In less than a month, Philadelphia voters will pick among six Democratic candidates for mayor. So who’s winning, right now?
Nobody knows. Well, nobody without a vested interest in the race, anyway. No unbiased authority has commissioned a poll.
Two polls so far have been commissioned by candidate Lynne Abraham, and as you might guess Abraham was leading by a good margin in both of them. Forward Philadelphia, a PAC created to support Jim Kenney, commissioned a poll, too. And yep, you guessed it: Jim Kenney was leading that one. Similarly, a PAC supporting city controller Alan Butkovitz, who decided not to run, declared Butkovitz the leader last year. Another came last November from Tom Knox, who also decided not to run. His poll showed Abraham in the lead and him in second.
All this is a huge change from the last time there was no incumbent running for Mayor of Philadelphia. That was the 2007 race. By the end of April during that election, at least 10 polls had been commissioned by legitimate groups, such as the Philadelphia Daily News, NBC 10, Pennsylvanians for Effective Government, the Philadelphia Tribune (which polled black voters) and the Economy League of Greater Philadelphia, which polled for name recognition of candidates.
It’s late April now, and it seems unlikely any of the players who commissioned polls in 2007 will do so in the last month before the election. Sandy Shea, the Daily News editorial page editor and head of partnerships for the Philadelphia Media Network, told Billy Penn that so-called “horse-race polls” are “not something we wanted to add to the mix.” NBC 10 news director Anzio Williams said his station didn’t have anything in the works. Dave Patti, president and CEO of the Pennsylvania Business Council (formerly Pennsylvanians for Effective Government), said the group commissioned a poll for the first time in 2007 and that no board members had as much interest in commissioning a poll for this year’s election.
Terry Madonna, director of the Franklin and Marshall College poll (formerly the Keystone Poll), said there are two reasons for the lack of polling: unwillingness to pay for a poll, and the difficulty of doing an accurate poll. With low turnout for Philadelphia elections, it’s hard to identify a base of likely voters. No one has contacted Franklin and Marshall to conduct a poll yet, Madonna said.
“It is surprising given the open seat,” Madonna told Billy Penn, “that a Democratic nominee is likely to be mayor for obvious reasons and with six people running and at least two in the top tier if not three.”
The first poll for the 2007 election came in August 2006 from Keystone/the Daily News. The Tribune commissioned a poll of black voters in November 2006. Several more polls followed in the coming months. The early polls showed Chaka Fattah to be the favorite, with increasing support for Michael Nutter and Tom Knox as the race went on, to the point where Nutter was being projected as the favorite by the time of the election in May.
This year, Anthony Williams has been routinely called the front-runner by media outlets. Again, no real poll has been conducted to support this statement.
With a month to go in the race, all Philadelphians have to go on are polls by one candidate and one friendly PAC that Madonna considers inaccurate. How inaccurate?
Well, the poll commissioned by the PAC supporting Kenney showed Milton Street in the lead for the Latino vote — not Latino candidate Nelson Diaz. For voters age 18-to-45, Doug Oliver, the youngest candidate in the race, polled in last place.