OAKLAND -- Already written off by some politicos, Mayor Jean Quan actually might be the front-runner in next year's mayoral election -- as long as Councilmember Rebecca Kaplan stays out of the race.

A recently commissioned poll by an Oakland pro-business group showed Quan placing first in a mock race against the current field of challengers even though more than half the respondents disapproved of her job performance.

Quan received 32 percent of first-place votes in the poll conducted last month by David Binder Research. Trailing her were San Francisco State Professor Joe Tuman with 22 percent, Councilmember Libby Schaaf with 16 percent and Port Commissioner Bryan Parker with 10 percent. Twenty percent of respondents were undecided.

The poll was the first indication that Quan's high negatives -- 54 percent of respondents disapproved of her performance -- might not doom her on Election Day against a crop of mayoral hopefuls who are largely unknown to the electorate.

"My sense of the poll is that Quan is the person to beat," said Greg McConnell of the Jobs and Housing Coalition, which commissioned the poll. "And with what we know about her ability to campaign, unless the other candidates can raise their profiles and their issues, she has a substantial chance of being re-elected."

But the poll also revealed potential pitfalls for Quan. The mayor dropped to second place in a separate mock race that included Kaplan.

Kaplan, who could not be reached for comment Thursday, said last year that she would not run against Quan but has lately deflected questions about entering the race. She led the mayor 26 to 20 percent, the poll found. In that scenario, Tuman dropped to third with 17 percent, Schaaf was fourth with 15 percent and Parker was fifth with 6 percent.

Oakland Mayor Jean Quan helps serve meals at the City of Oakland’s annual holiday dinner in Oakland, Calif., on Monday, Dec. 23, 2013. A recently
Oakland Mayor Jean Quan helps serve meals at the City of Oakland's annual holiday dinner in Oakland, Calif., on Monday, Dec. 23, 2013. A recently commissioned poll by an Oakland pro-business group showed Quan placing first in a mock race against the current field of challengers even though more than half the respondents disapproved of her job performance. (Kristopher Skinner/Bay Area News)

Also, Oakland's ranked choice electoral system rewards candidates who win lots of second- and third-place votes as Quan did three years ago when she defeated former state Sen. Don Perata. But this time around, the poll has Quan receiving only 7 percent of second-place votes -- last among declared candidates.

"I think you're almost looking at a repeat of the Perata thing, only with different circumstances," said political consultant Larry Tramutola, who ran Perata's 2010 campaign.

Tramutola said all the candidates could find bright spots from the poll. Quan appears to have retained her base, he said, while Tuman and Schaaf -- and to a lesser extent Parker -- are in the hunt before spending campaign funds to raise their citywide profiles.

Quan's campaign Co-Chairman Michael Colbruno said the mayor's poll numbers, including second-place votes, should rise once she starts actively campaigning. "I think she's in a very good position for a second term," he said.

Tuman and Parker said they both felt good about their showing in the poll and questioned Quan's ability to garner second- and third-place votes. "I'm not sure there is a path to victory there," Parker said.

Schaaf's campaign consultant Ace Smith said the results showed that the council member "starts with a great foundation and that we just need to tell her story in all parts of the city."

The poll of 500 likely voters was conducted between Nov. 11 and 13, said McConnell, who verified results obtained by this paper. Its margin of error was plus or minus 4.4 percent. The Jobs and Housing Coalition is a nonprofit consisting of top executives from Oakland companies. It typically conducts two polls per year.

On other issues, the poll found that 63 percent of respondents would next year support renewing Measure Y, which provides funding for 63 police officers, fire services and violence-prevention programs. Doubling the property tax to about $195 per year lowered support to 54 percent, the poll found. The tax needs two-thirds support for passage.

Asked to identify any number of major issues facing the city, 70 percent of respondents said crime, 32 percent said jobs and the economy, and 25 percent said education.

Contact Matthew Artz at 510-208-6435

Oakland Mayoral Poll
Jean Quan 32 percent
Joe Tuman 22 percent
Libby Schaaf 16 percent
Bryan Parker 10 percent
Undecided/Someone else 20 percent

POLL INCLUDING REBECCA KAPLAN
Rebecca Kaplan 26 percent
Jean Quan 20 percent
Joe Tuman 17 percent
Libby Schaaf 15 percent
Bryan Parker 6 percent
Undecided/Someone else 16 percent