Dueling polls show race between Rick Scott and Charlie Crist could be closest ever in FL

Former Florida Gov. Charlie Crist, left, and incumbent Rick Scott.
Former Florida Gov. Charlie Crist, left, and incumbent Rick Scott. Miami

Gov. Rick Scott is winning reelection by about 2 percentage points in a major new poll exclusively shared with The Miami Herald.

Democrat Charlie Crist is winning by 3 percentage points in Quinnipiac University’s new poll.

Which survey is right?

Both are.

The results rest within each poll’s margin of error, meaning the race is essentially a tie — regardless of the poll. Every other major survey shows that. And it looks like it will stay a squeaker through Election Day, Nov. 4.

“This race is closer than we thought George Bush vs. Al Gore was before the 2000 elections,” SEA pollster Tom Eldon said, referring to the 537-vote margin that made Bush president after 37 days of disputed results, court challenges and ballot reviews.

So Tuesday is going to be a long night?

“You’re potentially talking about a long month,” Eldon said.

Another Thursday poll, conducted by UF Graham Center for the Tampa Bay Times and its news partners, showed Crist and Scott tied exactly at 36 percent.

In SEA’s poll of 1,300 likely Florida voters conducted over the past three days, Scott’s 46-44 percent lead is well within the survey’s 2.7 percentage-point margin of error.

Though a Democratic-leaning firm, SEA has a reputation of performing some of Florida’s most-accurate polling and was chartered to conduct this survey on behalf of Florida business interests that shared the results with the Miami Herald.

A Quinnipiac University poll, which uses different polling techniques than SEA, showed Crist ahead 43-40 percent over Scott, a lead well within the 817-respondent survey’s 3.4 percentage-point error margin. The Quinnipiac poll was released Thursday, too.

Last week, Quinnipiac surveyed the governor’s race and found it dead even between Crist and Scott, with each getting 42 percent.

So the contest has shifted a net 3 percentage points in Crist’s favor or a net 5 points compared to Quinnipiac’s September survey that showed Scott with a negligible lead.

Boosting Crist: the strong support of self-identified independents, who favor the Democrat over Scott by a spread of 47-29 percent.

“Independent voters are often the difference in swing states like Florida, but the size of former Gov. Charlie Crist’s lead among them is truly remarkable,” Peter A. Brown, assistant director of the Quinnipiac University Poll, said in a written statement.

Crist’s advantage with independents in Quinnipiac’s poll is also somewhat of an outlier; no other major publicly released survey has shown such an advantage.

In Quinnipiac’s survey, Scott led Crist among Republicans 81-8 percent; Crist led Scott among Democrats 83-7 percent.

Quinnipiac found Libertarian Adrian Wyllie drawing 8 percent of the overall vote and SEA had Wyllie at 5 percent. Quinnipiac’s survey suggests Wyllie is pulling a few more voters away from Crist than Scott.

In Eldon’s survey, Scott and Crist get about equal amounts of their base voters; with the Republican drawing 86 percent support from Republicans and the Democrat 83 percent from Democrats. Scott and Crist each get 9 percent support from voters of the other party.

Crist is leading Scott 38-33 percent among no-party-affiliation and third-party voters in SEA’s survey.

This poll shows Scott is viewed more favorably by the electorate, relatively speaking, than President Barack Obama or Crist.

The governor is viewed favorably by 49 percent and unfavorably by 47 percent. Crist’s favorable-unfavorable numbers: 45-51 percent. Obama’s numbers: 48-50 percent.

Quinnipiac found slightly different results, with Crist’s favorable-unfavorable numbers tied at 45 percent and Scott’s numbers in worse shape: 41-46 percent.

Basically, no one is liked very much. And, as noted earlier, all the polling and ballot numbers make this look like a squeaker of a race.

Crist used to be viewed much more favorably. But then Scott in March embarked on a mammoth $70 million TV ad campaign. Much of Scott’s ads have been devoted to trashing Crist, though the Republican has called the Democrat a “mudslinger.”

And, indeed, Crist has thrown mud. But he and his allies have less money for slinging; they’ve spent about $35 million on ads, much of it savaging Scott.

Also aiding Scott somewhat is the condition of the state’s economy, according to SEA: 40 percent say it’s heading in the right direction; 31 percent in the wrong direction and 20 percent say it’s mixed. As for Scott’s job performance, 51 percent approve and 44 percent disapprove.

SEA’s poll shows Scott’s fellow Republican incumbents are enjoying far easier elections.

Attorney General Pam Bondi leads Democrat George Sheldon by 14 percentage points

Florida Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater leads Democrat William Rankin by 12. Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam leads Democrat Thaddeus Hamilton by 9.

Florida’s proposed medical-marijuana constitutional amendment is struggling. Though it gets 57 percent support — that’s 3 points short of the 60 percent needed to pass. However, if the undecided voters stay home and the relative support levels remain, the amendment will likely pass.

Quinnipiac didn’t survey the Florida Cabinet races or medical marijuana.

A major difference between Quinnipiac and SEA is the way in which they identify respondents.

Quinnipiac called thousands of Floridians who self-identify their party affiliation and their likelihood to vote. About 33 percent identified as Republicans; 31 percent as Democrats; 27 percent as independents. Many of those independents are likely registered Democrats and Republicans.

SEA called thousands of pre-identified Florida voters from a list if they had voted in two of the past three elections. The respondents then self-identified their likelihood of casting a ballot. About 43 percent were Republicans; 41 percent as Democrats and 16 percent as independents.

But regardless of the difference in technique, both polls essentially show the same thing: a tie.

Amid all the polling, Floridians are voting.

As of Wednesday morning, more than 2.2 million ballots had been cast either by absentee or in-person early ballot. Republicans had a lead over Democrats of 141,000 ballots cast, 45-38 percent. No-party and third-party voters, typically referred to as independents, had cast about 17 percent of the ballots.

While Republicans have the lead in pre-Election Day ballots, Democrats have a bigger pool of voters from which to draw.

They lead Republicans by about 455,000 registered voters. Despite the Democratic edge over Republicans in the raw number of voters, though, Democrats tend to disproportionately stay home in mid-term elections, hence the slight edge among Republican respondents in the polls. About 6 million Floridians are expected to vote in this year’s election.

Put all the poll percentages, voter registration figures and early ballot numbers together and, Eldon says, it’s clear this won’t be a cakewalk for anybody.

“We’ve probably never seen a race this tight heading into Election Day,” Eldon said. “The polls weren’t even like this in 2000.”

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