MEMPHIS, Tenn. — Willie Herenton narrowly leads a slate of 17 candidates in the upcoming Memphis mayoral race, according to a poll of likely voters conducted by Emerson College for WREG News Channel 3.

Herenton, a five-time Memphis mayor who served from 1992 until 2009, had the support of 16% of voters polled Aug. 11-13.

Paul Young, president and CEO of the Downtown Memphis Commission, ranked a close second at 14%.

Shelby County Sheriff Floyd Bonner and former judge Joe Brown tied at 10%, while Shelby County Commissioner Van Turner rounded out the top five candidates with 7%.

But the biggest bloc of voters in the poll at 26% was “Undecided,” suggesting there is still much campaigning to be done ahead of the nonpartisan Oct. 5 election.

“With less than two months remaining until election day, this race is within the poll’s margin of
error, and has the potential to shift upon the direction of the 26% of undecided voters,” said Spencer Kimball, Executive Director of Emerson College Polling, said. “Herenton has a base of support among Black voters and those without a college degree, but Brown is chipping away at that support by attracting younger black voters. Young’s support is higher among Memphis’ white population – and he has support among middle-aged voters.”

Herenton and Young are the top choices among Democrats in Memphis. Republicans are more consolidated, with 25% supporting Floyd Bonner.

Undecided voters most often said they are leaning toward Herenton, Bonner, Young, Brown, Turner and businessman J.W Gibson.

In Herenton’s last attempt at the mayor’s job four years ago, he trailed far behind the winner, Jim Strickland, with 29% of the vote to Strickland’s 62%. At the time, Herenton said it would be his “last political contest.”

This year’s race comes as a majority of Memphis voters polled, 69%, said Memphis is on the “wrong track.” When asked their opinion of Tennessee, 66% said the state is on the wrong track.

Crime may factor into that pessimism, as two out of three voters polled said reducing crime should be the top priority for the next Memphis mayor.

Seventy percent rated the chances of being a victim of violent crime in Memphis as somewhat or very likely.

WREG will release more results from our exclusive poll today, Wednesday and Thursday. See more highlights on News Channel 3 this week.

The Emerson College Polling/WREG-TV News Channel 3 Memphis survey was conducted August 11-13, 2023. The sample of somewhat and very likely voters, n=600, has a credibility interval, similar to a poll’s margin of error (MOE), of +/- 3.9 percentage points. Data was collected by contacting an online panel of voters, and cellphones via SMS-to-web, and a consumer list of emails. The data sets were weighted by gender, education, age, and party registration based on 2023 registration modeling.