The mayoral election in the village of Forest Park will likely be determined by the nearly 20% of voters who are still undecided. This is the key takeaway from an opinion survey conducted online during late March by the author. According to Cook County electoral data, the typical Forest Park voter is 58 years old, owns their residence, and has been living in the village for at least 10 years. This profile resonates with survey findings which, although non-scientific, provide interesting insights.
Among a list of priorities combining promises made by both Mayor Anthony Calderone and Commissioner Chris Harris, the top concern for over half of survey respondents is seasonal flooding. Tied in second are issues regarding high school improvement, popular input in government decisions, and business development on Madison and Roosevelt, each chosen by around 40% (participants were asked to choose three options). Interestingly, police improvement was ranked at the bottom of the priority list, suggesting that the population feels relatively safe.
In assessing general aspirations for the village, the idea of progress emerged as the ideal guiding principle according to Forest Park residents, chosen by nearly two-thirds of survey respondents. Stability came next (20%), suggesting that progress should not be disruptive but rather secure what’s already being enjoyed. This insight is particularly important to understand the mindset of undecided voters.
How to win the election
Being virtually tied, both candidates will need to convince the contingent of undecided voters in order to secure victory. Having migrated to town more recently, these voters demonstrate no strong feelings toward Mayor Calderone. They are either way younger or way older than the average village voter, with renters skewing slightly higher in this segment. In terms of a guiding value for Forest Park, they also want progress but balanced with a sense of stability and diversity.
The undecided voter agrees with the typical Calderone supporter in that business development on Madison and Roosevelt should be the top priority for the next mayor (60% of undecided respondents). Nevertheless, more in line with the Harris camp, they also believe that flooding and high school issues should also rank high in the agenda (nearly 50% each). Also popular among this segment is the freezing of property taxes, a promise being made by Harris. Yet unlike voters who have already made up their mind, the undecided resident doesn’t feel the same urge to participate in local governance.
Calderone has probably lost a significant share of voters who are “very dissatisfied” with the current mayor (16% of survey respondents). They feel strongly about flooding issues and what they see as their voice being ignored by the mayor. Alongside high school improvements, they want more diversity in town. As such, the anti-saggy pants ordinance attempt may have been an electoral debacle for the mayor. Also to consider, the undecided and dissatisfied segments demographically overlap with Harris’ typical voter, being relatively younger and newer to town.
Second only to business promotion as top priority (53%), nearly half (47%) of Calderone voters want the mayor to listen more closely to the population by means of town hall meetings, research, and e–governance before making important decisions. They also want a solution for flooding issues and alley repairs, but are not as concerned with high school issues in town.
Although both candidates are statistically tied (with around 40% of survey participants each), the population of Forest Park tends to see the current mayor in a slightly positive light. Nearly half of survey respondents are satisfied with Mayor Calderone, against a third who are dissatisfied. Harris will thus have to energize dissatisfied residents to go out to vote for him on Election Day, while emphasizing business development, high school, and the property tax freeze in a tone that conveys stability and diversity as desired by the undecided swing voter who may, after all, decide the local elections.