Florida Politics

Senate race between Rick Scott and Bill Nelson appears to be a virtual tie

Florida Gov. Rick Scott and U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson
Florida Gov. Rick Scott and U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson

Nearly a year out from an expected matchup between Democrat U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson and Republican Gov. Rick Scott for the U.S. Senate, a new poll shows the race appears to be a virtual tie, with non-partisans leaning toward Nelson.

The survey of registered voters expected to vote in November 2018 found that 37 percent say they plan to vote for Nelson in what may be one of the most high-profile races in the nation, while 36 percent plan to vote for Scott, the termed-out governor who is expected to challenge the three-term incumbent.

Not everyone is watching, however. Pollsters found that 20 percent of voters surveyed Oct. 11 through 17 don’t know whom their choice will be.

“Like most statewide races in Florida, the Senate race between Nelson and Scott is going to be too close to call all the way until Election Day,” said Michael Binder, faculty director of the Public Opinion Research Lab at UNF.

Voter intensity among party affiliates is nearly tied, with 66 percent of registered Democrats saying they would vote for Nelson, and 68 percent of the registered Republicans saying they would vote for Scott. But when it comes to nonparty affiliated voters and other partisans, Nelson has the edge with 32 percent leaning toward him, compared to the 28 percent leaning toward Scott.

Scott, who is coming off widespread television exposure from Hurricane Irma, appears to have the edge when it comes to job approval ratings, however.

He received a favorable job approval rating from 59 percent of voters surveyed, while 28 percent disapprove of his job performance. That is a reversal from February when Scott, who has spent nearly all of his seven years in public office with job approval ratings below 50 percent, had a favorability rating of only 46 percent.

By contrast, Nelson received a favorable approval rating of 35 percent from those surveyed, down from 42 percent in February. While voters appear to know less about the job Nelson is doing, only 15 percent disapprove.

“The one major concern for Democrats has to be the public’s lack of awareness of Nelson,” Binder said. “When a three-term sitting U.S. senator has almost half of the sample unable to assess his job approval, you have a problem.”

Florida is also deeply divided over the job President Donald Trump is doing.

While 59 percent of those surveyed strongly or somewhat disapprove of how Trump is handling his job, only 37 percent approve. But the divide lies between parties as the vast majority of registered Democrats — 91 percent — disapprove, while 72 percent of Republicans approve of Trump’s job performance. Voters with no party affiliation, however, disapprove of the job the president is doing by 63 percent, with only 33 percent approving.

“Donald Trump is just as divisive in Florida as he is across the rest of the country, but as long as he maintains support from Republicans, I wouldn’t expect any major changes in his administration,” Binder said.

The poll of 834 registered voters was conducted Oct. 11 through Oct.17 by live callers via the telephone and in English and Spanish.

Voters were also asked to express their opinions about Confederate statues. While only 40 percent of respondents believe the statues should remain in place, the divide was greatest along party lines. Sixty-six percent of registered Republicans said they believe the statues should stay, while 76 percent of Democrats said they should be moved to museums or moved completely.

“Floridians should take note of the partisan divisions on this issue,” Binder said. “Republicans dominate the Legislature, and the Republican voters don’t want the statues moved; this presents a real dilemma for legislators facing public pressure to do something about this issue.”