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Governor and Senate races tight, but many voters undecided

Crist Jax.jpg
Will Brown
Jacksonville Today
Charlie Crist, the Democratic nominee for governor, speaks Wednesday, Sept. 7, 2022, in Jacksonville

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% to 47%. Republican U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio holds a 49% to 47% 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% 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%, while it was 19% in the Senate 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% of voters viewed DeSantis favorably, while 47% viewed him unfavorably, according to the poll. Crist was at 43% favorable and 48% unfavorable.

Rubio was at 44% favorable and 52% unfavorable, while Demings was at 42% favorable and 28% unfavorable.

While Demings was viewed favorably by 90% 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.

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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% to 32% among independents, while Crist was up 36% to 31% 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% of independents view DeSantis favorably, while they view Crist more unfavorably (than favorably) by a 39:32 margin.”

In winning the governor’s race four years ago, DeSantis lost the independent vote to Democrat Andrew Gillum by a 54% to 44% margin.