Early voting for the March 24 election starts Monday.
Problem is, one in four voters still don’t know who they’re going to choose in the mayor’s race.
A University of North Florida poll released Thursday said 25 percent of likely voters haven’t decided between Mayor Alvin Brown and his challengers, Omega Allen, Bill Bishop and Lenny Curry.
“It’s a big number,” Michael Binder, a UNF assistant political science professor, said of the voters who have yet to make up their minds.
Typically, he said, that number is 10 to 15 percent at this point in an election cycle.
Binder said there are four pieces to the puzzle:
• Voters don’t know much about Curry, despite the fact he has been advertising for a couple of months. Curry’s never held an elected office, isn’t particularly well known in Jacksonville and as the former head of the Republican Party of Florida, his political activity was statewide, Binder said.
• Brown’s campaign got a late start, just beginning to advertise a couple of weeks back. “Their folks are not as primed and fired up as maybe they could be,” he said.
• Neither Brown nor Curry is “particularly exciting to the base of their party.” according to Binder.
• There’s voter fatigue after an intense, expensive and “very nasty” gubernatorial race between Gov. Rick Scott and Charlie Crist.
Curry’s unknown status played out in several poll questions: 62 percent don’t know if he is a strong leader; 49 percent don’t know if he cares about people like them; and 47 percent don’t know whether he trends liberal or conservative.
Brian Hughes, a spokesman for Curry’s campaign, said the undecided voter percentage is “trending higher at this point (in an election) than I’ve seen before.”
He acknowledged Curry, as a first-time candidate, is still introducing himself to voters.
“He’s not somebody who’s been living a public life,” Hughes said of Curry. “He’s been a husband, a father, he started a business and before that, he was an accountant.”
Curry received 25 percent of the vote in the poll, compared to Brown’s 37 percent. Bishop got 11 percent and Allen had 2 percent.
The fact that Brown’s relatively high approval rating of 55 percent hasn’t been able to convert more of the undecided voters is surprising to Binder.
The professor said approval ratings have a lot to do with economic conditions, which have improved during Brown’s term. Voters tend to give the mayor credit when that happens or the blame when it doesn’t, Binder said.
He pointed out that Brown’s approval rating has been trending downward the past three years, from 70 percent in February 2013 to 59 percent in February 2014 to 55 percent in the poll taken Feb. 23-27.
“That is concerning,” Binder said.
But Brown campaign spokesman Fabien Levy said the mayor’s declining approval rating is not a concern.
“We are confident he is going to win the race,” Levy said.
Binder also said people plugged into city government and those who pay close attention to politics have a “very different view of Alvin Brown” than most citizens.
Binder said Brown had a lot of support in the 2011 election from moderate Republicans, Democrats and the black community, but that support has waned.
He said people don’t view that Brown has done much for the black community and the mayor’s failure to take a public stance on the Human Rights Ordinance when it was being debated hurt him with the moderate community.
“But Joe Citizen isn’t seeing that,” Binder said.
Levy discounted Binder’s contention that Brown has lost support in those communities.
He said the mayor still has support of Republicans such as Ron Autrey, Mark Frisch and Toney Sleiman.
And he said, Brown clearly has the most support among Democrats.
Binder said some people aren’t paying attention because there’s not been much talk about specific issues. When those people do start to follow the race, they’ll probably default to their party’s candidate, he said, which makes turnout critical for both Brown and Curry.
“There’s a real chance we could have really low turnout,” he said. “Mobilizing their base is important.”
Supervisor of Elections Jerry Holland said the projected turnout for the March 24 election is 30-35 percent, which is within the norm for a first election.
Just under 30 percent turned out in 2011 when Brown and Republican Mike Hogan made it through a crowded field to the general election.