Mayor Alvin Brown’s campaign manager talked about the numbers that were in a new University of North Florida poll: a 59 percent approval rating and winning margins over four hypothetical opponents.
Potential opponents talked about the numbers that weren’t there — Brown’s former approval rating of 70 percent and the mayor failing to reach 50 percent in any of the match-ups.
The assistant professor of political science who conducted the poll said there are stories behind those numbers.
Michael Binder said there are two sides to the double-digit drop in Brown’s 70 percent approval rating from February 2013.
The mayor still has a high approval rating: “Ask President Obama how he’d like to have that rating,” Binder said.
But, he added, it’s been a “tough year” for the mayor, who’s had public skirmishes with the City Council over his budget and pension reform proposal.
Binder said Brown told the council, “Here’s my (pension) plan. Take it or leave it.’”
And the council left it. “That big public loss hurt his overall popularity,” Binder said.
He said officials have to be careful when taking such a hard stance.
“If you do it and you succeed, great. But if you do it and fail, you run the risk of looking like a bully,” he said.
Brown’s campaign manager, Dave Beattie, shrugged off the drop in the mayor’s approval numbers.
“The mayor has been in a political environment where you have to make tough choices of making cuts and presenting balanced budgets,” he said.
Beattie also pointed out the poll shows Brown leading all four hypothetical candidates.
But Binder and others said those numbers could be a concern to Brown.
In each of the four head-to-head races, Brown polled in the 40s, which “for an incumbent, isn’t great,” Binder said.
In addition, about 25 percent of those polled said they would either vote for someone else, didn’t know which candidate they would pick or had no answer.
Binder said that shows a lot of people haven’t made up their minds about Brown, who’s been in office nearly two years. “If they haven’t made up their mind about you — and they know you — that could be a problem,” he said.
Bill Gulliford and Lenny Curry, both of whom were included in the poll as opponents, agreed with Binder.
“I think people are starting to see through him. I think they are seeing there is no substance,” said Gulliford, who is president of the council. “There’s a lot of talk, photo opps and showmanship, but nothing’s happening.”
Curry, who is president of the Republican Party of Florida, said the numbers show Brown’s “lack of leadership.”
“It’s one thing to be liked, it’s another thing to lead,” Curry said. “There’s this whole discussion about the next level. What does the next level mean? We’re two years into this and we don’t know.”
Binder said the mayor’s numbers can go up again if he “stems the bleeding” by having a budget that “doesn’t cause too much pain,” having good negotiations with the council and by solving the pension problem or making big efforts in reducing how much of the general fund is used for pension.
The poll, conducted Feb. 10-17, included 442 registered voters in Duval County.
The poll has a margin of error of plus or minus 4.37 percentage points.