Bill de Blasio, the Democratic mayoral candidate whose progressive message upended his party's primary campaign this summer, has widened his lead over his rivals just days before the election, a new poll shows.
De Blasio, the city's public advocate, has the support of 36 percent of likely Democratic voters, while his closest rivals, former Comptroller Bill Thompson and City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, are tied at distant second with 20 percent each, the NBC 4 New York/Wall Street Journal/Marist Poll found. Eight percent are undecided.
The poll reveals that de Blasio's populist, left-wing appeal to disenfranchised New Yorkers is cutting into voting blocs that would traditionally go to his rivals.
More blacks back de Blasio than Thompson, the race's only black candidate, by 39 percent to 25 percent. And more women support de Blasio than Quinn, the race's only female and once the clear front-runner, by 34 percent to 21 percent.
The winner of Tuesday's primary needs 40 percent to avoid a runoff.
The results reflect trends seen in earlier polls that showed de Blasio gaining ground through the summer, moving from the middle of the pack to first.
"The surge is real," said Lee Miringoff, director of the Marist College Institute for Public Opinion. "Right now he's within striking distance of 40 percent. And if he doesn't reach 40 percent, he would certainly be the early favorite for the runoff."
Another past front-runner, disgraced former New York Rep. Anthony Weiner, has dropped to 7 percent, just ahead of Comptroller John Liu's 5 percent. Bronx pastor Erick Salgado and former City Councilman Sal Albanese remain stuck at 1 percent.
The last NBC 4 New York/Wall Street Journal/Marist Poll on the race, done three weeks ago, had de Blasio and Quinn in a statistical tie for first, at 24 percent among likely Democratic voters, and Thompson at 18 percent.
De Blasio seems to have seized the right issues at the right time, Miringoff said. His campaign rhetoric has tapped into voter anger over stop and frisk, income inequality and Mayor Bloomberg getting city law changed to run for a third term in 2009.
De Blasio's rivals have accused him of flip-flopping on many of the issues that make up the foundation of his campaign. Leading that effort has been Quinn, who backed Bloomberg's quest for a third term. She has pointed out de Blasio statements in support of ending term limits years before he opposed Bloomberg.
But those arguments don't seem to have stuck.
De Blasio does better than his rivals among Democrats who approve of the job Bloomberg is doing, and among those who disapprove of the mayor, the poll shows.
"In a sense, he's cornered the market on the kinds of issues that have been driving this campaign," Miringoff said. "He's fighting on the turf he wants to be fighting on."
Among all registered Democrats -- not just those deemed likely to vote at this point in the race -- 66 percent said they had a favorable impression of him, up from 48 percent in February. The number of registered Democrats who said they had a negative impression of him remained about the same, at 21 percent.
The poll was conducted Tuesday through Friday. It included 936 registered Democrats, 556 of whom were deemed likely to vote. The responses involving the likely voters carry a margin of error of plus or minus 4.2 percentage points. The responses from all the registered Democrats carry a margin of error of plus or minus 3.2 percentage points.
If de Blasio seems to be hitting all the right notes, Quinn's campaign is appearing increasingly discordant. The most powerful of the candidates, and the one in charge of doing council deals, Quinn is suffering for her past alliances with Bloomberg. At the same time, she hasn't attracted enough voters who think the mayor has done a good job.
"It's been hard for her to navigate that for the entire campaign," Miringoff said.
Quinn's negative ratings are now at an all-time high, according to the poll. Among registered Democrats, 42 percent said they had an unfavorable impression of her, up from 17 percent in February.
Meanwhile, 46 percent of registered Democrats said they have a favorable impression of Quinn, down from 65 percent in February.
"This is the worst time for Quinn and the best time for de Blasio," Miringoff said.
Quinn has also been unable to tap into the fact that her election would mark the first for an openly gay woman.
Quinn spokesman Mike Morey said Sunday that the campaign is "confident that voters will put Christine Quinn into the runoff because they want a mayor who doesn't just talk like a progressive, but has a history of delivering like one."
For his sake, Thompson doesn't seem to have gotten much of voters' credit for coming close to defeating Bloomberg in 2009, despite being outspent by tens of millions of dollars.
Asked how they'd vote in various hypothetical runoffs, registered Democrats picked de Blasio in wide margins: 56 percent to 34 percent over Quinn, and 50 percent to 38 percent over Thompson.
Then there is what Miringoff calls "the Dante effect" -- de Blasio's use of his teenage son, Dante, in a campaign ad.
De Blasio's wife is black, and their kids are biracial; Dante sports a huge Afro that has attracted its own attention on the campaign trail.
Asked which of the candidates had the best commercials, 51 percent of registered Democrats chose de Blasio's.
Poll respondents were also asked about the primary contest for comptroller between Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer and former Gov. Eliot Spitzer. In that race, Spitzer is at 47 percent among likely Democratic voters and Stringer is at 45 percent.