Jacksonville’s First Election is now behind us, and with that, we have an opportunity to evaluate the public and internal polling that preceded the Mayoral election.
The University of North Florida poll from early March was the public poll that was most cited in the local media, and they polled for both the Mayor’s and Sheriff’s races. The UNF polls for the Mayoral and Sheriff race were notable because they both cited a high proportion of undecideds.
In the Mayoral race, UNF had Alvin Brown leading Lenny Curry 37-25, with Bill Bishop at 11% and Omega Allen at 2%. 25% of the electorate was undecided according to that poll as of early March.
UNF got Allen’s number right. Assuming that the other numbers were accurate, we can gauge the break of the universe of 25% undecided voters as follows: Brown improved by 6%, garnering 24% of the undecideds. Curry improved by 13%, which indicates that he drew more than half of the undecided vote. Bishop drew 17% in the real election, up 6 points; this indicates that he also drew 24% of the undecided vote.
What this suggests is that the Brown campaign may have a ceiling in terms of garnering support for re-election. Undecided voters, by a margin of 3 to 1, broke away from the Mayor. While the conventional wisdom says that many Bishop supporters will support the Mayor because Curry has branded himself as a conversative, Mayor Brown as recently as last week branded himself as a “conservative Democrat,” which suggests that argument lacks real traction beyond wishful thinking from liberal Republicans. Both Curry and Brown have reached out to Bishop, with Curry making the case that Bishop and he are aligned on many issues and are both Republicans.
Last night, two internal polls, taken in advance of Tuesday’s results, were leaked to this reporter. The RPOF poll had Brown at 37 and Curry at 36, with Bishop at 18. A Democratic poll, meanwhile, had Brown at 42 and Curry at 40 (and Bishop at 10). Both of those polls reasonably reflected what actually happened.
Meanwhile, we commissioned the first poll of this election — and so far, the only one that addressed the runoff election.
Though the poll was from late January, the raw numbers were reasonably predictive — though they didn’t account for Bishop’s momentum building as it did. Alvin Brown registered 37.9% support, significantly over Lenny Curry, who was the preference of 30.6% of respondents. Bill Bishop, meanwhile, was at a mere 8.9%. “Someone else” and “undecided,” meanwhile, combined for 22.5% of those surveyed.
What this suggests is that the universe of undecided voters polled here broke roughly 4-1 against the Mayor. As Jacksonville voters became more familiar with Curry, they came to like him. Similarly, Bishop, who presented himself as an alternative to “politics as usual,” was able to sway undecided voters.
That January poll offered a deep dive into corollary issues, including two questions that will be relevant to the runoff.
The first question: “Do you feel that Jacksonville is on the right track or the wrong track?” By a 2.6% margin – 43.2%-40.6%, a number within the 2.8% margin of error – the “wrong track” prevailed. An additional 16.2% of respondents were unsure.
The second question: “Should Mayor Alvin Brown be re-elected, or is it time for a new mayor?” 38.9% of respondents supported re-election, a full 14% below those who would prefer a new mayor.
The first question is relevant for obvious reasons; Curry’s case for election hinges on convincing a majority of voters that Jacksonville is off-track, a case he makes based on issues like public safety, the pension issue, and Brown’s handling of budgets during his first term. The advantage that Curry has comes with every news cycle that features a shooting in the Operation Ceasefire zone or a hiccup in the ongoing pension negotiations.
The second question is relevant in large part because Brown, who has run an aggressive campaign since this poll was commissioned, only got 42.63% of the vote. This lack of movement on this issue suggests, again, that there may be a ceiling to Brown’s support.
In the hypothetical binary matchup between Brown and Curry that is now real in the runoff, Curry was ahead, 45.3% to 41.5%, with just over 13% undecided. What this suggests, again, is that there may be a ceiling to Brown’s support, and that may be in the low to mid 40s.
There are some variables that could come into play. Many of the liberal white Democrats who supported Bishop in the first election may skew toward Brown, though with Brown messaging as a fiscal and social conservative, it’s hard to see them doing that with any real enthusiasm. The second variable that could come into play is Governor Rick Scott.
If one played a drinking game during the debates, or any other Alvin Brown messaging opportunity, and drank every time Brown extolled the Republican Governor, he would likely be in an alcoholic coma. Brown has aggressively yoked his messaging to Rick Scott, who has up until now remained neutral in this race. Will that neutrality continue? There is reason to doubt it.
Lenny Curry and key staff members for his campaign have worked very closely with Governor Scott. One can expect that, in a race that looks to be as competitive and fraught with partisan tension as this one, that Scott will eventually endorse Curry. It’s just a question of when. We still have weeks until Early Voting, so it doesn’t have to be anytime soon. The irony of this all is that a Democratic candidate has hewed himself so closely to a Republican governor whose allies are running against him.