No mayoral candidate hits 8% support and Denver police are more popular than Hancock and City Council, a new poll says

Plus, about 60% of voters still don’t have a pick in the crowded race — and other tidbits from a recent 2023 bipartisan election poll.
6 min. read
Thomas Wolf (left to right), Debbie Ortega and Kelly Brough raise their hands to indicate they would continue sweeping encampments as Terrance Roberts keeps his hand down during 9News’ televised mayoral debate at the Auraria Campus’ King Center. Feb. 16, 2023.
Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite

Many Denverites are done with Mayor Michael Hancock. Former Denver Metro Chamber of Commerce head Kelly Brough has a slight lead in a mayor's race, but it's far from a guaranteed victory and lightyears away from what she'd need to win outright.

There are no obvious frontrunners in the race. Most voters, about 60%, are still unsure who their top pick for mayor is with ballots going out in a little more than two weeks.

Homelessness and crime are weighing heavily on likely voters' minds. Even so, most feel safe -- other than the minority, registered Republicans, who live in fear.

At least, so suggests bipartisan polling from the Republican firm Cygnal and the Democratic firm Chism Strategies, commissioned by A Denver for Us All.

That's a new group for start-up business leaders founded by investor David Carlson and Chris Romer, founder of the data analytics company Project Canary and a former state senator. Romer lost to Hancock in a bid to become Denver's mayor in 2011.

The pollsters collected the data from phone calls and texts between Feb. 9 and 10.

The poll disproportionately represented white voters who made more than the area median income.


"The sample is likely voters for the April 4 municipal election, so the demographics reflect that population rather than the overall Denver population," wrote spokesperson Josh Scott in an email.

If white people making more than most Denverites are the ones who show up to vote in droves, this poll possibly/maybe/sort of shows what could happen.

Here's the rub for people looking to prophesize, though: The numbers aren't exactly promising for any candidate, and the race is way too close to predict.

Other early polls, including one commissioned by Councilmember Debbie Ortega's campaign, have shown her in the lead when it comes to first-pick candidates. The demographics of people polled in the A Denver for Us All poll could explain the difference, as could performances at recent debates, outreach efforts and money earned for campaigning.

Brough, who has raised a considerable amount of money through taxpayer matches from the city's new Fair Elections Fund, has a solid lead in fundraising, with $1,161,726.61. That's several hundred thousand more than self-funding Republican candidate Andy Rougeot, who is in second place in money with $786,151.96. Fair Elections Fund candidate Leslie Herod comes in third in money in the coffer with $702,262.67.

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Here's what the polled voters cared about city government fixing.

Nearly 30% of voters want the city to reduce crime and improve public safety as a top priority.

Addressing homelessness is most important for 25.2% of voters, followed by housing availability and affordability for 23.1% of voters, trailed by inflation and the cost of living for 7.1%.

All those concerns are followed by climate and environmental worries; the economy and job creation; traffic and improved roads; and better parks and recreation.

Most Denverites feel safe in the city. Most Republicans, a minority in Denver, do not.

A total of 35% of Denver voters don't feel safe downtown, and 74% note that crime is either a major problem or a crisis.

Republicans are the most scared of Denver, with 58% reporting they feel unsafe, compared to 26% of Democrats and 43% of unaffiliated voters.

When it comes to homelessness, 96% of Denverites say it's either a major problem or a crisis.

Who these likely voters want to lead the city as mayor isn't clear.

Brough has a tiny lead, with 7.6% support among people polled. Leslie Herod reached 5.8% followed by Mike Johnston with 5.3%.

Brough, Herod and Johnston are the only three candidates to top the poll's margin of error of 4.86%.

So if this polling were right, Brough and Herod would face off in a run-off election with less than 8% and 6% of voter support, respectively. Herod, who turned in her signatures to the Clerk and Recorder's office first, would have the top slot.

The earlier polling released by Ortega's campaign showed her leading, with Herod and Lisa Calderón tied at 8% support each.

In this most recent poll, Ortega's support was at 3.9%, where she's tied with State Sen. Chris Hansen. Calderón's support dropped to 2.7%, putting her behind all those candidates plus Rougeot, who had 2.8% support.

Terrance Roberts and Kwame Spearman are tied with 1.6%, Thomas Wolf and Trinidad Rodriguez were each at .5% and Ean Thomas Tafoya, who proved himself to be a sharp critic of his fellow candidates at a recent debate, was at .3%.

All the other candidates combined reached 4.6%. Those on the ballot include: Aurelio Martinez, Renate Behrens, Al Gardner, Robert Treta and Jim Walsh.

The five candidates leading the poll are all from the political establishment.

Brough served as former Mayor John Hickenlooper's chief of staff and as the CEO of the business trade organization the Denver Metro Chamber of Commerce.

Herod has served in the Statehouse as a representative since 2017. Johnston served as a state senator from 2009 to 2017. And Hansen served as a state senator since 2020 and before as a state representative since 2017.

Debbie Ortega has spent nearly 28 years, in total, on Denver City Council, first as a District 9 representative and then as an at-large member.

Here's how Denver's current leadership is polling. (Spoiler: Not that well.)

The pollsters used a net favorability rating to show how popular these candidates are. Net favorability subtracts the number of people who don't favor a candidate from the number of people who do.

Current Mayor Michael Hancock is polling poorly in his last year in office, with -22 net favorability.

City Council is also below zero with -7 net favorability.

Denver Police Department is polling better than them both with +2 net favorability.

Hancock supporters are actually doing quite well in the polling.

At a recent 9News debate at Metropolitan State University, host Kyle Clark noted that Hancock was polling worse than any other mayor in recent memory. He also asked which candidates supported Hancock in the 2019 election.

All five candidates leading the poll -- Hansen, Johnston, Herod, Ortega and Brough -- were Hancock supporters.

So were Rodriguez and Tafoya.

Who do the people behind the poll support?

Carlson and Romer have peppered the field with donations and strongly supported Spearman with $500 donations each.

Romer has also given $50 to Herod, $100 to Johnston, $250 to Ortega and $103.70 to Brough.

Carlson has also given $500 to Brough and $258.75 to Rodriguez.

Both have contributed to various City Council candidates.

So what's next?

Ballots will be sent out March 13, and the people of Denver will have until April 4 to vote.

There are 17 people on the ballot. To avoid a run-off, a candidate would need 50%-plus-one of voters' support. That's feels very unlikely to happen.

Yet a candidate could head to the general election with less than 6% of the vote.

"This race is anyone's game, especially if they will commit to taking the type of meaningful action to address the homelessness crisis that polling shows voters in Denver support," said Cygnal CEO Brent Buchanan, in a statement. "Wise candidates will ignore the Twitter mobs and rise up to offer actual leadership that voters feel is lacking in current city government."

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