Three weeks away from the final Salt Lake City mayoral election and the battle between Mayor Ralph Becker and challenger Jackie Biskupski couldn’t be any closer – in fact it is a statistical dead heat coming down the home stretch, a new UtahPolicy poll shows.
The survey of 588 registered city voters has Becker ahead by six percentage points, finds pollster Dan Jones & Associates.
Among all 588 registered voters Becker gets 43 percent of the vote, Biskupski 37 percent, with 17 percent undecided and 3 percent saying they plan on voting for someone else.
But when you whittle down the prospective voters to those with a “high” interest in voting, and those who actually did vote in the August primary, Biskupski leads by 2 percentage points – 45-43 percent with 9 percent “undecided” and 3 percent saying they plan to vote for someone else.
The margin of error is plus or minus 4.02 percent on the 588 sample; 5.94 percent on the 271 sample of those most likely to vote. Jones polled Oct. 5-10.
The margin means you can add or subtract those numbers in favor of one, or in favor of the other.
The result: The election is just too close to call.
Folks, this could go either way.
And on top of that, for the first time in a Salt Lake City mayoral race it’s an all-mail-in-ballot vote.
Those ballots hit homes last week – some Salt Lakers have already marked their ballots and mailed them.
So neither the Becker nor Biskupski campaigns can change those earlier voters’ minds.
But wait, there’s more!
In the 271 sample of those most likely to vote – where Biskupski is ahead by 2 percentage points – there is 9 percent undecided and 3 percent telling Jones they plan to vote for some other candidate (even though there are only Becker’s and Biskupski’s names on the ballot.)
So where may those 12 percent jump?
To get a feel, Jones asked them which way they were leaning – toward supporting the mayor, or supporting Biskupski, a former state legislator?
Man alive – that 12 percent splits right down the middle – 31 percent said they are leaning toward Becker, 31 percent said they are leaning toward Biskupski, and 38 percent wouldn’t be moved – they held fast, telling Jones they are still undecided.
Biskupski shocked Becker in the August primary, beating him by more than 4,000 votes – a 15 percentage point drubbing.
But Becker has more campaign money and soon started running TV ads – an oddity in the Salt Lake City mayor’s race because such ads are expensive and reach only a fraction of the eligible voters. Biskupski is also set to start running television ads this month.
A KUED-TV Channel 7 debate a week ago may have helped Becker. At least his campaign thinks so, they sent out emails linking to the debate and telling voters to view it – and see why they should support the mayor, who is running for a third, four-year term.
That's something Becker echoed when informed of the latest round of polling results:
"I feel very comfortable having voters look closely at us side by side and make their assessment as to which of the candidates can best lead Salt Lake City as mayor," said Becker. "What this tells me is as voters are focusing in on their choice, they're moving in my direction, and I am going to campaign hard and put my best foot forward."
Maryann Martindale, the spokesperson for the Biskupski campaign, said in an email statement to UtahPolicy.com, "Ralph has spent heavily, and we're still in the lead amongst likely voters. We knew this race would narrow with Ralph spending over $200k on TV. We have a strong people-to-people campaign that now includes our own TV advertising starting this week. We're confident the voters are ready for a strong, collaborative leader who will listen to residents and implement sustainable solutions to our homelessness crisis, poor air quality and the need for economic development in ALL of our neighborhoods."
UtahPolicy and KSL-TV Channel 5 are sponsoring another TV debate this Wednesday at noon. A town hall live format where KSL Radio listeners are now sending in questions, and may be called on in the studio audience to quiz the two candidates.
Both Becker and Biskupski need to bring their top game to the KSL debate, for sure.
Jones has polled in Utah for more than 55 years. And he says this is one of the closest races he’s seen.
Jones tells UtahPolicy: “There are three critical factors to consider when evaluating the data:
“First, of registered voters, which segments will actually show up and vote.
“Second, for which candidate will the currently undecideds vote.
“And third, what impact will the last three weeks of campaigning have on this election.”
Jones’ experience tells him that in close races the “undecideds” tend to fall to the challenger – even though in this race three weeks out they are split down the middle.
“Combined with evaluating the data in myriad different ways, I believe if the election were today, Jackie Biskupski would win by 3 to 4 percentage points,” said Jones.
But the final election is not today – even though some voters may have already cast their ballots.
Jones continues: “The real game changer in this campaign seems to have been Salt Lake County Mayor Ben McAdams’s strong support for Mayor Becker. Mayor McAdams is strongly admired from both sides of the aisle, and his strong support is likely swaying some voters.”
As always in close elections, Jones reminds UtahPolicy readers, who wins comes down to voter participation – and getting your supporters to the polls, or in this case to the mailbox.
“The fact that Becker is ahead among all possible registered voters indicates that the more voters that participate,” says Jones, “including people who did not vote in the primary election, the more likely Mayor Becker is to win.”