A poll of registered Florida voters from Quinnipiac University released Thursday morning finds former Gov. Charlie Crist, the favorite for the Democratic nomination despite spending most of his political career as a Republican, leading Gov. Rick Scott 46 percent to 38 percent.
Crist led by a similar margin -- 47 percent to 40 percent -- in a November Quinnipiac poll, though he was beating Scott by 16 percent in a survey taken back in March. Last week, Public Policy Polling (PPP), a firm with connections to prominent Democrats, showed the race much closer with Crist leading 43 percent to 41 percent.
The poll shows Scott does better when matched against former state Senate Democratic Leader Nan Rich, beating her 41 percent to 37 percent.
"At least for now, Florida Governor Rick Scott's comeback against his major Democratic challenger, former Governor Charlie Crist, has stalled after considerably narrowing the Crist lead in 2013, said Peter Brown, assistant director of the Quinnipiac University Polling Institute. And on several other measurements, Crist gets higher grades from the Florida electorate.
The poll shows that both candidates overwhelmingly get the support of their party base, but independents break for Crist, 48 percent to 36 percent.
A majority -- 54 percent -- of those surveyed say Scott does not deserve another term compared to 38 percent who say he does. Scott is upside down in the poll with 49 percent disapproving of his job performance and 41 percent approving of it. While 38 percent see Scott as favorable, 45 percent view him as unfavorable.
Crist gets better marks in the poll, with 44 percent seeing him in a favorable light and 35 percent viewing him as unfavorable. A majority of those surveyed -- 53 percent -- approve of Crists term as governor though 36 percent disapprove. The poll shows Democrats are in Crists corner, with 67 percent seeing the former Republican as favorable and 11 percent viewing him as unfavorable.
Rich remains largely unknown, with 7 percent viewing her as favorable, 6 percent as unfavorable and 86 percent not sure about her. Democrats are largely in the dark on Rich, with 84 percent not sure about her, though 12 percent see her as favorable and 4 percent have unfavorable views of her.
"The best number in this poll for Crist -- and the biggest problem for Scott -- is that a majority of Florida voters say the current governor does not deserve a second term in Tallahassee, Brown said. Voters also give Crist a higher job approval for when he ran the state than any approval rating Scott has received in his three years on the job.
Despite the unemployment rate going up to 11.3 percent under Crists watch and dropping to 6.2 percent under Scott, the Democrat does better when it comes to the economy, with 47 percent thinking Crist would do a better job of managing it while 42 percent say Scott would.
"Almost a third of voters say the economy/jobs is the most important issue in the governor's race," Brown said. Most voters are satisfied with the way things are going in the state and more are optimistic than pessimistic about the future, but at this point Governor Scott isn't getting any credit for that good feeling."
More than a quarter -- 29 percent -- of those surveyed say the economy and jobs are the most important issue in Florida while 9 percent say education and 8 percent say health care.
There are signs that voters in Florida are feeling more optimistic about the Sunshine State. A majority of those surveyed -- 54 percent -- say they are satisfied with how Florida is today, while 46 percent express dissatisfaction. While 37 percent think 2014 will be better for their families than 2013, 13 percent say worse; the rest expect it to stay the same. While 50 percent think things in Florida are not so good or poor, 47 percent say good or excellent.
Crist also does better than Scott in other areas. Asked about who would do a better job on protecting the middle class, voters break for Crist, 49 percent to 36 percent. A similar margin -- 48 percent to 36 percent -- think Crist would do a better job on health care, though he does slightly better on education, 49 percent to 35 percent. While 36 percent think Scott is more honest and trustworthy, 44 percent think Crist does better on that front. Scott does much better when voters are asked who is a better leader, with the two candidates knotted up at 43 percent each.
The poll finds around a third of voters -- 34 percent -- approve of the Legislature while 49 percent disapprove. A majority of Republicans -- 54 percent -- approve of the GOP-run Legislature, though 34 percent disapprove. Democrats break the other way, with 65 percent disapproving and 22 percent approving of the Legislature. While 49 percent of independents disapprove of the Legislature, 30 percent approve of it.
Both of Floridas two U.S. senators do well in the poll. A majority of those surveyed -- 52 percent -- approve of U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., and 37 percent disapprove. U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla., also gets strong marks, with 48 percent approving and 30 percent disapproving.
A strong majority -- 73 percent -- want to raise the minimum wage, currently $7.93, in Florida, while 24 percent oppose the idea. Though 43 percent say raising the minimum wage will lead to businesses cutting jobs, 51 percent disagree. Majorities across the political spectrum support raising the minimum wage, with 93 percent of Democrats, 74 percent of independents and 53 percent of Republicans backing the proposal. President Barack Obama called for raising the federal minimum wage in his State of the Union address Tuesday night and encouraged states to raise their minimum wages. Crist told the media on Wednesday he supported raising it to $10.10 an hour.
The poll of 1,565 registered voters was taken from Jan. 22-27 and had a margin of error of +/- 2.5 percent.
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