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9NEWS poll shows unprecedented 11-way race for Denver mayor

Undecided voters are likely to decide who wins the 2023 mayoral race, according to a survey commissioned by 9NEWS and other media partners.

DENVER — Denver voters don’t know who to vote for.

In a field of 17, no one candidate is the front-runner in the 2023 race for mayor.

That’s according to a new poll conducted by SurveyUSA and commissioned by 9NEWS, the Denver Gazette/Colorado Politics and Metropolitan State University of Denver. It’s the first poll of the race done by media outlets.

Ballots go out in less than two weeks and SurveyUSA found that most voters -- 58% of them -- are undecided. Voters who do prefer a candidate are split across a field of more than a dozen contenders, with no candidate polling above 5% and a margin of error of 4.9%.

Lisa Calderon, Mike Johnston, and Kelly Brough each poll at 5%.

Denver's open mayoral races without an incumbent have typically drawn crowded fields of candidates. But no race in modern Denver history, including the 2003 race in which John Hickenlooper emerged from relative obscurity to win, has featured such a fractured field so close to Election Day.

Denver will send out ballots starting March 13. Election Day is April 4.


SurveyUSA gathered data from between Feb. 21 and Feb. 28. Pollsters contacted people but reached the majority through smartphones, tablets and computers. The results are based on 594 people surveyed who are likely to vote.


SurveyUSA asked those voters which candidate they would pick if the election was today.

The leading candidates show strength in varying demographics, according to the results:

  • Calderón polled at 12% among voters who say they are "very liberal." She’s tied at 8% among Latino voters.
  • Johnston is twice as strong among men than among women and is at 16% among Black voters.
  • Brough did better with older voters; 2% of young voters said they would vote for her compared to 8% of voters who are 65 and older.

Rounding out the top five are Chris Hansen and Debbie Ortega, each with 4% of voter support. Hansen fell one percentage point behind Brough with older voters. Ortega tied Calderón among Latino voters.

Falling outside the five highest-polling candidates is Leslie Herod who is at 3% overall but just behind Johnston with Black voters at 14%. She also polled at 14% with self-described very liberal voters.

Al Gardner and Thomas Wolf also have 3% overall.

Trinidad Rodriguez, Terrance Roberts and Andy Rougeot polled at 2%.

While this is an unaffiliated election, Rougeot is the only registered Republican running. He’s at 5% among Republicans and at 11% among people considered “very conservative.” Ten percent of Republican voters opted for Brough.

Four candidates polled at 1%: Renate Behrens, Kwame Spearman, Aurelio Martinez, and Ean Thomas Tafoya.

Two candidates, James Walsh and Robert Treta, polled at 0%.

No candidate has two-digit support with any other surveyed demographic.

Top issues

If the survey is an indication, most Denver voters believe crime, homelessness and affordable housing are the most important issues going into the race.

This is how topics ranked:

  • 57%: Crime
  • 52%: Homelessness
  • 50%: Affordable housing
  • 46%: Education
  • 43%: Police violence
  • 38%: Clean energy
  • 34%: Infrastructure
  • 30%: Fiscal responsibility
  • 27%: Economic development
  • 26%: Land use
  • 22%: Public transportation.

The fourth most important issue is education, but Denver's mayor has no power over Denver Public Schools.

DPS is run by a school board that hires its own superintendent. Van Schoales, former president of A+ Colorado, a nonprofit that advocated for making schools better, said the mayor has very little control over public education, but they can influence.

"They can use their bully pulpit to influence school board races and the superintendent," he said. "There are a number of places in which the city can either cooperate, collaborate with the school district or not, as it relates to, for instance, school resources officers and police, which is a big issue now. Also, in terms of rec centers and after school and before school activities."

He referenced New York and Chicago, cities that run schools...Colorado is not that.


Out of 713 people surveyed who are registered to vote, 38% said Denver’s on the wrong track, narrowly climbing ahead of 37% who said Denver’s headed in the right direction. A quarter of people are not sure.

SurveyUSA also asked what people think of outgoing Mayor Michael Hancock. Fifty-five percent of people approve of how he’s doing as mayor, while 31% disapprove.


9NEWS will host its second mayoral debate on March 14. The inclusion criteria for the debate was shared with the candidates and the public prior to the completion of the SurveyUSA poll. 9NEWS has invited the three highest polling candidates and all others polling within the margin of error of second place and above 2%.

There are 11 candidates invited to the debate: Calderón, Johnston, Brough, Hansen, Ortega, Herod, Gardner, Wolf, Rodriguez, Roberts and Rougeot.

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