• Saint Leo University

Scott Edges Out Nelson for Florida Senate Seat in New Poll

The most recent Florida state survey conducted by the Saint Leo University Polling Institute (http://polls.saintleo.edu) found that if current Republican Gov. Rick Scott faced incumbent Democratic U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson in an electoral contest now for Nelson’s seat, Scott would win by a margin of more than 6 percentage points.

The Saint Leo poll results found 41.6 percent of 500 Florida respondents would favor Scott, compared to 35.2 percent for Nelson. The results were gathered online from February 18 through February 24, using a survey instrument that collects answers from Republicans, Democrats, and unaffiliated voters.

The results matter to those anticipating that Scott will be the GOP nominee to challenge Nelson in the actual election in November. Scott will complete his second term as governor at the end of 2018 and cannot seek that office again because of term limits. The U.S. Senate seat, with its six-year term, is a highly desirable seat for both Democrats and Republicans.

Also, 14.6 percent of respondents said they were undecided, and 8.6 said they prefer someone else to choose.

As for the broader survey base of people from all groups in Florida, when asked to rate the job Scott is doing as governor of Florida, 60 percent rated his work positively. That reflects the sum of those who rated Scott very favorably (27.4 percent) or somewhat favorably (32.6 percent). His unfavorable ratings, by contrast, totaled 34.4 percent, including those who selected as an answer somewhat unfavorably (17.6 percent) and not at all favorably (16.8 percent). Only 5.6 percent said they were unsure.

Frank Orlando, director of the Saint Leo University Polling Institute, said: “It's no surprise that Rick Scott is doing so well in a head-to-head poll at this moment, given how popular he is in the state. As we get closer to the election however, Bill Nelson and the Democratic Party will attempt to tie Rick Scott with Donald Trump and nationalize the race. Scott is more popular than Trump in the state, so the question will be if he can run as his own man or be weighed down by the top of the Republican Party."

Governor’s Race

Another important electoral choice coming in November for Floridians is the governor to succeed Scott. Interested candidates are trying to gain the support of their party’s voters to win the primary election on August 28.

When Republican voters were asked to select from a range of possible candidates to run for governor, the most popular answer was “unsure/don’t know” with 46.3 percent. Current Florida Commissioner of Agriculture Adam Putnam was in second place with 15.4 percent of responses. Congressman Ron DeSantis from Florida’s east coast, who is the candidate favored by President Donald J. Trump, appeared in 13.7 percent of responses. Current Florida House Speaker Richard Corcoran is also a possible candidate, and was selected by 7.4 percent of respondents.

Orlando, who also teaches political science at Saint Leo University, said that until the current state legislative session ends, “the focus won't be completely on this race. Putnam seems to have a very slight early advantage, but DeSantis is hoping to tap into the Trump vote on the way to the nomination.”

On the Democratic side, when respondents were asked to choose which candidate they would favor in their party’s primary for governor, 49.5 said they were unsure or didn’t know. The second highest response went to former Congresswoman Gwen Graham at 16.8 percent, followed by Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum at 10 percent. Other Democrats registered responses only in the single digits.

"Gwen Graham has the name ID advantage,” Orlando commented, “but Gillum and Philip Levine from Miami Beach are working to close the name ID gap, with Levine in particular blanketing the state in advertisements.” Levine was mayor of Miami Beach through 2017; he was selected by 8.4 percent of the Democratic respondents.

The survey asked all Florida respondents whom they would choose for governor if the candidates were Putnam on the Republican side and Graham on the Democratic. Uncertainty persisted as 45.2 percent said they did not know or were unsure. Putnam had 22.4 percent; Graham was selected by 18 percent. Another 14.4 percent said they wanted someone else.

"It's tough to tell a lot from the early head-to-head results, other than voters still have not given their full attention to the race," Orlando said.

About the Poll

METHODOLOGY: The poll sampled opinions of 500 Florida respondents. The survey was conducted February 18 through February 24, 2018. All surveys were conducted using an online survey instrument. The poll has a +/- 4.5 percent margin of error at a 95 percent confidence level on a composite basis.

The Saint Leo University Polling Institute conducts its surveys using cutting-edge online methodology, which is rapidly transforming the field of survey research. The sample is drawn from large online panels, which allow for random selections that reflect accurate cross sections of all demographic groups. Online methodology has the additional advantage of allowing participants to respond to the survey at a time, place, and speed that is convenient to them, which may result in more thoughtful answers. The Saint Leo University Polling Institute develops the questionnaires, administers the surveys, and conducts analysis of the results. Panel participants typically receive a token incentive—usually $1 deposited into an iTunes or Amazon account—for their participation.

The Saint Leo University Polling Institute survey results about national and Florida politics, public policy issues, Pope Francis’ popularity, and other topics, can also be found here: http://polls.saintleo.edu. You can also follow the institute on Twitter @saintleopolls.


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