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Nick Howland and Tracye Polson in dead heat for Jacksonville City Council, poll finds

Democrat Tracye Polson and Republican Nick Howland got the highest share of the vote, and will face a runoff election in February.
Claire Heddles
Democrat Tracye Polson and Republican Nick Howland will face a runoff election this month.

Republican Nick Howland and Democrat Tracye Polson are running neck and neck in the race for Jacksonville City Council, according to poll released Thursday.

The poll of likely voters, conducted by the Public Opinion Research Lab at the University of North Florida, showed Polson with 50.3% and Howland with 49.7%.

The poll was administered through an online survey platform and carries a "credibility interval" of +/- 4.7 percentage points, meaning the race is essentially a dead heat.

"It looks like we are dealing with another impossibly tight race for City Council," said Michael Binder, faculty director of the lab and a UNF professor of political science. "Voter turnout is going to be the deciding factor here, and predicting that can be tricky — especially in a special election runoff."

Voters in this election tend to lean Republican, Binder said, so "Polson will need to make up for that with new voters in the coming days."

RELATED: How well do you know Jacksonville's City Council candidates? Take our poll.

The poll also touched on topics including the mayoral election, current officeholders, redistricting, renewable energy, community problems, the Jacksonville Jaguars and the 2020 presidential election.

The poll was conducted Feb. 11 through 16 using email addresses from the Florida voter file. The initial sample included 14,868 voters registered in Duval County, and 443 responded.

"Likely voters" was defined as people who said they would definitely vote or have already voted, either by mail or in person. The sample of likely voters comprised 46% Democrats, 42% Republicans and 12% no party affiliation.

On other topics

The poll also found:

Mayoral election: Democrat Donna Deegan had the greatest support in the 2023 race, with 41% of respondents saying they would vote for her if the election were held today. Republican Daniel Davis was a distant second at 20%. Another 20% said they would vote for someone else.

Sheriff's candidates: Democrat Lakesha Burton, the first Black woman to run for Jacksonville sheriff, leads the 2023 race at 39%, followed by Republican T.K. Waters at 27% and Republican Matthew Nemeth at 15%.

Redistricting: 85% of respondents believe an independent panel should draw new City Council maps, not the council itself, as currently practiced. Asked whether they trust City Council to draw districts fairly, 89% said not very much or not at all.

Incumbent politicians: Mayor Lenny Curry got a mixed approval rating: 47% positive and 45% negative. State Attorney Melissa Nelson fared slightly worse at 38% approval and Sheriff Mike Williams slightly better at 51%. City Council had the lowest approval rating of all: 31%.

Jacksonville Jaguars: Quarterback Trevor Lawrence had the highest approval rating on the team at 56%, with only 16% disapproving. 38% of respondents approved of owner Shad Khan either somewhat or slightly, down from 48% in May. General Manager Trent Baalke had just 12% approval, but 29% said they approve of new Head Coach Doug Pederson. (Even then, 52% said they don't know on Pederson yet.) Asked whether to spend $1 billion on a new stadium, split between the Jaguars and the city, 70% opposed the idea. 30% were strongly opposed. But 65% said it's at least somewhat important that Jacksonville has an NFL team.

Environment: Most respondents — 88% — want to see more energy generated from renewable sources like wind or solar. But a majority — 69% — said they don't want to pay more for it.

Community problems: Crime was rated as the biggest problem facing Jacksonville, identified 35% of the time. Improving the Downtown area followed at 16% and improving transportation and infrastructure at 10%. Only 3% of respondents thought COVID-19 is the most pressing problem, compared with 22% in June 2020. Affordable housing was listed as another top issue.

2020 election: Respondents were asked who won the 2020 presidential election. 70% said Joe Biden; 30% said Donald Trump. "It's interesting that despite a lack of supporting evidence, most Republican voters in this survey — 65% — still think Trump won the 2020 election," Binder said.

Randy comes to Jacksonville from the South Florida Sun Sentinel, where, as metro editor, he led investigative coverage of the Parkland school shooting that won the 2019 Pulitzer Prize for public service. He has spent more than 40 years in reporting and editing positions in Illinois, Iowa, Missouri, Ohio and Florida. You can reach Randy at or on Twitter, @rroguski.