Salt Lake City is in line to elect its third non-Utah-born mayor in less than 25 years, with Ralph Becker holding a 20 percentage-point lead going into Tuesday's election, a new poll shows.
In a Deseret Morning News/KSL-TV poll conducted by Dan Jones & Associates, Becker, a Democrat, gets 53 percent of voters' support, compared to Republican Dave Buhler's 33 percent support, the survey found.
Jones, who has polled in Utah for 30 years, warns that the survey is not a prediction of what the final vote will be but is a fair snapshot of registered voters' feelings as of last week, when the poll of 405 registered Salt Lake City voters was conducted.
Still, it is hard to imagine that Buhler, a current eight-year city councilman from the Sugar House area, could make up such a large lead held by Becker, the minority leader in the Utah House.
Becker was born in Washington, D.C., and if elected, he would join former mayors Palmer DePaulis and Deedee Corradini as recent top city executives not born in Utah. Becker, a lawyer and urban planner, moved to Utah as a young man, in part to enjoy an outdoors lifestyle.
Becker came out of the September primary election with a healthy lead and has not looked back.
"Ralph picked up the Democratic support that was going to (Salt Lake County Councilwoman) Jenny Wilson," says Jones. Wilson, who once led in the polls, finished third in the primary and was eliminated.
Salt Lake City is one place in Utah where Democrats are a majority over Republicans, notes Jones. But one of Buhler's problems is that he doesn't even get all of the GOP vote just 73 percent of it.
Becker gets 18 percent of the GOP vote, while Buhler gets only 7 percent of the Democratic vote, Jones found.
The real killer for Buhler, however, is that he gets only 28 percent of the independent vote, while Becker gets 55 percent.
For a Republican to win in the city, Jones says, he has to carry nearly all of his own party's vote, pick up most of the independent vote and even score well with Democrats.
Buhler, 50, doesn't do any of those things, the poll shows.
Buhler has tried to cut into Becker's lead, however. Buhler's main theme is that he's a "doer," not a dreamer, as he labels Becker, the professional planner. But perhaps because of those tougher stands, Jones found that Buhler is carrying some negative feelings among voters.
Three-fourths of city voters said they have a favorable impression of Becker. But Buhler only gets a 61 percent favorable rating. Only 16 percent of voters have an unfavorable feeling about Becker, while Buhler's negatives are at 26 percent, Jones found.
While Jones believes there will be a voter turnout of around 45 percent inside the city good for an off-year election "it won't be a record turnout." An exceptional turnout might help Buhler: In recent city elections, many Republican LDS voters have not cast ballots because they either didn't believe their votes would matter much, or they were just turned off by the final two choices.
Oddly, says Jones, there is a gender gap in his findings.
Becker, 55, a divorced father of two and grandfather of one, is favored by 58 percent of the men but gets only 49 percent support among women. Jones says the likely reason is that more women are telling him they plan to vote Tuesday, mainly because of the private-school voucher issue on the ballot and women tend to care more about children's education than men do.
Salt Lake City is one of the few cities in Utah that does not have a majority of LDS residents. Jones found in his new poll that 46 percent of the city's registered voters say they are members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
In most places, if a candidate carries most of the LDS Republican vote, he wins and often he wins easily.
Not so in Salt Lake City.
Buhler does get 59 percent of the LDS vote in the poll. But Becker gets 27 percent of that vote. And Becker goes on to get 75 percent of the Catholic vote, 67 percent of the Protestant vote and 71 percent of the vote of those who told Jones they belong to some other religious faith. Becker gets the support of a whopping 84 percent of voters who said they don't belong to any religion, Jones found.So clearly, Becker gets most of the Democratic non-Mormon vote in the city and with those numbers, it's difficult to lose in the capital city.