Palmerston North mayor Jono Naylor is sailing toward a first round win in next month's local body elections.
A Manawatu Standard/Versus Research poll puts him well ahead of the pack, with 55 per cent of voters planning to pick him as their first preference in the STV election.
Fellow councillor of 12 years Lew Findlay, a community worker well recognised as Mr Street Van, trails at 23 per cent.
In third place and languishing behind the undecided 13 per cent is one-term councillor Duncan McCann, at 6 per cent.
Contenders without council experience, Ross Barber, 1 per cent, and Grant Seton, 2 per cent, scored below the margin of error, which is 4.6 per cent.
The sixth candidate, Gary Philip, was not included in the poll as he has announced his intention to apply to withdraw his nomination.
Cr McCann has challenged the results.
He said the poll did not reflect what he was hearing on the street, or the indication given by other polls his campaign team were monitoring.
And he was critical of the Manawatu Standard's decision to exclude him from next week's mayoral debate based on his low polling.
"This election needs to be a conversation about our problems and potential solutions, not just a survey on name recognition," he said.
"I'm still 100 per cent committed to taking on the responsibility of addressing these issues as mayor, and will continue to campaign on that basis right to the finish."
He criticised the attempt to reduce the election to a two-horse race, "before any substantive media coverage of the issues under discussion".
At best, that limited the information available to voters. At worst, it unduly influenced their decision-making, he said.
Mr Naylor said the poll result was encouraging for him.
While he knew the only result that really counted was the election itself, he said a poll of more than 400 people had to be taken seriously as representing a fairly significant slice of the population.
"The vote is not over until they are all cast, and it is important for me to be out there talking to people and making sure they do get out and vote."
Mr Naylor did not comment on the relatively low polling of his rivals.
"I'm never surprised by polls.
"But I'm encouraged that at this stage over half of the people are happy enough with what I am doing, and that people are comfortable with what I'm doing.
"I think we are making steady progress, and that's sustainable, which is important."
Cr Findlay said the poll result was worse than he thought.
"I still believe it will be a lot closer, from what people I have been talking to have said."
He believed he would attract a lot of first-time voters because of his grass roots community recognition.
People who had not felt a connection with any mayoral candidates before were likely to support him because they knew him.
"But there are lots of people from the business side as well who have said they support me."
Cr Findlay said the poll result would not influence or change the way he was running his campaign.
"I'm certainly not giving up."
He was surprised by the distance between himself and Cr McCann as well.
"The fact he came in so low suggests to me something is wrong here."
The poll, conducted this week by Versus Research, involved 951 contacts, with 437 people agreeing to participate. One third of participants were aged 60 to 74 years.
People aged under 40 were less likely to vote than older residents. Mr Naylor's strongest support was in the under-40s, while the over-60s were Mr Findlay's greatest supporters.
The Manawatu Standard mayoral debate will pitch the two top contenders, incumbent Jono Naylor and challenger Lew Findlay, against each other on Thursday, September 26. Editor Michael Cummings will chair the session, armed with a series of questions on key issues for Palmerston North that could influence voters' choices for mayor. The debate begins at 7.30pm in the Sound and Vision section of the City Library.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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