9:23 PM / Saturday June 3, 2023

5 May 2023

The Undecided

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May 5, 2023 Category: Election 2023 Posted by:

As Election Day looms, a significant portion of Philadelphia’s voters are still trying to figure out who they want to replace Mayor Jim Kenney.

By Denise Clay-Murray

Under normal circumstances, Emma Tramble is the go-to person in her neighborhood when it comes to Election Day.

Tramble describes herself as a “strategic voter.” Every election cycle, she’ll go to the local Dollar Tree to grab a notebook that she’ll use to write down information about the candidates as the campaign goes on. She’s been involved in politics and voter registration and for a long time and is usually the person that her neighbors go to for insight. 

But as the May 16 mayoral primary approaches, Tramble finds herself in an unfamiliar space.

For one of the few times in her voting life, she’s among the undecided.

“I’ve never been this undecided, ever,” Tramble said. “I know some of those candidates. I’ve talked to them. I know what their skills are. But I still don’t know who I’m going to vote for.” 

According to a poll commissioned by the Committee of Seventy, the Urban Affairs Coalition, the Philadelphia Citizen, and the Chamber of Commerce for Greater Philadelphia, Tramble isn’t alone. In the poll, which asked more than 1,000 Philadelphians what their preferences were for mayor, 20% of voters are undecided.

Many of these voters were like Tramble, people who pay attention to politics and are well informed on the issues, said Lauren Cristella, interim president and CEO of the Committee of Seventy. In addition to using conventional polling means, the poll also employed ranked choice voting, she said.

It only brought the percentage of undecided voters down to 15%.  

“We picked the likeliest of likely voters,” she said. “I think it’s that there are a number of candidates who are good or acceptable, or okay, to a lot of people. There’s not too many who have the kind of strong cult of personality that would eliminate some undecided voters. What I’m hearing is that there are a lot of people who aren’t totally sold on their one candidate but would be perfectly happy with two or even three options.”

The poll was taken between April 21 to April 25. 

Earlier in the election cycle, the Black Leadership PAC, which endorsed former City Councilmember Cherelle Parker earlier this week, did a poll that showed that 42% of Philadelphia’s Black community was undecided. 

“In some ways this poll is unprecedented,” said Terrance Woodbury of HIT Strategies, the people who administered the poll. “To be this close to the primary and have 42% of Black Philadelphia voters undecided suggests a significant gap between what candidates are offering and what these voters feel is needed. 

Philadelphia seems to be at a crossroads. The decisions of this voting community and the results of this election will determine the direction of this city at a pivotal time.”

According to their poll, Cristella said, the Black Leadership PAC endorsement reflects some of the results of their polling. The Black and brown respondents surveyed in the poll were firmly in her camp, while the 5% of voters who gave a response when pressed for a candidate were divided between former Councilmembers Allan Domb and Helen Gym, former Controller Rebecca Rhynhart and businessman Jeff Brown, she said. 

The reasons why voters might be undecided are not connected to a lack of information.

When the Lenfest Foundation began its Every Voice, Every Vote project, community groups and news organizations, including the SUN, took advantage of the chance to partner with them to disseminate information through special projects such as the Philadelphia Citizen’s job interviews and Billy Penn’s next mayor quiz, news articles, and more than 60 candidate forums, including the Black Media Matters forum held by WURD Radio, the Philadelphia Tribune, Fun Times Magazine and the SUN.

But it’s hard to get your message across when you’re part of a large group of people and have 1:30 seconds to answer some very important questions.

And to voters like Trammel, you must do more than tell the electorate what to vote against. You have to tell them what you want them to vote for, she said.

“None of these candidates are offering hope,” she said. “We know that the city has got a crime problem. We know that we have a poverty problem. 

We know that our education system is lacking. But where is the hope? Nobody is painting a good picture for me of the future.”

But what impact could undecided voters have on the election itself? Because this is an election where only 29% of the city’s eligible voters are expected to participate, the impact of undecided voters might be felt among mail-in voters, Cristella said.

“I would be curious to see if undecided voters choose not to vote by mail,” she said. “They may wait until Election Day to make their choice and they don’t want to be rushed with their ballots. So, that number might be low.”

Election Day is Tuesday, May 16.

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