PerspectivesAndrew Moss Jacksonville Today Contributor
Jacksonville Sheriff T.K. Waters speaks at a news conference announcing the results of "Operation: Hot Summer."Jacksonville Sheriff T.K. Waters speaks at a news conference announcing the results of "Operation: Hot Summer."

OPINION | Reading the tea leaves: What poll means for Sheriff Waters, Mayor Deegan

Published on September 21, 2023 at 8:45 pm

Typically, one poll does not garner this much attention. But the latest University of North Florida Jax Speaks poll gives us insight into what Jaxsons are feeling at this moment about newly elected officials and looming issues, like stadium negotiations between the city and the Jaguars. 

Before we get to the poll’s results, keep in mind: Polling only provides a snapshot of public opinion at that exact moment. While it offers some insight into the general mood of the public, its results are not sacrosanct. 

Secondly, I’ve seen critiques of UNF’s polling methodology on social media, mainly the sample size. But Pew Research, one of the top pollsters in the U.S., says a large sample size does not automatically translate into a more accurate poll. The measure of a poll’s accuracy is whether the pollster reflects the population they are sampling, particularly adjusting for specific characteristics such as race, age, and partisan leanings. UNF’s polling memo accounts for these and many other issues. 

With that in mind, I will now attempt, against my own best advice, to conduct a sweeping analysis of Jacksonville’s political landscape based on a single poll.

First, the mayor’s approval rating stands at 47% approval, 15% disapproval, and 46% no opinion. Many in the chattering class say these numbers are typical for a newly elected mayor navigating her way in her first months in office. However, that analysis requires a person to wear the rosiest pair of rose-colored glasses that not even a partisan like me could wear.  

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The mayor, coming four months off of what she called a “historic win” with an alleged mandate to change city government, has over half of Jacksonville voters either disapproving of her or not having an opinion of her job performance. This poll shows the mayor has failed to create a mandate to carry out her agenda and build the public support needs to push her key initiatives, including the upcoming battle over funding for a diversity, equity and inclusion chief in City Hall, which is heading toward failure.  

While community conversations are great for engaging voters, not taking the next step to create and push a message around a cohesive agenda besides squabbling over appointees will not move voters from the “don’t know” column to the “approval” column. 

However, one elected official who understands the power of messaging and his office is Sheriff T.K. Waters. With almost two-thirds of voters approving of his job performance, we haven’t seen this level of resonance with voters since former Sheriff John Rutherford. 

Numerous pundits believed that the sheriff’s involvement in the last election, with his strong support of Republican mayoral candidate Daniel Davis, would not only ruin his relationship with then Mayor-elect Deegan but mire him in a cloud of partisanship that would make it near impossible to carry out his job. 

The sheriff’s success is a simple formula (that many politicians do not understand): communicate directly with constituents and be honest with voters. His pledge of transparency manifested in JSO’s social media posts involving officer-involved shootings, known as “critical incident briefings,” in which he and his leadership team walk through what happened and the next steps. His leadership after the racist shooting at the Dollar General elevated his profile. His boldness in being directly honest with our city about what caused the shooting while sticking to his principles instilled an unshakable confidence about him in voters. 

In the current political age, with our national politics devolving into partisan screaming matches about silly issues like the Senate dress code, voters are yearning for authentic politicians who display competent leadership. The sheriff checks all those boxes.

As hard as I have been on the mayor, she has more than enough time to right the ship to rally voters to support her agenda. She should take a page from the sheriff’s playbook and focus on doing rather than showmanship.

What does the UNF poll mean for the 2027 city elections? Nothing. Qualifying week for the 2027 election is 39 months and 14 days away. There is more than enough time to rewrite narratives and change fortunes. However, without corrective actions, lousy poll numbers can turn snapshots in time into a larger political picture that spells political failure and defeat. 


author image Jacksonville Today Contributor

Andrew Moss is a lawyer who has resided in Jacksonville for over two decades. After returning home from his service in the Marines, Andrew has been involved in Republican political campaigns for over a decade, serving as a communications and legal advisor.

author image Jacksonville Today Contributor

Andrew Moss is a lawyer who has resided in Jacksonville for over two decades. After returning home from his service in the Marines, Andrew has been involved in Republican political campaigns for over a decade, serving as a communications and legal advisor.