In Chattanooga mayoral race survey, Tim Kelly's lead widens as results get tighter for those polling in second, third place

Clockwise from top left: Tim Kelly, Kim White, Monty Bruell and Wade Hinton are running for Chattanooga mayor / Times free press files.
Clockwise from top left: Tim Kelly, Kim White, Monty Bruell and Wade Hinton are running for Chattanooga mayor / Times free press files.

New polling shows Tim Kelly's lead growing in the Chattanooga mayoral race, while the gap between the next three candidates is closing.

According to a poll of 550 likely voters conducted this week by Spry Strategies, a Knoxville-based polling outfit hired by local conservative group Hamilton Flourishing, Kelly is polling at 27.9%, up from 21.7% in the group's January poll.

The shift puts a 12.7 percentage point gap between him and second place, almost doubling his previous 6.4 percentage point lead.

"We're proud and humbled to say that we have a tremendous amount of momentum all over the city because of our hard working, policy-focused, grassroots campaign," Rachel Hanson, Kelly's campaign manager, said Saturday via email. "We'll keep working and campaigning like we are behind and earn every vote possible until the polls close on election night."

While the polling favors Kelly, if these numbers are reflective of the actual vote turnout on and before March 2, he would still need nearly all of the 24.9% of undecided voters to avoid a runoff.

In the event that no candidate gets at least one vote over 50% of the total ballots, the top two candidates will face off in an April runoff election.

The possibility of the runoff makes the narrowing gap between the second-, third- and fourth-place candidates important.

In the month since Spry's last mayoral poll, Former River City Co. President Kim White has stayed virtually the same, dropping slightly from 15.3% in January to 15.2% this week.

Still, White is optimistic.

"The momentum of our campaign continues to build each day, evidenced by our widespread financial contributions, dedicated volunteers and endorsements and support from our police organizations, Greater Chattanooga Realtors and the Chattanooga Free Press, among others," she said Saturday in an emailed statement.


The TN Hamilton Flourishing Chattanooga Mayoral Benchmark Survey was conducted by Spry Strategies using a hybrid method survey design of live caller to landline and mobile interviews from 550 likely voters from Feb. 10 to 11. The survey’s sample included 22,505 registered voters who voted in at least one of the last four city mayoral elections (in 2005, 2009, 2013 and 2017). The survey has a margin of error of +/- 4.1 percentage points. Results are weighted based on city mayoral turnout averages from 2013 and 2017. Some percentages in crosstab reports for this poll may not add to 100% due to rounding.” -Ryan Burrell, President of Spry Research

Behind White are former City Attorney Wade Hinton and entrepreneur Monty Bruell, still polling at third and fourth place, respectively. But both Hinton and Bruell have gained ground in the poll, putting them each within the margin of error of the person ahead of them.

Hinton, who narrowly out-fundraised Kelly, moved from 8.9% in January to 12.2% in the newest poll. Now, he's just 3% behind White.

"Leadership matters, and the voters know it. As we turn the corner on the COVID-19 pandemic, Chattanoogans don't need a mayor who requires on-the-job training or a long learning curve - they need a leader who's ready to go on day one," Spencer Bowers, a spokesperson for Hinton's campaign, said Saturday. "The more voters hear Wade's story and see the depth of his experience building up communities, the more they are convinced he's the best prepared to lead our recovery and ensure a safer, more equitable, and inclusive future for everyone. Our supporters are making hundreds of calls and knocking on thousands of doors with Wade every day. We take these results as proof that voters like what they hear and a challenge that we keep working harder than ever."

Bruell moved up from 5.6% in January to 8.1%, situating himself just behind where Hinton was last month.

"I suppose that it's always fun to play around with poll results, but polling is really more voodoo science than anything. In recent elections, pollsters have been wrong more than they've been right. Generally, the only candidate that puts stock in poll results is the one shown leading," Bruell told the Times Free Press on Friday. "I can feel our campaign surging. We definitely have momentum. Now that we've been endorsed by the Chattanooga Times, our momentum will only increase. I love our engagement with voters and am confident about our chances to win this election. The undecided voters will most likely determine the outcome."

In this week's poll, undecided voters were asked to identify the candidate they favored, showing a much smaller lead for Kelly (16%) and favoring Hinton (12.3%) over White (9.4%). Councilman Erskine Oglesby was fourth among undecided voters, with 6%, followed closely by Bruell with 5.5%.

Spry Strategies President Ryan Burrell said that he anticipates the race will come down to Hinton, Kelly and White.

"The mayoral race has heated up and is a three-way race with Tim Kelly maintaining a strong double-digit lead. Wade Hinton has gained ground but is still trailing Kim White. Kim has had a good trajectory and has developed a diverse, grassroots campaign with strong fundraising," Burrell said in an emailed statement Friday. "When you look at the cross tabs, Tim Kelly has strong support across all the demographics, Kim White is polling well with women and self-identified conservatives, and Wade Hinton has excellent support from the African American community. There are three strong candidates with excellent name ID when you look at the favorable/unfavorable ratios."

Burrell also noted that, in modeling of the poll which anticipates higher Republican and female turnout based on past election turnout trends, White is slightly more favorable, but the top four candidates remain in the same order.

Councilman Russell Gilbert, businessman Andrew McLaren, Oglesby, and former NAACP President Elenora Woods all polled under 5% in the newest poll. Less than 2% of respondents said they would support another candidate.


The January poll consisted of 400 respondents who identify as:

  • Very conservative: 23.2%
  • Somewhat conservative: 17.2%
  • Moderate: 24.7%
  • Somewhat liberal: 21.6%
  • Very liberal: 13.3%

The February poll consisted of 550 respondents who identify as:

  • Very Conservative 17.49%
  • Somewhat Conservative 18.08%
  • Moderate 35.8%
  • Somewhat Liberal 17.81%
  • Very Liberal 10.82%

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

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