COLUMBIA, SC — Eight days before Columbia’s election, a private poll shows the mayor and the citywide incumbent for council likely to win re-election despite many undecided voters and a deep sense of unease about public safety.
Slightly more than 40 percent of 370 respondents in a Crantford Research poll taken Monday say the city’s elected leaders are not doing enough to make the capital city safe.
Almost a third of the likely voters polled in an automated telephone poll, or 29 percent, are undecided in the mayor’s race. Almost half, or 47 percent, are undecided in the at-large council race that pits Councilwoman Tameika Isaac Devine against challenger Tommy Burkett, a North Columbia businessman, the Crantford poll found.
Public dissatisfaction over public safety registered strongly in the poll.
About 42 percent said the city’s elected leaders are not doing enough to make Columbia a safe place to live and work.
An overwhelming 75 percent said the city has a gang problem. Another 65 percent of respondents said Five Points is not a safe place at night.
The Columbia Police Department, however, fared well in the poll in dealing with crime.
About 90 percent said the department is doing an excellent, good or fair job. Those who rated it poorly comprised 11 percent of the respondents. The total exceeds 100 percent because percentages were rounded up, Crantford said.
Crantford Research is traditionally a firm that works for Democrats. Carey Crantford said his company is not working for any of the candidates in the Nov. 5 election. The poll has a margin of error of about plus or minus 5 percentage points.
Crantford said he expects the large number of undecided voters to cast ballots that will result in margins similar to what his poll found.
His research firm, which once polled for former Mayor Bob Coble, now mostly does public relations or legal communications polls, Crantford said.
But sometimes the company polls to learn more about public issues or delve into matters that can affect downtown businesses such as his, Crantford said. “We just got curious,” he said.
In the mayor’s race, incumbent Steve Benjamin leads with 55 percent. That’s a 39 percentage point lead over Councilman Moe Baddourah, who had 16 percent. Former Richland County deputy Larry Sypolt dropped out Monday and endorsed Benjamin.
The figures are “somewhat consistent” with internal polling in Benjamin’s campaign, said Adam Fogle, the mayor’s media adviser. Benjamin’s polls have his percentage lead higher and undecideds lower, Fogle said.
Earlier Tuesday, Fogle estimated the mayor’s strength reached as high as 70 percent. Later, Fogle said the lead is consistent with Crantford’s margin of 55 percent. The error margin could kick Benjamin’s number up to 60 percent, Fogle said.
He said Benjamin’s internal polling shows Baddourah “barely cracking into the double digits.”
Baddourah’s campaign manager RJ Shealy said he suspects there are more undecided voters – he estimated that more than 33 percent have yet to make up their minds. That’s 4 percentage points more than Crantford’s poll found.
“Benjamin has never been over 50 percent in any poll I’ve seen ever,” Shealy said.
“The support is high and the enthusiasm is high,” Shealy said of his candidate. “Moe has a shot.”
Shealy also challenges the validity of Crantford’s poll. It is unreliable because it was conducted by an automated computer system rather respondents than talking to a pollster, he said.
Reach Cope at 803-771-8657 or on Twitter @cassielcope.