By Jim Turner, The News Service of Florida
TALLAHASSEE — With the general election two months off, post-primary polls indicate Florida’s gubernatorial and U.S. Senate races are close as battles loom for remaining “persuadable voters.”
A poll commissioned by the senior-advocacy group AARP said Gov. Ron DeSantis leads Democratic challenger Charlie Crist by a margin of 50 percent to 47 percent. Republican U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio holds a 49 percent to 47 percent lead over Democrat Val Demings, according to the poll.
The poll was conducted by the Republican-associated firm Fabrizio Ward and the Democrat-linked firm Impact Research. The firms interviewed 1,626 likely Florida voters from Aug. 24 to Aug. 31, the week after the Aug. 23 primary elections.
Pollsters interviewed a statewide representative sample of voters and oversamples of voters ages 50 and older, who according to AARP, made up 62 percent of the electorate in the 2018 mid-term elections.
The results said voters in the 50-plus demographic favored DeSantis by 7 percentage points, with their concerns centered on economics, including Social Security and Medicare.
But some of those 50-plus likely voters have not decided to support either candidate.
In the governor’s race, those remaining “persuadable voters” stood at 11 percent, while it was 19 percent in the Senate race.
In the governor’s race, those voters tend to be more independent, more moderate and more pessimistic about the direction of the state, said Bob Ward, a partner with Fabrizio Ward.
“They’re equally worried about their finances like other voters are,” Ward said. “But if you look at this top issue for governor, the things that pop out: inflation, rising prices, jobs in the economy.”
In the Senate contest, the undecided voters were described as independent, more moderate, yet slightly less conservative.
“There’s an economic angst to these persuadable voters as well,” Ward said.
Still, some candidates are well-known, which could hinder their ability to market themselves to the “persuadables.”
Overall, 51 percent of voters viewed DeSantis favorably, while 47 percent viewed him unfavorably, according to the poll. Crist was at 43 percent favorable and 48 percent unfavorable.
Rubio was at 44 percent favorable and 52 percent unfavorable, while Demings was at 42 percent favorable and 28 percent unfavorable.
While Demings was viewed favorably by 90 percent of Democrats, Ward said “she’s an unwritten story” among Republicans and independents.
“This is an opportunity for Demings to fill that up. It’s also an opportunity for the Rubio campaign to define her,” Ward said.
HAVE WE MENTIONED THE INDEPENDENTS
Separate polling by Pennsylvania-based Susquehanna Polling and Research, which specializes in services for Republican candidates, trade groups, businesses and lobbying outfits, put the governor’s race at 47-43 for DeSantis, with the Senate contest at 47-44 for Rubio.
As with the AARP poll, a key takeaway from Susquehanna’s survey of 500 likely voters was its findings about independents.
Demings was up 41 percent to 32 percent among independents, while Crist was up 36 percent to 31 percent among the group. That could mean more in the Senate race.
A report by Susquehanna said Rubio won independents by 10 percentage points when he defeated Democrat Patrick Murphy in 2016, “so Rubio’s loss of support with this critical swing group could cost him the election if he doesn’t shore up this vote.”
Meanwhile, the Susquehanna report said nearly one in three independents remained undecided in the governor’s race and “could break for DeSantis because 45 percent of independents view DeSantis favorably, while they view Crist more unfavorably (than favorably) by a 39:32 margin.”
Also, in winning the governor’s race four years ago, DeSantis lost the independent vote to Democrat Andrew Gillum by a 54 percent to 44 percent margin.