The Lead

With days remaining, Philadelphia mayoral poll shows virtual tie

By: - April 28, 2023 12:26 pm
Philadelphia City Hall

Philadelphia City Hall (Adobe Stock/The Philadelphia Gay News)

By Marco Cerino

PHILADELPHIA —  With little more than two weeks to go before Election Day, the five leading  Democratic candidates for city mayor are locked in a statistical dead heat, a poll by the nonpartisan Committee of Seventy released Friday shows.

After months of talk, ads and forums, voters will have their say on May 16 when Philadelphians vote in the primary elections for many municipal and judicial positions. The victors of this race, especially in the Democratic mayoral primary will largely be determined by how many ballots are cast.

The poll found former City Controller Rebecca Rhynhart leading with 18% of support, followed by former City Councilmembers Cherelle Parker at 17% and Helen Gym at 15%. Their former colleague in Council Allan Domb polled at 14%, with businessman Jeff Brown at 11%. All candidates trailed the undecided cohort, at 20%.

“These results make clear what we’ve known all along: that every vote matters,” said Lauren Cristella, Committee of Seventy’s interim president and chief operating officer, in the release. “We want every eligible voter to vote, to be informed when they vote, and to vote with confidence. This poll is a snapshot in time that hopefully gives voters an additional piece of information to use when they walk into a voting booth or complete a mail-in ballot.”

In polling 1,500 likely voters in Philadelphia, the watchdog group also included ranked-choice voting, allowing candidates to be eliminated with choices affecting totals until one candidate reaches the 50% threshold. Philadelphia will not have a run-off following the primary, meaning whoever wins the Democratic vote becomes the prohibitive favorite with however many, or few votes, are cast on May 16.

The winner will face former Councilmember David Oh, who will run unopposed on the Republican side.

In 2015, former at-large Councilmember Jim Kenney stunned the pundits by collecting 56% of the votes and defeating higher-profile rivals like former District Attorney Lynne Abraham and state Sen. Anthony Williams in the Democratic primary. However, he did so with just 29% turnout, the lowest number on record going back to the 1987 primary.

The ranked-choice results kept the tight order, with no candidate eclipsing 20% of respondents, while 15% remain undecided.

Here are some of the demographic breakdowns among the five top Democratic hopefuls.

  • Rhynhart led the total group with 19% of committing voters, garnering 29% of the white vote, while doing best among men, women, higher-income voters, Center City residents and young voters.
  • Parker sits second at 17% overall and takes the largest percentage among Latino voters at 31%, Black voters at 25%, and leads in Northwest Philadelphia, the 50-to-64 age group, and conservatives and moderates.
  • Gym came in third at 16%, but did the best among candidates with those identifying as “very liberal,” at 40%. For those who reported they have already cast their ballots, she has 20% of the vote, 9% better than any of her opponents.
  • Allan Domb has 15% of those polled, doing the best in Northeast Philadelphia and among those with high school diplomas.
  • Jeff Brown finished with 12%. While he did not outright win any subsections of voters, he did best among conservatives, those who finished high school and have some college experience, and the oldest voters. He also finished second behind Parker with 15% of the Black vote.

During this week’s mayoral debate hosted by 6ABC and the Chamber of Commerce, moderator Matt O’Donnell posited that the winning candidate may need around 60,000 votes to claim victory. In a city the size of Philadelphia, that’s not quite a popular mandate.

The field for May’s Democratic primary will be 50% larger than the last time Philadelphians replaced an outgoing mayor. While citizens consistently turn out for the national-impacting elections like the presidency and midterms, there’s not as much enthusiasm around the local races that actually have a greater impact on everyday lives.

“With multiple candidates within the confidence interval and a fifth of likely voters still undecided, the race is still wide open,” said Sharmain Matlock-Turner, CEO of the Urban Affairs Coalition. “We’re excited to work with partners across the city to make sure that every eligible Philadelphian gets out and makes their voices heard in this election.”

Cristella predicted “higher turnout than expected” earlier this month for May’s primary, reaching 30%. She noted the city has seen consistent year-over-year growth among voters 18-25, driven by peer pressure.

“It’s hard to turn a non-voter into a voter,” Cristella said. A key to increasing turnout is determining “who are the people who vote in presidential years” and bringing them to the polls for local races.

No organization has publicly committed to do more polling closer to primary day.

Marco Cerino is a correspondent for the Philadelphia Tribune, where this story first appeared

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