Democrat businessman Jeff Brown leads the crowded race for Philadelphia mayor by almost a double-digit gap just 60 days ahead of the May primary, according to a poll completed this week by FM3 Research.
The topline results of the poll that only queried Democratic voters about Democratic candidates show Brown with 24 percent, followed by Helen Gym and Alan Domb tied for second place at fifteen percent.
The poll comes with the caveat that it was commissioned by For a Better Philadelphia, an independent expenditure committee backing Brown.
“It’s in the interest of the Brown independent expenditure/campaign to want to make this a two-way race between Jeff Brown and Helen Gym. And if I was still in politics, I would be doing the same thing,” said Larry Ceisler, a public affairs executive with Ceisler Media & Issue Advocacy.
Although television doesn’t have the monopoly on attention it used to, it’s still the dominant force in an election like this.
“Every poll I’ve also seen shows Alan Domb second [ahead of Gym], and polls at this point —until all the candidates with the resources to be on television are on — are really somewhat premature and irrelevant,” Ceisler said.
Former city controller Rebecca Rhynhart rounds out the group of candidates polling in double digits, pulling in support from twelve percent of those surveyed.
“Jeff Brown and Alan Domb are leading because they’re the ones who’ve been on television the most and have spent the most,” Ceisler said. “Helen Gym right now has not, as far as I know, has not spent a dime to be on TV. Cherelle Parker, I think is just starting her television and my guess is Rebecca Rhynhart will be starting soon after that.”
The most noticeable change since FM3’s last poll in January is the large number of undecided voters in Philly starting to line up behind candidates. The total number of undecideds fell in that period from 31 percent to seventeen.
Gym and former city council members Cherelle Parker and Derek Green have mostly maintained but not increased their support since January, according to the poll. But Brown, Domb, Rhynhart, and former council member Maria Quiñones-Sánchez all saw healthy increases to their support over the last eight weeks.
Former council members Derek Green and Amen Brown are both struggling to break out of the bottom of the field, with both polling in the low single digits.
FM3 said part of what boosted Jeff Brown recently has been increased support from African Americans.
“In our January survey, four in ten African Americans were undecided in the Mayor’s race,” the memo says. “Today, Jeff Brown’s support among African Americans is 10-points higher, increasing from 26% in January to 36% now. In comparison, just one in ten African American primary voters say they would vote for Domb (12%) or Cherelle Parker (11%), and even fewer support Gym (6%).”
“This poll clearly shows that Jeff Brown’s support from the African American community throughout the city is not just unusually strong, but unprecedented for someone of his profile,” said Dan Siegel, a senior advisor with For a Better Philadelphia. “African American voters are tired of the same politicians, who have been in office forever, and who only come back to the community to say that if you elect them mayor things will get better, when, in fact, things only continue to get worse.”
The primary will again test which strategy is best: getting TV exposure first and over a longer period, or hitting voters with a blitz of ads closer to the election.
“Tom Wolf became governor — won a Democratic primary — because he was able to go up on TV earlier than anybody else,” Ceisler noted.
But those strategies face a completely new reality in how voters vote.
“The fact is that the electorate really doesn’t start looking at this until maybe a month out. And the fly in the ointment is really that mail-in balloting will start a month out,” Ceisler said.
The poll surveyed 800 likely Democratic voters between the dates of March 8-13, and has a margin of error of four percent.
Todd Shepherd is Broad + Liberty’s chief investigative reporter. Send him tips at firstname.lastname@example.org, or use his encrypted email at email@example.com. @shepherdreports