Poll: Democratic mayoral primary likely to be volatile to the end

(L-R) Democratic primary candidates for Mayor of New

(L-R) Democratic primary candidates for Mayor of New York City Anthony D. Weiner, Sal F. Albanese, John C. Liu, Christine C. Quinn, William C. Thompson Jr., Erick J. Salgado, Bill de Blasio face off during a debate at the Town Hall in Manhattan. (Aug. 21, 2013) (Credit: Ruth Fremson )

More than four in 10 Democrats who back a candidate in the New York City mayoral primary and are likely to vote have switched allegiances during the course of the campaign, which is now entering its final week, an amNewYork-News 12 Long Island poll found.

Also, one in three backers for each of the top three candidates -- Bill de Blasio, Bill Thompson and Christine Quinn -- either does not strongly support them or is merely leaning toward them, according to the poll by Penn Schoen Berland.

Together, those numbers underscore how the race has been -- and is likely to remain -- volatile to the end.

The poll showed de Blasio, the city's public advocate, leading among likely Democratic voters with 29 percent. Former Comptroller Thompson had 24 percent and City Council Speaker Quinn trailed at 17 percent. Thirteen percent were undecided.

The poll, conducted Aug. 22-27, surveyed 600 Democrats likely to vote in the Sept. 10 primary and has a margin of error of plus or minus 4 percentage points.

De Blasio has been the biggest beneficiary of the vote-switchers, with 48 percent now backing him, the poll showed. Thompson got 27 percent of switchers and Quinn 11 percent. More voters abandoned Quinn and former Rep. Anthony Weiner than their rivals: 23 percent of vote-switchers were formerly for Quinn and 27 percent for Weiner.

De Blasio's ability to connect with voters has helped fuel his late-breaking surge. Jamal Clarke, 50, of East Flatbush, liked Weiner, rejected him, considered Thompson and chose de Blasio. "I like what I see and I like what I hear," said Clarke, whose hot-dog cart near City Hall allows him to see the contenders as they stump there. "Thompson doesn't get me here," he said, touching his heart.

If no candidate gets at least 40 percent of the vote, the first- and second-place finishers will meet in an Oct. 1 runoff.

"This is a game of musical chairs: who gets a chair and who doesn't," pollster Mike Berland said. "De Blasio had to earn one, Quinn is trying not lose one . . . Thompson has positioned himself well for the runoff."

De Blasio has sought to outflank Thompson, the city's first black comptroller, on issues important to black and Latino communities, including stop and frisk.

"Getting in the runoff can be a game of inches," said Democratic strategist Bob Shrum. "And clearly, there's a huge focus on fighting for that African-American vote."

On that score, de Blasio has benefited from Thompson's perceived trouble forming a strong connection with some black voters.

"You know when you're talking to someone and you don't feel where he's coming from?" said Katherine Wilson, 57, of East Harlem. "They're not talking to you, they're talking around and over you."

Wilson hosted de Blasio during a candidates' sleepover in July at her public housing complex.

De Blasio has surged thanks, in large part, to his vocal support of two City Council laws intended to reform stop-and-frisk, experts said. His biracial family, especially son Dante, 15, has been featured prominently on the campaign trail and in ads.

Thompson, who had positioned himself as a moderate, has tried to catch up on stop and frisk. He ran an ad saying he understands the need for NYPD reform because he has "lived" as a man of color.

Quinn enjoyed higher poll numbers earlier in the campaign, thanks to name recognition, but support ebbed as voters learned more about the other candidates, experts said. She is also suffering from her close affiliation with Mayor Michael Bloomberg at a time when voters want change. "De Blasio's campaign has done an outstanding job of painting Quinn as something of an incumbent," said Jeanne Zaino, an NYU political communications professor.

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