What issues and demographic groups are fueling top Chattanooga mayoral candidates?

Sarah Grace Taylor, Chattanooga Times Free Press, Tenn.
·5 min read

Feb. 20—Support for Chattanooga's top mayoral candidates, according to recent polls, comes from voters of different demographic backgrounds with varying top priorities.

According to a pair of recent surveys of likely Chattanooga voters conducted this week by Spry Strategies, a Knoxville-based polling outfit hired by local conservative group Hamilton Flourishing, businessman Tim Kelly, former River City President Kim White and former city attorney Wade Hinton lead the 15 candidates vying to be mayor in the March 2 election.

The most recent poll of 550 likely voters showed Kelly leading with 27.9%, followed by White at 15.2% and Hinton at 12.2%. But which groups have the strongest turnout could define who wins or, more likely, who winds up in a runoff election if no candidate gets over 50% of the vote.

Kelly's lead comes from several demographic groups, as he is the most popular candidate among male (29%), female (27%), Republican (34%), Democrat (22.3%), independent (31.1%) and white (33.9%) respondents.

"I am grateful that Chattanoogans trust my ability to provide steady leadership on these critical concerns. We are humbled by more than 130 endorsements from leaders all over the community and our broad coalition of support," Kelly said in a written statement Friday. "My 100-day plan addresses the difficult issues and provides a basis for voters to hold my administration accountable. I look forward to supporting small businesses, investing in our neighborhoods and ensuring our children get a great education no matter their ZIP code.

"As a lifelong Chattanoogan and small business owner, I know firsthand the challenges facing our city, and I am proud of our campaign's growing momentum as we stay focused on the issues," he added.

White landed at the top for Hispanic (35.2%) respondents.

"While we are always cognizant of any type of research, this poll was just a snapshot of a day almost two weeks ago," she said of the eight-day-old poll in a written statement Friday. "As we continue making phone calls, knocking on doors and meeting with our supporters virtually and in person, the outpouring of support from all walks of life has been deeply gratifying. Now it is time to get to the polls and vote."

Hinton led among Black respondents with 23.2% of their support. The support of that key demographic gives his campaign hope.

"The support for Wade by the people of Chattanooga is growing every day. They know that this historic campaign is about making our city work for everyone in every neighborhood. Wade is known as a leader who brings people together and has the experience in city government and the private sector to lead on day one as mayor," spokesperson Spencer Bowers said Friday by email. "They also know Wade cares deeply about the issues that they are facing daily. From [COVID-19 3/8 recovery to economic justice and creating a thriving economy for small businesses, this reflects Wade's passion and experience as a leader in the Chattanooga community and his deep desire to make a difference."

In this and a similar poll in January, economic and job growth, affordable housing and public safety top more traditional city issues like infrastructure and transportation. And the candidates doing best in those policy areas are leading the pack.

Breaking respondents down by which issue they deemed most important, Kelly leads in all but two categories — the two least popular issues — showing, again, a broad group of supporters.

Below are how respondents who prioritize each issue said they would vote if the election took place at the time of the poll:

Economic Development and Job Growth (ranked top issue by 25.2% of respondents):

Kelly did best among voters who identified economic development and job growth as their top concern with 26.8% of that group backing him and 20.7% supporting White.

Hinton, Monty Bruell, Councilman Russell Gilbert, Councilman Erskine Oglesby and Dr. Elenora Woods, in descending order, each got under 10% of this group's support.

Affordable Housing (ranked top issue by 22.3% of respondents):

Kelly led among voters who count affordable housing as the biggest issue in the mayoral race with 24% supporting him, 19% backing Hinton, 12.8% selecting White and 11.2% backing Bruell.

Wood, Gilbert and Oglesby, in descending order, each got under 5% of this group's support.

Crime and Public Safety (ranked top issue by 16.4% of respondents):

Kelly takes the biggest lead of any candidate in any category among voters most concerned with crime and safety, with 42% supporting him and 15.5% supporting White.

Bruell, Oglesby, Hinton, Gilbert and Woods, in descending order, each got less than 5% in this group.

Homelessness, Mental Illness and Addiction (ranked top issue by 11.6% of respondents):

Kelly narrowly led among those most concerned with mental health, homelessness and addiction, with 25.6% of the group's support vs. Hinton's 24.4% and White's 12.2%.

Gilbert, Bruell, Oglesby and Woods, in descending order, each earned under 10% in this group.

Civil Unrest and Racial Tension (ranked top issue by 9.9% of respondents):

Kelly led among respondents most interested in civil unrest and racial tension with 22.9% of the group supporting him, 15.5% backing Hinton, 12.5% selecting White and 11.8% backing Bruell.

Gilbert, Woods and Oglesby, in descending order, each got under 10% from this group.

Local Roads and Bridges (ranked top issue by 8.6% of respondents):

Kelly led among voters most concerned with bridges and roads with 38.3% of the group backing him and 16.8% supporting White.

Gilbert, Oglesby, Hinton, Woods and Bruell, in descending order, each got under 10% of support from this group.

Alternative Methods of Transportation (ranked top issue by 4.3% of respondents):

Bruell led among voters most concerned with transportation, with 14% supporting him and over half of those in this group undecided.

Hinton, Kelly, White, Oglesby, Woods and Gilbert, in descending order, each got under 10%.

Reducing Carbon Footprint (ranked top issue by 1.7% of respondents):

Bruell led significantly among those most concerned with Chattanooga's carbon footprint, with 38.6% supporting him.

Hinton and White each hit 8.4% of the support and no other candidate got any support from this group.

Contact Sarah Grace Taylor at staylor@timesfreepress.comor 423-757-6416. Follow her on Twitter @_sarahgtaylor.