This combination of Associated Press file photos shows, left, an Aug. 6, 2013, file photo, of New York Republican mayoral hopeful Joe Lhota, and right a Sept. 10, 2013, file photo of New York City Democratic mayoral hopeful Bill de Blasio. (AP Photo/File)
When Democrat Bill de Blasio headed into the New York City mayoral general election campaign in September with a huge lead in the polls, Republican Joe Lhota predicted he’d turn it around with a series of televised debates.
It didn’t happen.
With just days before Tuesday's election, 65 percent of likely voters said they will vote for de Blasio, compared to 24 percent for Lhota, a new NBC 4 New York/Wall Street Journal/Marist poll shows. That’s virtually unchanged from when the campaign started, after three debates. Back then, a NBC 4 New York/Wall Street Journal/Marist Poll found de Blasio leading Lhota 65 percent to 22 percent.
“Since the primary, Lhota has needed to alter the character of the campaign, and he failed to do so,” said Lee Miringoff, director of the Marist College Institute for Public Opinion.
Only 8 percent of likely voters said they might change their minds, while 1 percent said they were unsure whom they would back.
The way Miringoff sees it, barring some unexpected last-minute event that tosses the race on its head, the best Lhota can likely do is cut de Blasio’s winning margin to somewhere in the 30-percentage-point range. That, Miringoff said, depends on continued support from one of the only voting blocs in which Lhota leads de Blasio, white Catholics, and increased support among other voting blocs among which he’s bitten off bits of de Blasio’s electoral feast, including Jews and voters who aren’t registered with a party.
“But that’s all very minimal when you look at the context of the entire race,” Miringoff said.
De Blasio leads among virtually all segments of the New York electorate: men and women; whites, blacks and Latinos, young and old, in every borough.
Even Lhota’s most ardent supporters don’t think he stands much of a chance. Eight out of 10 registered voters who told the poll that they planned to vote for him said they expected de Blasio to win.
And so, it appears that the election will end just as it began: with a dominating showing by de Blasio.
“De Blasio maintains a commanding lead and what Joe Lhota needed to do, he’s clearly come up short,” Miringoff said.
To be fair, Lhota had the odds stacked against him.
De Blasio roared out of the primary with tremendous momentum, winning enough votes to avoid a runoff and rallying the rest of his party behind him. His populist message, focused on income inequality and frustration with the police tactic of stop-and-frisk, tapped into a certain fatigue with Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s 12 years in office. Thanks in large part to a gauzy ad campaign that highlighted his multi-racial family, de Blasio quickly became the candidate New York voters felt most comfortable with.
Then there are the raw numbers: registered Democrats outnumber registered Republicans by 6-to-1.
Lhota, meanwhile, has failed to parlay his long resume of experience handling municipal affairs, first as a deputy mayor for operations under Rudy Giuliani, in which he helped oversee the city’s response to 9/11, and later as chairman of the MTA, where he coordinated a widely lauded response to Hurricane Sandy. In the final week of the the campaign, 25 percent of registered voters said they either had never heard of Lhota or were unsure whether they liked him.
The poll, conducted from Tuesday to Friday, shows that de Blasio enjoys a favorable rating from 64 percent of registered New York voters, and an unfavorable rating of 26 percent. By comparison, 47 percent of registered voters have an unfavorable view of Lhota, and 32 percent have a favorable impression of him.
In recent weeks, Lhota has turned negative, unleashing television ads that warned crime would flourish under de Blasio. Lhota repeated that message with increasing urgency during the debates. But that message seems not to have had much effect.
Asked which candidate would be more likely to keep crime down, 48 percent chose de Blasio and 32 percent sided with Lhota. That’s virtually unchanged from the prior NBC 4 New York/Wall Street Journal/Marist polls.
The poll surveyed 1,046 registered voters, carrying a margin of error of plus or minus 3 percentage points. Of the 530 likely voters surveyed, the margin of error was plus or minus 4.3 percentage points.
Respondents were also asked about their opinions about Mayor Bloomberg, and the direction of the city. Nearly half of registered voters — 47 percent — said they approved of Bloomberg’s performance. And 49 percent said they thought New York was moving in the right direction.
But 64 percent of registered voters said they wanted the next mayor to take the city in a new direction.
Miringoff said those responses pointed to an “interesting dynamic” concerning the billionaire mayor.
“People are comfortable with Michael Bloomberg but they want to turn the page,” Miringoff said. “By 2-to-1, people want to move in a new direction, and those voters overwhelmingly are in the de Blasio camp.”