University of North Florida polling recently showed that Jacksonville voters gave Mayor Alvin Brown a 63 percent approval rating, while giving Gov. Rick Scott a 40 percent approval rating and President Barack Obama a 41 percent approval rating. Voters gave disapproval ratings to Brown of 10 percent, Scott of 43 percent and Obama of 53 percent. Matthew Corrigan, chair of the UNF Department of Political Science and Public Administration, oversaw the polling, which also showed that nearly 63 percent of those responding would recommend Jacksonville to recent college graduates, while 23 percent said they would not. Also, 69 percent said they were optimistic about the direction of the city.
What prompted the department to begin conducting surveys about Jacksonville political issues?
The department has been doing surveys for years. This particular one was used as an extension of the classroom. Professors can talk all day about what voters think, but having students directly talk to voters helps them understand the complexities of politics. They learn some basic research and statistical techniques along with learning how to interact with the public. Both Jacksonville and Florida are great laboratories for studying political trends.
How many surveys do you expect to conduct in a year?
If funding remains, we will do two classroom-based surveys a year. We also do grant and contract-funded work with national, state and local agencies.
Are there any unexpected results so far?
The biggest surprise was the difference in attitudes among Jacksonville voters regarding state and national leaders versus local leaders. Mayor Brown received much higher approval than President Obama or Governor Scott. It is early in his term, but he receives support from both Democrats and Republicans. This is rare in politics in 2011.
How do you expect the results will be used?
The students will use statistical software to analyze the results. Their analysis of the polling data is part of their final grade. Also, the results are available and offered to elected officials and others as a public service. Community-based research is an important part of what we do at UNF.
Have you received any unsolicited suggestions for survey questions, and if so, what’s an example?
The students wanted to know if voters would advise college graduates to stay in Jacksonville to start their career. We added that question to the survey. The students were surprised how positive Jacksonville voters were in evaluating the future of the city.