A new poll in the Richmond mayor’s race shows Joe Morrissey losing ground to two well-funded opponents — former Venture Richmond executive Jack Berry and former Secretary of the Commonwealth Levar Stoney — and two out of five Richmonders on the fence.
Below are our takeaways.
1. Morrissey is still winning, but apparently mortal. Previous polls showed the former commonwealth’s attorney and state delegate had a substantial lead. Many attributed this to his built-in name ID advantage, election speak for people actually knowing who you are. This poll confirms he is still the front-runner, but his path to outright victory on Nov. 8 looks imperiled. A high percentage of respondents who said they were undecided in the districts where he is strongest – 6th through 9th — registers as a genuine surprise this late in the game, given how substantial his margins appeared in those districts in the first two polls. It’s worth noting that this survey was conducted before his staffer’s “real first black mayor” gaffe, which his opponents have seized on and from which he has backpedaled.
2. Stoney has a real chance of forcing a runoff. Just as Berry’s supporters did in the wake of the Richmond Association of Realtors poll, Stoney’s camp is pointing to this poll as evidence that he is the strongest challenger to the front-runner. The former secretary of the commonwealth is third citywide, but second in all nine districts, behind either Morrissey or Berry. He is also in the best position to upend Morrissey in the pivotal 3rd and 5th districts, where he trails by less than the margin of error. Should Stoney overtake Morrissey in both, that would all but guarantee a runoff scenario between the top two vote-getters citywide. If you factor in respondents who said they were leaning toward Stoney, he already leads in the 5th.
3. Jack Berry’s tricky spot: Berry has three districts in the bag, but his numbers are stagnant or down elsewhere. He remains competitive in the 3rd and 5th, but he has slipped in both since last month, ceding the second-place spot to Stoney (see above). Stoney also has emerged as the most viable alternative to Morrissey south of the river. If you’re Berry, you want Stoney to do just well enough to weaken Morrissey and force a runoff, but not well enough to overtake you citywide. That’s a tricky spot to be in.
4. Polling peculiarities: This poll had three times as many respondents as the prior two, and a much lower citywide and district-level margin of error. Viewed at face value, it’s tempting to say this is the best snapshot to date of where things stand. And maybe it is, but because no poll is perfect, a few questions for consideration: This survey was conducted by a marketing entity, not a political polling firm. How did this affect the results, particularly as it pertains to the huge jump in the percentage of respondents reporting they are undecided? If you’re going to ask for (and include in your topline report) respondents’ gender and age, why not also ask for and include their race? Also, women have turned out in greater numbers than men in every presidential election since 1964, so why weight the male respondents as 51 percent of the electorate? Both the CNU and Realtors Association polls used a 55/45 sample, giving women more weight.
5. Council candidates are losing ground. No matter how you parse it, City Council President Michelle Mosby and West End councilman Jon Baliles both look like long shots at this point. Each is still losing their respective home districts. Neither is polling in double digits elsewhere. Calls for them to drop out will likely intensify. But even if one or both of them did, how much would it matter? Yes, they could endorse one of the remaining candidates and urge their respective supporters to vote for that person. But with absentee voting already underway, their names will remain on the ballot regardless of whether they bow out.