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Polls: Clinton, Trump Hold Strong Leads Among Likely Florida Primary Voters

Scott Olson
Getty Images/ NPR

Buoyed by support from women and older voters, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton holds a comfortable lead over Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders in the Democratic presidential primary in Florida, a new poll shows.

The Quinnipiac University poll, released Friday morning, found that Clinton leads Sanders by a margin of 59 percent to 33 percent among likely Florida Democratic voters. The new numbers come less than three weeks before Florida's March 15 presidential primaries.

"This has been a turbulent political year, but the Florida Democratic primary looks like a blowout,'' Peter A. Brown, assistant director of the Quinnipiac University Poll, said in a prepared statement released with the poll results. "With her 26-point lead over Sen. Bernie Sanders, Secretary Hillary Clinton would have to undergo a political meltdown of historic proportions to lose this contest."

At the same time, GOP presidential front-runner Donald Trump is outstripping U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio among Republican voters in Rubio's home state, according to a poll released Thursday.

The New York real-estate mogul holds a commanding 44-28 percent lead over Rubio among likely GOP primary voters, the Quinnipiac University poll found. U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas came in third with 12 percent, followed by Ohio Gov. John Kasich with 7 percent and physician Ben Carson with 4 percent.

Credit Ethan Miller / Getty Images/ NPR
Getty Images/ NPR
Trump greets supporters in Las Vegas.

With 99 delegates in the March 15 winner-take-all GOP primary, Florida is "the single biggest prize of the primary season," Brown says.

"If Sen. Rubio can't win in his own home state, it is difficult to see how he can win elsewhere,” Brown said in a prepared statement accompanying the survey results Thursday morning.

Clinton edged Sanders in early Democratic contests in Iowa and Nevada and lost in New Hampshire. But Brown drew a distinction between running in those states and competing in Florida, with its large population and major media markets.

"Yes, Sen. Sanders has made up ground in earlier contests, but they were smaller states," Brown said. "Florida is the third most populous state. The type of grass roots organizing that stood Sanders in good stead in Iowa and New Hampshire just isn't doable in mega-state Florida where TV commercials are the coin of the realm."

The poll showed dramatic differences in support for the candidates based on age and gender.

Sanders, who has energized young voters and small donors, leads Clinton by a margin of 51 percent to 39 percent among voters ages 18 to 44.

But Clinton, a former First Lady, New York senator and secretary of state, leads by a margin of 64 percent to 28 percent among voters ages 45 to 64. The gap is even wider among voters who are 65 or older, with Clinton leading by a margin of 73 percent to 21 percent.

Female voters also give a huge edge to Clinton, who is seeking to become the first woman elected to the White House. Clinton leads 69 percent to 24 percent among Democratic women, while Sanders leads by a margin of 47 percent to 43 percent among men, the poll shows.

The poll of 476 likely voters has a margin of error of 4.5 percentage points.

The poll of Republican voters was conducted after former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush dropped out of the race. Supporters of Bush — considered an "establishment" candidate —  are under pressure to endorse Rubio and shun Trump, an outspoken populist who has never been elected to office and is running as an outsider.

Trump outshines his GOP opponents on almost every measure, according to the poll. Republican primary voters of all ages favor Trump, along with voters who identify with the Tea Party. Men back Trump over Rubio 49-25 percent, while women favor Trump by 39-31 percent, the poll found.

Two-thirds of likely GOP primary voters who most want a candidate with strong leadership prefer the brash real-estate mogul, compared to 16 percent for Rubio.

Trump, who has taken positions such as banning Muslims from entering the country and building a wall on the Mexican border, does twice as well among white evangelicals as Cruz, who has been courting that constituency.

Rubio, however, leads Trump 39-29 percent among Republicans who most want someone who shares their values. Voters who want a candidate who is honest and trustworthy are split 30-30 percent between the pair.

Among GOP voters who care most about the economy and jobs, Trump overrides Rubio by 23 percentage points. Trump outshines Rubio by 10 percentage points among voters who cite terrorism as the most important issue and by 54 percentage points among those who say immigration is most important.

And the poll found Trump's negative ratings in Florida are low, with just 21 percent of likely Republican voters saying they would "definitely not support" the part-time Palm Beach County resident for the nomination, with 26 percent saying no to Cruz and 17 percent rejecting Rubio.

The Connecticut-based Quinnipiac frequently conducts polls in Florida and other states. The survey of 705 likely Florida Republican primary voters had a margin of error of 3.7 percentage points.

© 2016 The News Service of Florida. All rights reserved.

Jim Saunders is the Executive Editor of The News Service Of Florida.
Dara Kam is the Senior Reporter of The News Service Of Florida.