Gov. Rick Scott gains ground in new statewide poll, but still trails former Gov. Charlie Crist

Gov. Rick Scott is more popular, according to a new poll by Quinnipiac University, but 50 percent of voters say he doesn’t deserve to be re-elected and that he would lose handily to former Gov. Charlie Crist if the 2014 election were today.

Scott’s standing with the public has been so persistently grim that any improvement looks like a breakthrough. His approval rating cracked 40 percent for the first time in the latest poll — 43 percent of voters approve of his handling of his job, 44 percent disapprove.

For Scott, that’s progress. In the previous Quinnipiac poll in mid-March, 36 percent of voters approved of his performance and 49 percent disapproved. But Scott had a productive legislative session highlighted by a pay raise for teachers and increased spending for schools.

Peter Brown, assistant director of the Quinnipiac University Polling Institute, said it’s not clear whether the new numbers show Scott permanently gaining popularity as he seeks a new term or are a one-time aberration.

Quinnipiac surveyed 1,176 registered voters from June 11-16. The statewide poll has a margin of error of plus or minus 2.9 percentage points.

Still one of America’s most unpopular governors, Scott trails Crist 47 percent to 37 percent in a face-off between the Republican governor and his possible Democratic rival.

Crist has a 19-point advantage over Scott among women voters (51-32 percent).

The percentage of voters who have a favorable view of Scott is 40 percent, the highest since he took office nearly two-and-a-half years ago and up from 33 percent in the previous poll in March.

Crist, who served one term as governor from 2007-11 and lost a U.S. Senate bid in 2010, is viewed favorably by 48 percent of voters and unfavorably by 31 percent — virtually unchanged from March. The percentage of voters who approve of Crist crossing party lines from Republican to independent to Democrat has decreased slightly since March, from 50 percent to 47 percent.

Brown said that if Crist is the Democratic nominee, Scott “won’t win” unless he can convince a majority of voters that Crist’s switching was wrong.

But the poll suggests Scott’s biggest problem is still himself.

Voters by a margin of 50 percent to 35 percent say Scott does not deserve to be re-elected, but even that’s an improvement over the March poll, when 55 percent said he did not deserve a second term.

The poll also shows that U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson would defeat Scott 48 percent to 38 percent, but that Scott would defeat former Senate Democratic leader Nan Rich, 42 percent to 36 percent. Rich, an announced Democratic candidate for governor, is not known by 84 percent of voters.

The poll did not ask voters about Alex Sink, the Democrats’ 2010 nominee for governor.

Scott travels the state extensively and takes credit for improvements in Florida’s economy, and the poll suggests that message is starting to get through to voters.

Pollster Brown said Scott’s improved poll numbers likely is a reflection of Florida’s improving economic condition.

“Good economies help incumbents,” Brown said.

Contact Steve Bousquet at