After trailing in polls, Democrat Charlie Crist is marginally leading Gov. Rick Scott in two new surveys that show the governor’s race will be as close as they come.
The polls from SurveyUSA and a new Republican data-analysis firm named 0ptimus show Crist, respectively, ahead by 6 percentage points and 1 percentage point — leads that are both within the margins of error.
The apparent trend in Crist’s favor dovetails with his campaign’s decision to ramp up its ad spending statewide to counteract the effectiveness of Scott’s longer and larger media blitz.
As of Friday, Scott still led Crist in overall spending, dropping $41 million to the Democrat’s $16.7 million on current and future ads.
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“The story here is these guys have been spending a ton of money,” said Scott Tranter, an analyst with Washington-based 0ptimus. “But the only guy who’s seeing any movement here is Charlie Crist.”
The 0ptimus poll of 3,356 likely voters — that ended Sunday — showed Crist garnering 41.1 percent of the vote to Scott’s 40.1 percent. Libertarian Adrian Wyllie is backed by 11.1 percent.
In late August, the 0ptimus poll indicated Scott led Crist by 41.6 to 38.6 percent.
SurveyUSA, which has conducted governor’s race polls since April on behalf of WFLA-TV in Tampa, released a poll at the same time as 0ptimus that showed Crist ahead 46-40 percent. In mid-September, SurveyUSA had Scott leading Crist 44-39 percent.
Meanwhile, Quinnipiac University released a survey last week showing Scott ahead of Crist 46-44 percent. That lead, too, was within the error margin of the poll.
Unlike prior surveys, polls released this month take on added importance because they will start to capture voters who are casting absentee ballots by mail, starting this week for some.
At 0ptimus, Tranter and his partner, Brian Stobie, said the firm has been tracking the polling of the race as well as the amount and types of ads that the candidates are running. And, they say, they have noticed that Scott — who was heavily negative for months — started running positive spots in each of Florida’s 10 major media markets for the first time two weeks ago.
Crist last week started running more positive spots as well, but his message is overwhelmingly negative, too.
0ptimus, which shared its polling data with the Miami Herald and Tampa Bay Times, has extensively surveyed the race for each of nine weeks by using what are known as robo-polls, where voters respond to pre-recorded questions by pushing corresponding phone buttons.
SurveyUSA, also a robo-pollster, uses different methods of identifying likely voters and surveying them than 0ptimus. SurveyUSA’s error margin is 4.1 percentage points and 0ptimus’ is 1.7 percentage points.
So both essentially show a tie race that still indicates more advantages, in the short term, for Crist. And both seem to agree with what SurveyUSA said of the race when it released its poll this week online: “Any outcome is possible in the 2014 Florida Governor's contest.”