Today is a big day for candidates. Not only is it the Chronicle forum but it is also the final day of June marking the end of the final month before voting begins by mail in mid-July.
If you have never been, the Chronicle forum is held at the Inverness Fairgrounds in the primaries then at the College of Central Florida in the general election. The Fairgrounds is the battleground, however, since many of our local races are decided in the primary election.
County commission district 4, state house and county judge will all be decided in the primary and not continue until November. County commission district 2 will continue to November where the winner of the Republican nomination between Stacey Worthington and Diana Finegan will face non-party affiliated candidate Paul Grogan.
The only remaining contested school board race, district 5, will also appear on the August ballot but only continue to November if no candidate exceeds 50% of the vote in the four-way race. In that case, the top 2 vote recipients will continue onto the November ballot.
With so many races on the line during the August primary election, a natural question arises: how important is tonight’s forum?
Answering this question requires a couple of different approaches. The first is a simple question of exposure. How many people does the forum reach?
There will probably be about 700 people in attendance tonight. The event will also be livestreamed on several different Facebook pages. The primary election videos from 2018 were no longer posted to the Chronicle page, but the general election that year ranged from below 500 views in county commission district 2 between Republican incumbent Ron Kitchen and NPA challenger David Gregory to over 1,600 views for the district 4 race between Republican incumbent Scott Carnahan and Democrat challenger Wendy Williams. Several races fell in between at around 800-900 views.
The following cycle was covid and changed the dynamics. Instead of hosting one event at the Fairgrounds, each race was filmed and posted separately on different days with no live audience.
With no events being held by candidates, the videos became a valuable resource of information and the viewership reflected that. The least viewed race, a circuit judge election, still garnered 2,500 views - almost 1,000 views more than the most popular race a year prior.
The most viewed race , the superintendent of schools, had over 10,000 views. The sheriff forum from the Chamber of Commerce, which was also posted to the Chronicle site even though the Chronicle did their own forum as well, surpassed the superintendent race and broke the 10,500 view benchmark although the Chronicle hosted forum only reached an audience of about 6,400.
While not every view is an eligible voter, especially since the sheriffs primary was closed only to Republicans, these view counts do make up a sizable portion of the voting population, which was 25,541 in sheriffs race. This means as high as 41% of the voting population could have watched the forum. Let’s move to the next question.
Why is the Chronicle forum tonight and not closer to election day?
The Chronicle hosted the forum on August 11 in 2016, just 19 days before the actual election day. Today’s forum is 54 days before the election. The significant difference has to do with mail-in ballot voting and endorsements. The Chronicle tried to get the forum in as those who vote by mail were doing so in 2018, hosting it on July 23 which was exactly one week before the first major rounds of ballots were returned on July 30.
The paper did not want to issue endorsements prior to the forum for fear of impartiality, however, so in 2020, the forum was moved back once again to July 10-17 as each video during the covid cycle was released. This year, it’s moved up once again presumably to allow time for the special candidate section and endorsements to run as well.
And that brings us back to the original question: how important is tonight? Results from prior elections would suggest it’s not make or break for any candidates.
At the risk of being corny, it is far more important to enjoy the night than it is to make a strong impression on voters. Viewership will likely regress significantly with fewer local races and without the covid restrictions of last cycle. Let’s have fun tonight.