Ed Lazere
Ed Lazere Credit: Darrow Montgomery

A majority of registered Democrats in D.C. say the District is “headed in the right direction,” but also “strongly agree” that “elected officials should be doing more” to combat the effects gentrification, according to the results of a new poll by a D.C. Council candidate.

Ed Lazere‘s campaign retained Public Policy Polling to conduct a twelve-question phone survey on April 4 and 5. Lazere is running for Council chairman against incumbent Phil Mendelson and is on leave as director of the D.C. Fiscal Policy Institute, a left-leaning think-tank. Mendelson has served on the Council since the late 1990s, chaired the Council since 2012, and built a broad base of support.

Lazere’s poll surveyed 640 likely Democratic primary voters, defined as those who have voted in the last two Democratic primaries. The respondents skewed female and older (54 percent were women and 73 percent were at least 46). Equal shares identified as African-American and white (45 percent each), while the remainder identified as “Hispanic/Latino” (3 percent) and “other” (6 percent).

Nine in 10 respondents said they were “certain to vote” in the June 19 primary this year, and one in ten said they would “probably” vote. Because District voters are predominately Democrats, the victor in the primary tends to win the November general election. The D.C. Board of Elections reports that as of March 31, 76 percent of registered voters in D.C. were Democrats—358,508 of 471,433 total registered voters.

The poll found that 31 percent of respondents said “closing the educational achievement gap” was the most important issue to them, followed by “affordable housing and homelessness” (26 percent of respondents), “closing the racial income and wealth gaps” (20 percent of respondents), and “creating family supporting jobs” (16 percent of respondents).

Asked which qualities they value most in a leader, two-fifths of respondents said “experience and leadership.” About one-quarter each answered “progressive values” and “transparency.” The questions presented participants with pre-determined answers.

The survey also asked about two specific issues that many residents currently have on their minds: the District’s bid for Amazon’s second headquarters, and a ballot initiative that will appear in the primary and, if approved, would gradually bring D.C.’s tipped minimum wage for restaurant workers into parity with the general minimum wage.

Forty-five percent of respondents said they opposed “providing billions of dollars in subsidies to Amazon,” while 30 percent said they were unsure, and 25 percent said they supported this. D.C has offered the company at least hundreds of millions of dollars in tax incentives through an existing program for tech firms, but many of the other carrots have not been disclosed.

As for the ballot initiative, 70 percent of respondents said they supported “raising [tipped workers’] base minimum wage so that they earn the same minimum wage as every other minimum wage worker”; 15 percent said they opposed this, and 15 percent said they were unsure. As of today, the law guarantees restaurant workers the general minimum wage of $12.50 an hour when the addition of tips to their base minimum wage of $3.33 an hour does not meet the the former amount.

Critics of the ballot initiative say it is unnecessary because of this legal protection and that it will eat away at restaurants’ already thin profit margins unless tips are eliminated or higher labor costs get passed on to customers. Advocates say it will help standardize wages for tipped workers and alleviate discrimination and sexual harassment against female servers. Although the initiative will feature in the primary election, all voters will be able to vote on it regardless of party status.

The poll found that 56 percent of respondents “think D.C. is headed in the right direction” and 26 percent “think D.C. is off on the wrong track.” At the same time, 54 percent said they “strongly agree” that “elected officials should be doing more to address the impacts of gentrification and loss of affordable housing” and 30 percent “somewhat agree.”

In an interview, Lazere says his campaign conducted the poll because they wanted to see if voters shared his priorities. “It was reassuring to see the things I care about are in fact foremost on voters’ minds,” he says, noting voters’ “mixed feelings” about the changes happening in the District. “They’re happy to see D.C. developing, but worry that too many residents are getting left behind or even pushed behind.”

Lazere adds that, if elected, his “north star will be to fully implement the city’s plan to end homelessness” and that he has committed to doubling the District’s annual investment in affordable housing. He says the Council should hold a hearing on the incentives Mayor Muriel Bowser‘s administration has pitched to Amazon so residents can evaluate any subsidy deal. He also supports the tipped-wage ballot initiative.

The most surprising finding in the poll, though, may be the results from its first question: “Do you approve or disapprove of President Donald Trump‘s job performance?” Ninety percent of the respondents said they disapproved, but six percent said they approved and four percent said they weren’t sure.

In other words, at least 64 likely Democratic primary voters in D.C. don’t think Trump is doing all that bad. Who are these people?