Latest Poll Shows Chicago Mayor’s Race Too Close to Call | Chicago News

The latest poll shows Brandon Johnson is within two points of Paul Vallas in the Chicago mayoral race.

As we near the final days of the campaign, both candidates make their final pitch in front of voters, but the result itself seems too close to tell.

Below is an interview with political speechwriter, debate strategist and Northwestern University faculty member Jason DeSanto as he assesses the current state ahead of the April 4th election.

(The interview has been edited at length.)

WTTW News: The latest poll seems to show the race almost level. Who do you think will be more comfortable at this point?

Jason DeSanto: Well, I think they both have reasons to feel good. I think Vallas has reason to be feeling good. Without committing to being 100% accurate, let’s assume that the latest public poll is at least maybe indicative near by. In terms of direction, Vallas managed not to be wiped out with Black and Hispanic voters after the runoff. And I think there were some questions about that. I don’t think anyone thought he was going to be completely wiped out, but he managed to build on his win. He did pretty well in all groups. He still attracts about 20% of progressive voters. I think he’d probably like that percentage to be a bit bigger, but that’s pretty good. And he’s leading the Latino vote, which is positive for him, and looks like he’s getting some of Willie Wilson’s endorsement. So I think all these things are positive for him.

I think Johnson should be feeling good because he practically doubled his share of the vote if we’re going to trust those numbers. It came to about 20% after the first vote and now it’s about double that. And he does that demographically and personally, I think every time they get together and debate, I think they both get better as candidates if we just use it as a litmus of who becomes a more powerful, more experienced campaigner. But I think Johnson has really improved. Er, he’s tightened up as a candidate, and for those reasons, going back to the last few weeks here, I’d feel pretty good about him.

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The main thing for (Vallas) was the discipline of the messages, whatever he does, and doing TV ads about crime is what really guided him in the debates.

As far as Johnson goes, he’s been adept at shifting his focus a bit and handling a series of attacks on his previous defunding positions. And once we get into that part of the race, you see that both candidates continue to talk about certain crime issues, for example, but do so in a slightly different way than they did before the runoff.

Crime is obviously a major issue that is close to the hearts of all Chicagoans, but is there another issue that voters care about?

DeSanto: Education. And I would say that for two reasons: First, because of the substantive element of education. Parents want their children to get a good education and they want to feel like they live in a city where it is valued, where the future is bright and where there are opportunities for young people no matter where they come from . Even if they don’t have kids in the schools, that has some impact. The other point about education is that the candidates have cleverly used it as a proxy for other problems. For Johnson, it’s a truly accomplished proxy for Vallas’ leadership skills and a reference to Vallas’ past track record and Johnson’s argument that Vallas left places worse than he found them and that he left them with bulging budget holes had left.

On the other hand, Vallas uses education to show he’s run big companies and has a public service ethic. And that Johnson, on the other hand, will not be independent because he is tied to the teachers’ union. So they both use it as a litmus test of their own leadership skills.

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How would you expect the two candidates to wrap up the campaign trail with less than two weeks to go before the election?

DeSanto: Candidates traditionally close with a positive message. The only area Johnson has made some progress on in recent weeks has been taxes and the notion that he’s the big taxpayer. I think that’s still a standout argument that Vallas makes about him. But what Johnson has made progress is really turning Vallas around and blaming him for not really having a plan. And if you’ve been watching the debates over the past few weeks, he’s been following this issue fairly relentlessly and quite successfully.

And for Vallas, it really just reinforces what brought him here in terms of a sensible approach to public safety, and doesn’t exaggerate that approach enough to instill fear in some voters. And he’s done that pretty well in recent weeks, shifting his crime message away from simple accountability for crimes and being accountable to people and communities, and building trust and making sure the police are accountable to them. So there is a slight difference in emphasis.

The latest Victory Research poll shows that 72% of white voters support Vallas and 74% of black voters support Johnson. Why do you think race is still such a powerful component of how people feel about candidates and their voting intentions in 2023?

DeSanto: I’ll leave the behavioral issues to the political scientists who study this carefully… but I think there’s a tendency in human nature to identify with people who seem to have experiences similar to ours, and that’s what it could be coming up with. I don’t think that’s a good thing, of course, but it’s a reality in city politics. I think the silver lining here, when you look at this in terms of the city’s future and even for these two candidates, is that it’s not lockstep. Johnson has 74% of the African American vote in this poll, meaning it’s not universal. And if you look at their endorsers, I mean their endorsers also cross racial and ethnic boundaries. It’s certainly important. I don’t think you can look at city politics and deny that they are important but not crucial.

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How do you assess the recent debates?

DeSanto: One thing that was interesting was that in terms of crime, they really went into basic practical things about each other’s proposals. You’ve debated enough now to really settle the issues. And the debates have actually gotten better. I think if you had activated them you would have learned a lot about their views on the issues and also their views on trust level leadership how you feel about them.

How do you rate the value of endorsements these days? Do you think the voters really pay a lot of attention to them?

DeSanto: On the edges. And, and this is a campaign that could be decided on the fringes. The company you run knows you a little, so you have to stand up for other people who have supported you. Vallas has to answer for the Fraternal Order of Police (Endorsement). And Johnson had to deal with the problems facing the Chicago Teachers Union and the strength of their support. So it works both ways.

Do you have expectations regarding voter turnout? Do you think it will be basically the same as last time, or do you think there could be a little more voter interest and engagement now that there are only two candidates left?

DeSanto: There could be a bit more engagement, but I would imagine it would be about the same. And also about the same as 2019. I don’t think there will be much change there.


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