Republican Marco Rubio, garnering surprising strength among independent voters, holds a double-digit lead over his two chief rivals in Florida's U.S. Senate race, a new Sunshine State News Poll reports.
The survey of likely voters shows Rubio with 43 percent, independent Charlie Crist with 29 percent, Democrat Kendrick Meek with 23 percent and the remaining 5 percent undecided.
The Voter Survey Service poll surveyed 1,016 voters Sept. 1-5 and Sept. 7, and had a margin of error of 3 percent.
The three-way Senate contest is being closely watched nationally as it pits Crist, a well-known governor who bolted the Republican Party, against Rubio, a former Florida House speaker and tea party favorite whose early surge toward the GOP nomination forced Crist to run with No Party Affiliation.
Meek, a four-term congressman from Miami, trails in this and previous polls -- though his 23 percent share represents a slight improvement. The fact that Meek has almost caught Crist adds grist to some campaign watchers' theories that the governor ultimately could come in third.
"Rubios lead at this stage in the race is due to his fairly broad appeal across the political spectrum, primarily among GOP voters and independents, the latter of which is whats really hurting Crist," said Jim Lee, president of VSS.
"Among independents, Rubio even leads Crist narrowly, 38 percent to 36 percent," Lee said. Meek garners just 16 percent of independents.
Rubio captures a solid 70 percent of GOP voters vs. just 21 percent for Crist and 6 percent for Meek, the poll reveals. Among Democrats, Meek won a modest 45 percent of the vote, with Crist at 35 percent and Rubio 14 percent.
"Crist cant win this race if he doesnt peel back some of Rubios support among independents," Lee said. "With only 5 percent of voters remaining undecided, there is not a lot of room to grow for any of the candidates."
Rubio leads among two key groups that are good indications of a strong base:
- Those most likely to vote on Nov. 2 (so-called excellent voters), where he leads the pack of three with 46 percent (Crist 28 percent, Meek 22 percent).
- And 2x voters -- those who voted in both the 2008 and 2006 general elections. "That's considered a reliable indicator of turnout in a year like 2010 when we know turnout will be lower than it was in the last presidential election," Lee said.
Crist and Meek are tied for the lead (34 percent each) among a smaller sub-sampling of respondents who said their chances of voting are merely good or fair." Rubio garnered just 22 percent of this group, which consisted heavily of Democrats, Lee said.
Rubio was back on top with 1x voters who only voted in one of the last two general elections (Rubio 37 percent; Meek and Crist tied at 30 percent).
"This means Crist has a better chance of winning if he can stimulate turnout among presidential-type voters, many of whom presumably support President Barack Obama," Lee said.
But he cautioned, "This will be a difficult task in a year when the presidents popularity is down and therefore his base is not nearly as energized as the opposition GOP party."
Rubio spokesman Alex Burgos said, "Regardless of whether hes been down 30 points, tied or up by double digits, Marco has consistently run on the principles and ideas he believes are necessary to control spending and provide entrepreneurs with the certainty they need to start new businesses or expand existing ones.
"On the other hand, Charlie Crist's life revolves around polls since they dictate what he'll say, do and profess to believe just to win an election," Burgos said Wednesday evening.
Crist spokesman Danny Kanner declined to comment until the poll results are released Thursday.
Meek's campaign did not return a phone call seeking comment.
Geographically, Rubio holds formidable leads in both the North (Rubio 55 percent, Meek 18 percent, Crist 22 percent) and the Central region (Rubio 43 percent, Meek 20 percent, Crist 32 percent), while the race is more competitive in the South (Rubio 36 percent, Meek 31 percent, Crist 28 percent).
Not surprisingly, Crists best region is his home base of the Tampa Bay area, where he polled 37 percent (nearly tied with Rubio at 38 percent). Meeks strongest showing is in the Southeast (35 percent) compared to Rubio's 33 percent and Crist's 29 percent.
Though hailing from Miami, Rubio racked up his biggest lead in the Panhandle, where he garnered 55 percent of the respondents.
During the past six weeks, Sunshine State News Polls have been applauded for their general accuracy. Conducted by Voter Survey Service, Sunshine State News' final gubernatorial poll, taken a week before the Aug. 24 primary, was the only poll to hit the mark, predicting a 2 percentage-point win for Rick Scott. Scott won by 2.9 percent.
Friday's Sunshine State News Poll: The race for governor, Alex Sink vs. Rick Scott.
Contact Kenric Ward at email@example.com or at (772) 801-5341.
This survey was commissioned by Sunshine State News and conducted Sept. 1-5 and Sept. 7 by Voter Survey Service, a division of Pennsylvania-based Susquehanna Polling and Research in Harrisburg. Calls were automated, meaning that voters were contacted using a pre-recorded set of questions instructing voters to complete the survey by pressing their telephone key pads to score their answers; no live interviewers were used. The universe includes a random sample of likely voters from a statewide voter registration list of registered voters who have prior vote history in either the 2008 or 2006 general elections, with most interviews conducted among voters who voted in both elections. A vote-intensity screen was also applied to gauge interest in the upcoming general election, with interviews being exclusively conducted among those who indicated they have an excellent, good or fair chance of voting, while those who indicated their chances of voting were poor were disqualified. Interviews are also monitored to ensure a representative sample of the states voters are interviewed proportionally based on demographics like geographic region, age and gender consistent with what we believe will be the likely voter turnout model on Nov. 2. Results are sometimes statistically weighted to reflect under or over samples within various demographic groups. The margin of error for a sample size of 1,016 interviews is +/- 3.07% at the 95% confidence level, but higher for sub-groups of respondents.