson and U.S. Attorney Ron Machen's allegations about the mayor?

  • 12:10:28

    MADDENThat seems fair. I mean, you know, of course, we only measured the one time. So we don't have a sort of apples to apples comparison of our own polling.

  • 12:10:32


  • 12:10:37

    MADDENBut, you know, for a long time, Bowser was second but not neck-and-neck with the mayor. And then right after the guilty plea and the allegations that the prosecutors made, she seems to have moved more into a tie or ahead, depending on which poll that you...

  • 12:10:50

    NNAMDIMaybe slightly ahead, depending on which poll you look at. In case you're just joining us, we're talking with Mike Madden, editor of Washington City Paper, and inviting your calls at 800-433-8850. Or you can send email to kojo@wamu.org. Send us a tweet, @kojoshow. Tell us how these polls or events may have affected your likely vote if you're voting in the Democratic primary April 1. Mike, let's go to some of the new stuff.

  • 12:11:14

    NNAMDIWithin the context of the mayoral campaign, one candidate, Jack Evans, has said over and over again that he thinks the city should be focused on replicating the economic success of 14th Street. He launched his campaign from a new French restaurant there, which he reminded people 14th Street used to be a corridor filled with drugs and, yes, prostitutes. We essentially asked voters what they see when they look at the new 14th Street, whether they consider it progress or whether they feel priced out or pushed out. What did we find?

  • 12:11:43

    MADDENWell, we found 44 percent really like 14th Street. They said it was exciting. They love eating and drinking there. Twenty-four percent were not sure what they thought. Twenty-two percent said they like it, but the food and the drinks are too expensive. And nine percent said it was an awful example of the bad ways the city has changed. So I think, you know, we find some ambivalence about 14th Street. There is a lot of new stuff there. But each restaurant seems to be more expensive than the next.

  • 12:12:13

    NNAMDISeems to be more agreement than anything that the prices are too high.

  • 12:12:16

    MADDENYeah. I mean, the rents are high there, too. So, you know, we've written about why the restaurants are the way they are. But, you know, it's not clear that every voter in the city necessarily wants to see 14th Street replicated on every commercial corridor in the city. And I think that's clear from our poll, and I think it may be as clear from Jack Evans' levels of support.

  • 12:12:39

    NNAMDICan we learn anything from this politically? If you look at 14th Street and you think, oh, it's a kind of yuppy-fied place for people who can afford cocktails made with artisan ice, who are you therefore more likely to support in this mayoral race?

  • 12:12:52

    MADDENWell, we see, of the people that think 14th Street is a terrible example of the bad ways the city is changing, the plurality of those voters are backing the mayor. Forty-three percent of people that dislike the changes of 14th Street say they're voting for the mayor. And, you know, the vote is pretty evenly split among folks who love 14th Street and also pretty evenly split among people who like it but think it's expensive.

  • 12:13:20

    MADDENBowser is narrowly ahead in each of those categories. So, I mean, I think, you know, your feelings about 14th Street probably track pretty closely with some of the other indicators we see in this election and a lot of recent elections in D.C. as well, which is to say kind of where you fall in the city's income and wealth breakdown. You know, if you can afford to go to 14th Street a lot, then you probably like it a lot.

  • 12:13:45

    MADDENAnd if you can afford to go to 14th Street a lot, you know, you may be in a socioeconomic slice of the city that has tended to support candidates in the past, like Adrian Fenty, and who aren't supporting Vincent Gray this time, though that's a broad generalization. But, you know, it tends to sort of bare out based on, you know, what -- where we see the vote splitting by ward in some of these elections, too.

  • 12:14:11

    NNAMDIAllow me to go to the phones where Geri (sp?) in Washington is on the line. Geri, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.

  • 12:14:17

    GERIYes. Hi, Kojo. I decided to vote for Tommy Wells because I think he's been doing a lot of things over the years, first as a social worker. Mike DeBonis of The Washington Post said that Wells played a major role in reforming the city's child welfare system years ago. And he became one of the few employees willing to speak out about systemic failings in what was then called the division of child and family services. Secondly, he started his first term in the city council with his five-cents plastic bag fee, which...

  • 12:14:54

    NNAMDISo you've been a supporter of Tommy Wells from the very beginning? Did any of the issues involving the mayor and Jeffrey Thompson or any of that have any influence on you at all?

  • 12:15:04

    GERIWell, yes, because Tommy Wells stands for integrity and clean government. He himself has taken no PAC money, no Jeffrey Thompson money, no corporate money.

  • 12:15:15

    NNAMDISo you're suggesting that were the mayor not involved in any ethical scandals at all, you might be more undecided between him and Tommy Wells?

  • 12:15:23

    GERIThat's true, yeah. Well, no, actually.

  • 12:15:24


  • 12:15:25

    GERISome of my experience with D.C. government agencies is negative. Some is positive. Some is negative. So I'm not sure I would vote, even if there wasn't an ethical scandal.

  • 12:15:37

    NNAMDIYou would be going for Tommy Wells anyway. Well, thank you very much for your call, Geri. Our guest is Mike Madden. He is editor of Washington City Paper which hosted a debate for the candidates running for the Ward 6 seat on the D.C. Council last night.

  • 12:15:49

    NNAMDIOne of the issues we asked voters about was whether they would support the use of public funds for the construction of a new D.C. United stadium at Buzzard Point. The mayor's pitching a proposal that would have the city front some $150 million in infrastructure costs and swap the land that the Reeves Center currently sits on at 14th and U Streets for the land at the stadium site. How did voters respond in this survey?

  • 12:16:14

    MADDENWell, the voters split between thinking this was a good idea and thinking this was maybe not a good idea. We found 44 percent -- got the wrong chart up here. Forty-four percent said the city should pay for the stadium -- the city should pay for the infrastructure, and the team should pay for the stadium, which is basically the mayor's proposal.

  • 12:16:34

    MADDENForty-four percent said the city should not pay for any of it. Seven percent weren't sure, and we had 5 percent who said the city should pay for everything. You know, this is sort of the problem voters may have with evaluating this proposal is that we still haven't seen all of the specific details yet.

  • 12:16:51

    MADDENYou know, the city's still assembling the full proposal and figuring out how the land swaps will work. You know, it seems to be more popular than it could be. You know, the idea of the city spending $150 million in infrastructure for a soccer stadium, I mean, I love D.C. United. I have season tickets. I have had for years. But I recognize that not everyone necessarily wants to subsidize the team financially.

  • 12:17:14

    NNAMDIWell, I had season tickets last year also. And I'm thinking about getting them again this year, but I haven't gone into it as yet. But I think it might be a little more than that. I think it might also have to do with the part of the city that the stadium is likely to be located in. The notion that this is a smaller sport. It's not like professional football, basketball, or even professional hockey and so may need a leg up more than the other sports. There may be several factors that went into the 44 percent support that that got in that situation.

  • 12:17:41

    NNAMDIThere's another important question in this survey about neighborhoods. We asked voters whether or not they feel the quality of life in the corner of the city where they lived has improved, gotten worse, or stayed the same. What did we find? And why do you think this is relevant for assessing today's political climate?

  • 12:17:58

    MADDENWell, the results in this poll on quality of life in neighborhoods really struck me as reminiscent of our results of -- to a similar question four years ago where we see, you know, 59 percent of likely Democratic voters saying their neighborhood has gotten either a little bit or significantly better in the last four years.

  • 12:18:19

    MADDENAnd yet we have only 27 percent of voters wanting to re-elect the mayor. And we had a similar split in 2010 where, you know, people were generally happy with the changes in quality of life in the neighborhoods. I think then we had 57 percent combined for either a little bit or significantly better. But the then-mayor lost pretty comprehensively to Vince Gray.

  • 12:18:42

    MADDENSo you see sort of a dichotomy in voters' perceptions of the city and perceptions of the way things have changed specifically in their neighborhoods and I guess, you know, what they want to do about it at the ballot box. So it's, you know, voters are deciding how much credit to give to the mayor for those specific changes and also weighing that against the allegations that have come out of the prosecutor's office.

  • 12:19:05

    NNAMDIBrought up some of the strangest analyses I've ever heard about why the city in the view of some is progressing. Some people feel the city is on automatic pilot, doesn't have anything to do with the mayor or the council or anything. It's just driving itself forward. How did these results square with the narrative that longtime residents and/or African-American residents look at recent developments, like bike lanes, in a different more negative way than do new residents or white residents?

  • 12:19:32

    MADDENWell, you know, we actually found people were pretty happy with the changes in their neighborhoods regardless of how long they've lived in D.C. You know, I'm looking at the crosstabs there. People who have lived here less than five years were actually the likeliest to say the changes were only a little bit better. But people who have lived here 10 to 20 years, you know, we have 61 percent saying either significantly or a little bit better. People who have lived here over 20 years are saying 57 percent either significantly or a little bit better.

  • 12:20:06

    MADDENSo I think, you know, this is obviously a perception question, but that probably speaks mostly to sort of the general direction of some of the neighborhoods. Where, if you've lived here 20 years or more, you know, you've seen significant changes. And, you know, if you're still here after all that -- after all those changes, chances are you're not -- you haven't either been displaced or decided to leave.

  • 12:20:31

    NNAMDIAnd I see that 60 percent of black residents said that they thought that their neighborhoods were better, 73 percent of Hispanics, 56 percent of whites. But the general perception was that if there is a great deal of disgruntlement by the way the city's changing that you'll find it most among blacks. But with a 60 percent approval rate, that tends to shoot down that hypothesis somewhat, doesn't it?

  • 12:20:52

    MADDENYeah, I think that's right. I mean, I think a lot of our -- a lot of the sort of ready narratives about D.C. politics don't always bear out completely. You know, it would not be true to say that, you know, no black residents in Washington are particularly happy with the way the city's going. Nor would it be true to say that, you know…

  • 12:21:13

    NNAMDIThat all are.

  • 12:21:13

    MADDEN…all are. Right.

  • 12:21:15


  • 12:21:15

    MADDENI mean, I think, you know, neighborhood change, like many things that happen in the cities, is a complicated process. And any individual responds to it in different ways. And, you know, your demographics may inform how likely you are to feel one way or the other, but depending on where you live and what you do and how much money you make and how often you go to the new things in your neighborhood, that'll determine what you think of it more than what race you are.

  • 12:21:42

    NNAMDIThe mayor will soon sign into law a measure decriminalizing possession of small amounts of marijuana. We went out and asked people what they think of a potential ballot initiative coming in the fall that would legalize pot altogether. What did we find?

  • 12:21:55

    MADDENWe found 49 percent said they would vote yes for this ballot initiative. Thirty-three percent said they would vote no. And 18 percent said they were not sure. Now, our reporter, Perry Stein, who wrote a piece on this for the paper, found actually -- she got a little bit of pushback from some of the groups that are supporting the referendum. And I may agree with them that the question was a little bit confusingly worded.

  • 12:22:18

    MADDENI think, you know, you've seen polling where if we just ask voters straight up, should we legalize pot, there's a larger majority for it. So I think by taking voters down this path of would you vote for the referendum, we may have driven up the not sure number. But even if a quarter or half of the people who said they're not sure vote yes, clearly this ballot initiative would pass easily.

  • 12:22:43

    NNAMDIAnd does this poll give us any sense about how voters who feel strongly about marijuana are likely to vote in the mayoral race?

  • 12:22:49

    MADDENYou know, they were pretty evenly split. The people that say yes, we should legalize marijuana, they are 24 percent for Muriel Bowser, 26 percent for the mayor, 11 percent for Andy Shallal, 14 percent for Jack Evans, 13 percent for Tommy Wells. I mean, that's a pretty even distribution, which is not that surprising. I mean, you see across pretty much every demographic slice in the city, except some older residents, you see pretty heavy support for legalizing pot. So it doesn't seem as though there are single-issue voters on that, that are voting for one candidate.

  • 12:23:25

    NNAMDILet's hear what Barbara, in Washington, D.C. has to say. Barbara, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.

  • 12:23:31

    BARBARAHi. Thanks for taking my call. First of all, all my outrage is focused at Jeffrey Thompson. And I know we're all interested in the election and the horse race, but I hope more attention will be put on, you know, there's no corruption without a corruptor. And him stepping in with all of his money and apparently, perhaps dangling it in front of all these candidates, that's the real problem we need to fix.

  • 12:24:06

    NNAMDIThat said, does it affect who you'll be voting for, for mayor?

  • 12:24:10

    BARBARAIt -- the perspective that I have on that is I decided early on that I was very impressed with the work that Gray has done with the transgender community here in D.C. He is a national leader on that issue. The mayor's office of LGBT Affairs gets calls from all over the country asking, you know, how they can replicate the kind of work that he's done.

  • 12:24:38

    NNAMDISo that means you're going to throw your support behind the incumbent?

  • 12:24:41

    BARBARAWhen you've been in a candidate forum and you have someone stand up and say Mayor Gray saved my life, which has happened twice in two separate political events that I've been to, that's so compelling to me. And again, with the overlay of this megalomaniac Jeffrey Thompson has to have this paternalistic Uncle Earl maybe, you know, dangling this money…

  • 12:25:11

    NNAMDIWe don't have a lot of time. Clearly you feel that there needs to be some money taken out of politics out of D.C. And…

  • 12:25:16


  • 12:25:17

    NNAMDI…Barbara is going to be supporting Vincent Gray. Thank you so much for your call. Mike Madden, there's been a decent amount of talk in the past couple of days about the methodology of polling. We got a fair amount of pushback from one candidate in particular, Tommy Wells, who essentially thought it was unfair to publish a poll that did not include cellphone users or voters who moved to the city recently. Results notwithstanding, what explanation would you offer for why we thought it was a useful exercise to conduct the poll with the methods we employed and what we were trying to learn?

  • 12:25:48

    MADDENWell, the pollster we work with is called Public Policy Polling. They've done some very accurate polls here in D.C. using their method, which is automated dialing. So they're not allowed to call cellphones without a real person on the line. We think their polling is very sound. I will grant the Wells campaign that more of their supporters may be likelier to not have landlines than some other candidates, but our results were within the margin of error of the live-dialing calls that the Washington Post and NBC 4 did.

  • 12:26:21

    MADDENSo, you know, in the future when we do additional polling we may see if we can find a way to pull in some cellphone-only callers, but our demographics line up similarly with the likely voter demographics in the other polls. And, you know, our result for the top two was the same. So I think, you know, they have a point and we will take it under advisement, but I'm comfortable with our results.

  • 12:26:43

    NNAMDIMike Madden is editor of Washington City Paper. For more insights from the Washington City Paper Kojo Nnamdi Show poll, you can go to WashingtonCityPaper.com or Kojoshow.org, comb through the data yourself with charts and other graphics. And you can also read several forthcoming stories about the poll in this week's print edition of the Washington City Paper and on wamu.org. Mike Madden, thank you so much for joining us.

  • 12:27:06

    MADDENThanks for having me.

  • 12:27:07

    NNAMDIWe're going to take a short break. When we come back it'll be with the bug guy, University of Maryland Professor Mike Raupp here. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.

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