Poll: Polis leading Kennedy, but both best Stapleton

By: Ernest Luning

Jared Polis holds a lead over Cary Kennedy atop the four-way Democratic primary to be Colorado’s next governor, but both would defeat Republican front-runner Walker Stapleton by the same margin, according to a new survey.

The survey was conducted by polling and communications firm Strategies 360 for the Service Employees International Union’s Colorado Small Donor Committee and made available to Colorado Politics before its release Wednesday.

The poll of likely Democratic primary voters and likely general election voters, including Democrats, Republicans and unaffiliated voters, also shows that nearly half of respondents consider themselves to be either just getting by or struggling economically despite the state’s booming economy and a good share of them haven’t decided how to vote for governor, either in this month’s primary or the November election.

Those voters, the pollsters added, appear to be receptive to candidates who are up front about supporting workers.

Colorado voters including 1.2 million unaffiliated voters, able to cast ballots in either major party’s primary for the first time this year began receiving mail ballots last week and have until June 26 to return them to county clerks.

As of Tuesday, 134,038 ballots had been returned, according to Secretary of State Wayne Williams office.

According to the new survey, Polis, one of the wealthiest members of Congress, was favored by 34 percent of likely primary voters. Kennedy, a former state treasurer, came in second with support from 23 percent, while former state Sen. Mike Johnston had 12 percent and Lt. Gov. Donna Lynne had 2 percent. Twenty-nine percent were undecided.

Asked to choose between the two leading Democrats and Stapleton, the two-term state treasurer, likely general election voters preferred the Democrat in each matchup by 5 points, the poll said.

Polis led Stapleton 42-37 percent, with 3 percent naming someone else and 18 percent undecided. Kennedy led Stapleton 43-38 percent, with 4 percent suggesting another candidate and 15 percent undecided.

Stapleton, who defeated Kennedy in her 2010 bid for a second term as state treasurer, is in a four-way Republican primary. He faces businessman Victor Mitchell, retired investment banker Doug Robinson and former Small Business Administration official Greg Lopez.

SEIU, the union commissioning the poll, hasn’t made an endorsement in the governor’s race.

Strategies 360 conducted the landline and mobile phone survey from May 23 to June 6. The firm interviewed 500 likely general election voters, including Republicans, Democrats and unaffiliated voters, weighted to reflect the expected electorate in November. Pollsters also interviewed 387 likely Democratic primary voters, including Democratic and unaffiliated voters, weighted to reflect the expected electorate for that election. The margin of error was 4.4 percent for the general election sample and 5 percent for the primary sample.

Among the survey’s findings: While 49 percent of all general election voters say they’re just getting by or have difficulty making ends meet, even higher percentages of women, people of color and self-identified independents say they aren’t financially comfortable even as Colorado enjoys near-record low unemployment and high job growth.

The data from this survey shines light on these economically struggling Coloradans who often get lost in the narrative of Colorado’s boom, the pollsters said in a memo accompanying the survey. They are vast in number and they are looking for leaders who can speak to their economic concerns. And, importantly for candidates competing for governor, they have yet to decide on their preferred candidate in either the primary or the general election races.

Polis’ lead in the primary, for example, is due to a 17-point lead over Kennedy among financially comfortable voters but the two are nearly tied among those who said they’re struggling or just getting by. In addition, one-third of the primary voters in the less comfortable cohort plan to vote but haven’t settled on a candidate, the pollsters pointed out.

Among the general election voters struggling economically, the survey found Polis and Kennedy’s leads over Stapleton drop from 5 percent to just 2 percent.

The survey also found that 58 percent of general election voters say they’d be more likely to vote for a candidate who supports stronger laws to fight racial discrimination in housing, education and employment, with just 7 percent saying they’d be less likely to pick those candidates.

Likewise, by 45-19 percent, general election voters say they’d be more likely vote for candidates who want to let local governments set higher minimum wages, and by 35-17 they say they prefer candidates who back workers when they’re trying to form a union.

In each case, the share of voters who said they were economically struggling said they’d vote for the candidates who supported workers by even wider margins.

Predictably, overwhelming margins of Democratic primary voters said they preferred candidates who supported various positions the pollsters consider favorable to workers.

Candidates who are willing to speak to these voters with bold, pro-worker policies can expect to reap electoral benefits with little to no political downside, the pollsters said.

In truth, many general election voters won’t factor positions on collective organizing or minimum wage into their vote choices. But in the Democratic primary, these issues have traction with key blocs who will decide the contest. And for general election voters who struggle with economic anxiety, these issues matter and can make the difference in what may be a close race for governor.

This article originally appeared in Colorado Politics on June 13, 2018.