CHICAGO (WGN) — With eight days left before Chicago voters choose a new mayor, new WGN-TV/Emerson College/The Hill poll shows Paul Vallas holding a five-point lead over Brandon Johnson, 46% to 41%.

Paul Vallas vs. Brandon Johnson

The exclusive poll also found that 13% of likely voters are still undecided.   

When undecided voters are asked which candidate they lean toward, and the vote is accounted for, Vallas’ lead increases to six points, 53% to 47%.   

To make up ground, Johnson would likely need a surge of younger voters casting their ballots before polls close on April 4.    

Johnson, 47, a Cook County Commissioner and Chicago Teachers Union activist, is ahead among voters 49 and younger. He is backed by 58.2% of likely voters between the ages of 18 and 34, and 45.7% of voters 35 to 49-years-old.   

But data from the Chicago Board of Elections shows that just over 18% of ballots cast on February 28 were cast by voters 18-34.   

Meanwhile Vallas, 69, has built an advantage among older voters. The former CEO of Chicago Public Schools and budget director for Mayor Richard M. Daley has the backing of 50.6% of likely voters 65 and older. A majority (53.4%) of voters between the ages of 50 and 64 also say they support his candidacy.    

Pessimism about Chicago is soaring, and voters say they trust Vallas to right the ship.   

What issues are most important to Chicago residents?

Seventy percent (70%) of likely voters say Chicago is on the wrong track, in contrast with just 30% who say the city is headed in the right direction. The results help shed light on why Mayor Lori Lightfoot failed to advance to the runoff on February 28, when she finished third in the 9-person contest behind Vallas and Johnson.    

A majority of those surveyed (52%) say crime is the most important issue in determining their vote, following by education, (11%), taxes (9%) and housing (7%).   

Six in 10 voters (61%) feel there is more crime in Chicago today than there was a year ago, while just 8% feel there is less crime.  

When asked who they trust more to handle the issue, a majority (54%) chose Vallas. 38% of likely voters say they trust Johnson to handle crime, while just 9% trust both equally.    

Both men have made their backgrounds in education a major selling point on the campaign trail. When asked who they trust more to handle education in Chicago, 48% of those polled picked Paul Vallas, 41% trust Brandon Johnson, and 11% trust both equally.   

Regarding city finances, 50% trust Vallas’ vision, 37% trust Johnson.   

Race has hovered over the election for several weeks. Johnson, who is Black, is running on an agenda focused on community investments and taxing the rich. 

Vallas, who is white, has leaned into tough-on-crime policies, while courting centrist Democrats and attracting the support of some Republicans.

The WGN-TV/Emerson poll shows voters are lining up along racial lines.  

White voters overwhelming chose Vallas, 59.9% to 32.3%, while African Americans back Johnson 55.4% to 24.6%.  

Among Chicago’s highly sought-after Latino constituency, Vallas has a clear advantage with support among 57% of Latino voters compared to 30.3% backing Johnson.    

Since advancing to the runoff, both campaigns have focused heavily on endorsements, rolling out a list of new backers on almost a daily basis. Both men aggressively courted their vanquished rivals in the Feb. 28 election. Vallas has scored the backing of Willie Wilson, Ja’Mal Green and Roderick Sawyer while Johnson has won support from Jesus “Chuy” Garcia and Kam Buckner. 

But for some former rivals, an endorsement has not necessarily promised votes. 

Even with Garcia throwing his weight behind Johnson’s campaign, 35.5% of those who voted for him in February plan to vote for Paul Vallas in the runoff contest. And 64.7% of those who voted for Ja’Mal Green last time around, say they will vote for Johnson now.  

So far, Mayor Lightfoot has remained neutral in the runoff, but her supporters are clearly breaking in one direction.  

A majority (57.1%) of those who voted for the outgoing mayor back Brandon Johnson in the runoff. Compared to 24.4% who say they’ll vote for Vallas. 

The candidates are running nearly even among women voters — 42.7% back Johnson and 41.2% support Vallas — but there is a stark divide among men. Male likely voters surveyed back Vallas over Johnson, 52.1% to 38.7%. The candidates have an opportunity to boost their base, if they can break through to the 16% of women likely voters that say they are still undecided.    

Despite a flurry of negative advertising and numerous contentious debates and forums, Chicagoans have a generally favorable view of both candidates. Fifty-six percent (56%) of voters hold a favorable view of Vallas, (53%) have a favorable view of Johnson.   

Biden 2024?

As he has throughout his term, President Joe Biden remains popular in Chicago, with 56.6% of voters approving of the job he’s doing compared to 30.1% who disapprove.   

Methodology: The Emerson College Polling/WGN-TV/The Hill Chicago poll was conducted March 23-25, 2023. The sample consisted of very likely voters, n=1,000, with a Credibility Interval (CI), similar to a poll’s margin of error (MOE) of +/- 3 percentage points. The data sets were weighted by gender, age, education, and race/ethnicity based on 2023 turnout modeling. Turnout modeling is based on US Census parameters, and Illinois voter registration and voter turnout data (Illinois Secretary of State).  

Stay with WGN-TV as this story develops.