JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – A poll of Jacksonville voters released by the University of North Florida Thursday morning finds a quarter of likely voters are undecided on who they want for mayor -- the same number as support the leading candidate.
The poll was created and conducted by students at UNF's Public Opinion Research Laboratory.
The poll, which interviewed 546 likely voters in Duval County, revealed that Alvin Brown is leading the mayor's race with 37 percent, Lenny Curry had 25 percent support, Bill Bishop had 11 percent and 2 percent supported Omega Allen.
The poll found 25 percent either don't know who they would vote for or refused to answer.
With early voting starting starting Monday, a quarter of Jacksonville's electorate is unsure whom they are voting for in this election. Such high levels of uncertainty provide opportunities for each of the candidates to increase their vote share.
Brown's job approval rating is 55 percent, typically a good sign for incumbents. But that isn't translating into votes for the mayor. Of those polled, 44 poll think Brown is a strong leader and 41 poll don't think he is a strong leader, with 15 percent unsure or unwilling to answer.
"I just think we keep making the case," Brown said Thursday. " I spent three and a half years, almost four years, uniting this community; working with Republicans, Democrats; putting aside politics."
The uncertainty trend continues with his running-mate Lenny Curry. While 23 percent think that Curry is a strong leader, and 15 percent don't, and a whopping 62 percent don't know or refused to answer.
"This is what I expected," Curry said. "We're just a few weeks out and we are going to close with my message of my vision of a safe city for everybody, economic opportunity, best public schools we've ever had and a city that celebrates its diverse neighborhoods."
When asked if Brown "cares about people like you," 63 percent of likely voters think he does, while 22 percent do not believe that. When asked about Curry caring about people like them, 36 percent believe he does and 15 percent do not. The number saying they don't know or wouldn't answer totaled 49 percent.
When respondents were asked to place Brown, Curry and Bishop on a 5-point ideological spectrum, the results further highlight the awareness gap between the incumbent and the challengers. Forty-three percent of respondents classified Brown as liberal, while only 14 percent didn't know or refused to place him on the scale.
Conversely, 38 percent of respondents considered Curry conservative, but 49 percent of likely voters were unable or unwilling to place him on the ideological scale. A plurality of voters that were able to place Bishop on the ideological scale, 13 percent considered him a moderate or middle of the road, but 66 percent didn't know or refused to place him ideologically.
The results of the poll showed that large numbers of likely voters that are unfamiliar enough about the two main challengers to even have opinions on the ideological positions, highlights the lack of awareness about the election among the most likely voters.
7-candidate sheriff's race wide open
In the race for Jacksonville sheriff is even more wide open, with the poll finding 34 percent either didn't know who they would vote for or refused to answer.
Ken Jefferson is leading the pack with 24 percent; Mike Williams, 16 percent; Jimmy Holderfield, 10 percent; Jay Farhat, 7 percent; Tony Cummings, 4 percent; Rob Schoonover, 4 percent; and Lonnie McDonald, 2 percent.
Michael Bender, who runs UNF's public opinion lab, said there are too many candidates and not a lot of diversity of message for any one to get much traction.
"Even if, and this is a big if, they've seen any of these candidates and heard them talk, they're all talking about getting more police on the streets; they're all talking about lowering crime," Bender said.
The Public Opinion Research Laboratory, through the use of a 27-station telephone-polling laboratory at UNF, conducted the survey. Approximately 120 UNF students participated in the data collection.
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A polling sample of randomly selected likely voters was drawn from the Duval County Supervisor of Elections voter file. Likely voters are classified as voters who cast a ballot in three of the four previous general elections.
The survey was conducted Monday, Feb. 23, through Friday, Feb. 27, and includes 546 adult registered likely voters in Duval County with a margin of error of +/- 4 percent. Race, gender and party registration were weighted to reflect an electorate that is similar to what turned out in March 2011 -- partisan registration is roughly equal and African-American voters represent approximately 28 percent of the electorate.