Young voters and Democrats favor Mary Lou Makepeace in the Colorado Springs mayoral race, but John Suthers is running strong with two groups considered golden in local politics: Republicans and those over 50.
According to a recent Independent/FOX 21 poll of 400 very likely voters, conducted by Luce Research Feb. 17 through 22, the front-runners in the upcoming municipal election are Suthers, former Colorado attorney general, with about 30 percent of the vote, and former Mayor Makepeace, with 22 percent. El Paso County Commissioner Amy Lathen tallied just under 8 percent, and 33 percent were undecided (News, "The undecided factor," Feb. 25).
A candidate needs 50 percent or more to win the mayoral election. So if those undecided voters split along similar lines as those who've already decided, the city could be looking at a runoff between Suthers and Makepeace in May. Suthers would have to be considered the favorite, not just for his fundraising prowess (with $279,023 raised already) but for his appeal among older voters, who tend to cast ballots at higher rates than younger voters, and among Republicans, who outnumber both unaffiliated voters and Democrats locally.
For the Independent/FOX poll, the pool of "very likely voters" was chosen based on past voting records in city and general elections. Thus the poll sample skewed toward seniors, with 74.25 of those polled being 50 and older.
Suthers chalked up 37.4 percent of those polled from 50 to 64, and 35.2 percent of those 65 and older. Makepeace snared 25.8 percent in the 50-to-64 group, and a mere 19 percent of those 65 and older, although Makepeace is the oldest candidate in the race at 74.
Suthers, 62, noted a couple weeks ago that the only poll that matters is the April 7 election tally, and says via text message that he's working hard to "pick up a good share of undecided voters."
Makepeace leads with young voters, snagging 22.2 percent of the 18-to-29 age group and 32.3 percent of those 30 to 39. Suthers was chosen by only 5.6 percent of the youngest voters, and by 9.7 percent of the 30-to-39 age group.
But more than half of that youngest age group — 55.6 percent — remain undecided, along with nearly half of the 30-to-39 and 40-to-49 age groups. Only a quarter of voters 50 to 64 are undecided, and a third of those 65 and older.
Makepeace, whose campaign buzzwords are "inspire, innovate and ignite," with an emphasis on appealing to young professionals, says her campaign is discussing how to motivate young people to vote but can't yet release details of her strategy because it's not in "final form."
"I think younger people are not happy with the status quo," she says, "and they would like to see some changes in our local government."
Younger voters are also sometimes last-minute voters, even in a mail-ballot election like this one. (On Election Day, people can register and vote by going to the city clerk's office.)
As for party preference, Makepeace grabbed 45.5 percent of Democrats, compared to Suthers' 14.1 percent. But Suthers is favored by 37.5 percent of Republicans, compared to 10.6 percent for Makepeace. Suthers and Makepeace came within a few percentage points of those polled who had "other" affiliations, with Suthers getting 29.4 percent of that group, and Makepeace, 24.7 percent, which is just within the poll's margin of error of plus/minus 4.9 percent. It's worth noting that according to the El Paso County clerk, unaffiliated voters are the second-highest group in the city, at 102,755, compared to 110,956 Republicans and 63,212 Democrats.
To win, Makepeace, a registered Republican, has to get a good share of GOP and unaffiliated voters.
"I can't be other than what I am," she says. "I am not going to change that. I will just present who I am, and that's what elections are about, so they can choose one of the other candidates or they can choose me."
A bit of a surprise came in the gender breakdown, with Suthers being favored by both more men, 30.6 percent, and women, 29.4 percent, than any candidate. Makepeace is running at 17.2 percent and 26.6 percent, respectively.
Geographically, Suthers is running strongest in northwest Council District 1, southwest District 3 and District 5, which covers the city's midsection. Makepeace's biggest ratios are coming from Districts 3 and 5 and southeast District 4, where Councilor Helen Collins is under recall and where typically voters turn out in low numbers.