Julie Hardaker has her nose in front for re-election, although half of all Hamilton voters are undecided, a Waikato Times' mayoralty poll shows.
The new poll puts Ms Hardaker's support at 20 per cent, then Ewan Wilson with 10 per cent and Dave Macpherson at 6 per cent, but critically stages undecided voters - 49 per cent of those polled - as mayor-makers.
The poll asked residents who they would vote for tomorrow, and how they rated Mayor Hardaker's performance, with spending, fluoride and the V8s' exit still issues for critics. Her efforts to control debt and sort out an inherited mess have been cited by supporters.
Ms Hardaker said she was "satisfied" with the numbers: "Polls are polls. It's early days yet. People will be still forming what their views are," she said.
The poll has been seized by Ms Hardaker's rivals as evidence of voters' dissatisfaction with her leadership, although a Waikato University political commentator ruled out echoes of the incumbent's winning 2010 swoop.
A month out from Ms Hardaker's win last time, Times polling had incumbent Bob Simcock cruising with 37 per cent support against her 11.
However 37 per cent claimed they were "undecided", and by the time all valid votes were counted, the final per centages were Hardaker 41 per cent, and Simcock 38.
Politics lecturer Dr Alan Simpson said that this time, her challengers weren't unknowns, and the large pack of undecided voters could be expected to fall more closely in proportion to those already holding a favoured mayoral vote.
He said Ms Hardaker appeared to be running a low-risk strategy, avoiding detailed policy and "doing anything particularly silly".
But the poll was "hardly a ringing endorsement" for her performance, he said.
"The candidates haven't captured the imagination of the people.
"Those results tells me that it hasn't been a convincing campaign at all," Dr Simpson said.
However he suspected that barring a blunder, or new policy from rivals to woo voters, the incumbent may coast to victory: "Whichever way you look at it, Hardaker is on top."
But Mr Wilson said the poll confirmed "we have a race on our hands".
He said the result was captured before the large part of his campaign, and he was finalising costs for a major policy he expected to announce this week "targeting our young and more vulnerable".
Mr Macpherson was also buoyant at the level of undecided voters, and is launching new television advertising today he hopes will begin to chew into his rivals' lead.
"If you're the existing mayor and you can only get 20 per cent; that shows people aren't happy with her, or her leadership.
"They're just not convinced." He said his hopes of success rested on turning out the community and volunteer sectors, and workers to vote.
"We've had business types and the lawyers, they've had their turn," he said.
Asked by the Times how well they thought Ms Hardaker had performed this term, more than half were positive, although 37 per cent rated her performance merely "OK", while one quarter rated her negatively.
Her support varied across the city and by gender, with West ward voters more likely to rate her poorly and women more likely to be undecided.
Those rating her poorest cited the V8s exit, spending and fluoride as reasons, while those rating her highest mentioned reducing debt and "fixing the mess".
Younger voters, 18-39 were most likely to be unsure about her performance compared with other age groups.
The poll of 400 Hamilton voters was completed on August 26.
The poll of 400 Hamilton voters was completed on August 26 and has a margin of error of plus or minus 4.9 per cent, or 6.9 per cent at ward level.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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