Salt Lake mayoral candidate Ralph Becker holds a double-digit lead over challenger Dave Buhler, a new public opinion survey shows.

The Deseret Morning News/KSL-TV poll conducted by Dan Jones & Associates shows that if the Nov. 6 final election were held today, Becker would be favored by 51 percent of Salt Lake City registered voters; Buhler has 33 percent support. Eleven percent didn't know, while 5 percent mentioned someone else.

That 18 percentage point Becker lead, while not insurmountable, will be a tough hill to climb for Buhler.

The survey of 403 registered voters in the city has a margin of error of plus or minus 5.0 percent. So, even within the ranges of the margin of error, Becker still holds a healthy lead.

While the race is officially nonpartisan — meaning the candidates' political party affiliations will not be on the ballot — the Salt Lake mayor's race has historically carried political party overtones, and the new survey shows this one is no exception.

Becker is a Democrat, the past several years serving as the minority leader in the Utah House of Representatives. His House district takes in the Capitol Hill and Avenues sections of the city.

Buhler is a Republican, having served as a GOP state senator for one four-year term in the 1990s from his Sugar House area. Buhler is an eight-year veteran on the Salt Lake City Council, another officially nonpartisan office.

Salt Lakers have not elected a Republican mayor since 1971.

And Jones found that 62 percent of city voters say that the candidate's political affiliation makes either a "great deal of difference" or "some difference" to them in who they support for mayor this year. Thirty-eight percent said a candidate's political party makes "no difference" to them.

Among Democrats, 85 percent said the candidate's political affiliation makes a difference to them. Sixty-eight percent of Republicans felt the same way.

There are some hard political facts facing Buhler now, as the results of Jones' poll point out.

Thirty-four percent of city voters said they are Democrats. A third said they are political independents. Only a quarter said they are Republicans.

Becker gets 77 percent of the Democratic vote and 39 percent of the independent vote, Jones found. Buhler gets 60 percent of the Republican vote — but Republicans are only 25 percent of all voters. Buhler gets only 18 percent of the independent vote.

Clearly, Buhler is being outgunned on the partisan political level.

Through personal appearances and some of his advertising, Buhler is trying to address the issue. This past week he made a point of saying how well he deals with all people, including the GOP-controlled Legislature. He pointed out how successful he was in getting his bills passed in the Legislature, comparing his bill-passed/bill-failed ratio to that of Becker's, which is far worse.

Buhler also has to fight a campaign by retiring Mayor Rocky Anderson to disparage the GOP city councilman's politics. Anderson didn't originally back Becker. Anderson endorsed and worked for former Councilman Keith Christensen, who finished a distant fourth in the primary.

The mayor immediately then endorsed Becker, criticizing Buhler — the pair having often butted heads over issues the past eight years.

Being a Republican, along with Anderson's criticisms, seems to have had an impact on Buhler's campaign, Jones found.

Becker has a 69 percent "favorable" rating in the new poll. Only 12 percent said they were "unfavorable" toward Becker.

But Buhler has only a 56 percent approval rating; 27 percent of city voters said they had an "unfavorable" opinion of the candidate.

Across the nation, a 56 percent approval rating is fine. But not in Utah. Here, candidates and officeholders often have approval ratings in the 60 and 70 percentiles. And having a 27 percent unfavorable rating is not good news for Buhler.

And should Buhler decide to heighten his criticism of Becker — which would fly in the face of one of Buhler's main campaign themes: that he's a "reasonable guy" who can get along with different types of people — in an attempt to cut into Becker's overall lead, then Buhler's unfavorable ratings would likely climb.

At least the two mayoral finalists can take heart in learning that Salt Lakers know them. Jones found that only 5 percent of voters had not heard of Becker; only 4 percent had not heard of Buhler.

In the past 25 years of mayoral elections in the city, the more liberal, non-Mormon candidates have won over the more conservative, often-LDS candidates.

This mayoral final pits a non-Mormon Democrat — Becker — against the LDS GOP candidate — Buhler.

Only 40 percent of city voters told Jones that they are "active" or "somewhat active" members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. In other areas of the state, Mormons can make up 70 percent or more of voters.

Jones found that 22 percent of LDS voters like Becker, while 62 percent of Salt Lake Mormons favor Buhler.

In most other elections in the state, those numbers would mean a GOP/LDS candidate victory.

But as Jones' poll points out, those kinds of political/religious splits don't mean a win inside Salt Lake City.


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