Democratic nominee Muriel Bowser has a double-digit lead over her opponents in the first poll on this fall's D.C. mayoral election -- but that doesn't mean the race is a done deal.
Among likely voters, including those who are still undecided, Bowser leads with 43 percent of the vote, according to an NBC4/Washington Post/Marist poll released Wednesday. (The poll has a 4.1-percent margin of error among likely voters.)
Independent David Catania received 26 percent, and another 16 percent of voters say they are planning to vote for independent Carol Schwartz.
However, that balance could change. With nearly seven weeks to go until Election Day, 14 percent of likely voters remain undecided, and a sizable chunk of likely voters admit they don't know enough about the candidates to render an opinion.
Moreover, among those likely voters who have chosen a candidate, slightly less than half strongly support their choice. A little more than one-third "somewhat support" their choice, and 16 percent say they might change their minds by the time they cast their ballots.
"Bowser has the advantage going into Thursday night's debate," said Dr. Lee M. Miringoff, director of the Marist College Institute for Public Opinion, in a release. "But, when considering voters who are undecided and those who say they may still vote differently, there are enough persuadable voters to make for a lively give-and-take."
Only about half of likely voters who are supporting Bowser and Catania say they are "firmly committed" to their respective choice of candidate.
None of the candidates are struggling with likability; half of likely voters have a favorable view of both Bowser and Schwartz, and 46 percent feel the same about Catania.
However, Bowser has the strongest unfavorability rating; 22 percent of likely voters have a negative view of her. Catania was next, at 19 percent unfavorable. Just 15 percent of likely voters have an unfavorable view of Schwartz.
And roughly a third of poll respondents conceded that they don't know enough about at least one of the candidates to render an opinion either way: 28 percent of likely voters said that about Bowser; 35 percent about Catania, and 36 percent about Schwartz.
That balance could change, however, as voters learn more about the candidates in the coming weeks.
The poll also shows that the candidates' political parties may not have as much of an effect on the race as expected.
Two-thirds of likely voters who are Democrats say they'd consider voting for a non-Democratic candidate -- news that Bowser's independent opponents might be interested to know. The figure includes 38 percent who would very seriously consider doing so. However, another 31 percent would not.
Bowser also scored strongly on some of the issues that likely voters say are most important to them: jobs and the economy, education and temperament. "Her strong suits are people who rate jobs and the economy as their number-one issue," said Miringoff. "...She clearly has that point of identification with voters."
But when it comes to who has the clearest vision for the city and experience, those prove to be more of a tossup.
Bowser and Catania are in a statistical tie among likely voters on those issues, and Schwartz isn’t far behind when it comes to voters’ perception of her experience.
"In a sense, [Bowser] has some work to do in establishing her image, cementing that with voters, beyond just the jobs and economy..." Miringoff said.
In other words, it's not just Catania and Schwartz who have a ways to go before the election, Miringoff said: "They have work in gaining support, and she has work in cementing her image."
"The pursuable votes are there to be had, but they have to make their case to get that," he said.
As for shifting allegiances, Bowser's defeat of Mayor Vincent Gray in the April primary is coming back to help her in another way: 47 percent of Democrats who voted for Gray in the spring are now backing Bowser.
However, Catania has syphoned support from those who voted for third-place primary candidate Tommy Wells back in April. More than half of those voters are now in Catania's camp.
Catania is also leading Bowser by 11 percentage points among likely voters who are white, although Bowser is showing crossover appeal among both white and African-American voters. More than half of black voters, 55 percent, favor Bowser, as do 30 percent of white voters.
Nearly two thirds of likely voters said they don't think it's important to have an African American mayor. Of those voters, 38 percent said it's not important at all.
But more than 30 percent of likely voters do think it's important, and that includes 13 percent who report it's essential.
"The bottom line in all this, is it does put Bowser in the driver's seat, but she certainly doesn't have a lock on this, " Miringoff said.
MORE POLL RESULTS:
About two-thirds of adults said the District is moving in the right direction; another 24 percent think it is on the wrong track. Eight percent are unsure. The results show a slight polarization on the question since it was last asked. When this question was asked in a March poll, 65 percent of residents thought D.C. was on the right path, and 21 percent felt the opposite. At the time, a much higher ratio, 14 percent, was unsure.
Most D.C. residents, 71 percent, say Metropolitan Police Chief Cathy Lanier is doing a good job. Another 14 percent disapprove, and 15 percent are unsure.
While D.C. Public Schools Chancellor Kaya Henderson didn’t score as will, she still came away with a 52-percent approval rating. The poll shows that another 22 percent of residents disapprove, and a little more than a quarter are unsure.
As for proposed changes to D.C. school boundaries, 55 percent of residents support the proposal. Another 23 percent oppose it, and 22 percent are unsure.
ABOUT THE POLL:
This survey of 1,249 adults was conducted Sept. 14-16 by The Marist Poll sponsored in partnership with NBC4 and The Washington Post. Adults 18 years of age and older residing in the District of Columbia were interviewed by telephone using live interviewers.
Landline telephone numbers were randomly selected based upon a list of telephone exchanges from throughout the District from ASDE Survey Sampler, Inc. To increase coverage, this landline sample was supplemented by respondents reached through random dialing of cell phone numbers from Survey Sampling International. The two samples were then combined and balanced to reflect the 2010 Census results for age, gender income, and race.
Respondents in the household were selected by asking for the youngest male. Results are statistically significant within ±2.8 percentage points. There are 1,070 registered voters. The results for this subset are statistically significant within ±3.0 percentage points. There are 572 likely voters defined by a probability turnout model. This model determines the likelihood respondents will vote in the November 2014 election based upon their chance of vote, interest in the election, and past election participation.