Broad Agreement Emerges on Addressing Careless Driving


ST. LEO, FL – A recent Saint Leo University Polling Institute ( survey that explores policy changes Floridians will have to consider—or adapt to—in 2020 finds widespread support for stronger traffic safety laws. On the other hand, opinions are split in statewide conversations about making it easier for ex-felons to regain voting rights, among matters of fundamental concern.

Frank Orlando, director of the Saint Leo University Polling Institute and a political scientist, said that “2020 seems to be shaping up as a big year in Florida. The sponsors of new initiatives are hoping to capitalize on expected elevated turnout at the polls come next November for the presidential election.”

In all, the Saint Leo University Polling Institute tested the acceptability of seven state policy positions with 500 Floridians from November 13 through November 18. Respondents were asked to say whether they strongly support, somewhat support, somewhat oppose, strongly oppose each policy, or whether they were unsure. The results reported have a margin of error of plus or minus 4.5 percentage points.

The survey questions did not specify whether each policy presented has already been enacted by the Florida Legislature, whether it is simply being discussed widely, or whether it could appear on the November 2020 ballot for direct consideration by voters. Ballot initiatives in Florida must receive favorable votes from 60 percent of votes cast in order to become law.

Driving laws

The first policy described in the chart below is a proposal that is expected to be considered by the Florida Legislature in 2020. Although it is already illegal for a motorist driving on an undivided highway to pass a school bus (as well as for drivers on a divided highway and behind a bus), parents have complained that some bad drivers pass anyway and imperil the lives of children leaving the buses and sometimes also crossing the road. Advocates say higher fines should be imposed to deter violators. Of those taking this survey, 19 percent say they currently have children in Florida public schools.

The second policy is already law and went into effect October 1, but police are not expected to start issuing citations until January 1, 2020.

Policy described Strongly & somewhat support combined % Strongly & somewhat oppose combined % Unsure %
Increasing fines/penalties
for passing school buses
with red lights flashing
55.4 – strongly
26.0 – somewhat
4.2 – strongly
6.4. – somewhat
Law against hand-held cell phone use in school and construction zones 64.2
37.6 – strongly
26.6 – somewhat
8.2 – strongly
15.0 – somewhat


“People seem to be willing to support laws that penalize poor driving,” Orlando said. “From a psychological standpoint, it’s not a surprise that voters assume that the drivers where they live are bad, and that it is never their own fault.”

Arming classroom teachers

Florida law now allows its 67 county-based school districts to implement policies to train classroom teachers to carry guns—if the teachers volunteer to do so. The districts do not have to adopt this particular policy, though, and most have not. According to press reports from earlier this year, only seven counties, all rural, were proceeding with the option of training teachers to carry firearms.

The survey asked respondents across the state what they would prefer in their home counties. (The survey sample included respondents from across in amounts representative of the actual population.) In looking at the 500 responses in total, a sharp divide is apparent, as in a previous survey.

Policy described Strongly & somewhat support combined % Strongly & somewhat oppose combined % Unsure
Allowing teachers to carry
firearms in the classroom
in your own Florida county
18.8 – strongly
22.8 – somewhat
31.2 – strongly
18.8 – somewhat


On a more regional basis, however, some clearer majority preferences emerged. For instance, survey respondents from 16 counties in the northwest part of the state show that 60 percent strongly or somewhat support allowing trained classroom teachers to carry firearms. That area (designated Florida’s Northwest District by the Florida Association of City Clerks) includes Bay County, home to Panama City in the Florida Panhandle, which is one of the seven school districts to move ahead with the option of offering training to teachers.

In the 17-county Northeast District, though, only 48 percent of respondents overall strongly or somewhat support the allowing teachers to carry firearms in the classroom. That result may be influenced by the presence of Duval County, home to the city of Jacksonville; Duval County schools do not support arming teachers. Other nearby rural counties in the same geographic district said they were proceeding with the firearms training program for teachers earlier this year: Gilchrist, Lafayette, Putnam, and Suwannee.

The way individual counties move forward “could be an interesting experiment in state and local governance,” Orlando said. “Larger counties in Florida tend to be more Democratic, but smaller, more Republican counties will have the chance to test the system for themselves.”

The other two county school districts that were reported to be moving forward with the training for arming teachers are Republican-leaning Okeechobee (inland and north of Palm Beach) and Levy (on the central Gulf Coast) counties.

Voting rights for most released ex-felons

Voters in 2018 passed a ballot initiative, Amendment 4, to restore the voting rights of most felons “after they complete all terms of their sentence including parole or probation,” an estimated 1.5 million people. However, Governor Ron DeSantis opposed the amendment and in 2019 signed a bill passed by the Republican-controlled Florida Legislature that stipulates felons must also pay all fines, fees, and restitution ordered in their cases by the court. There was significant debate and commentary on what the correct policy should be, so the polling institute asked survey respondents their opinions on the matter.

Policy described Strongly & somewhat support combined % Strongly & somewhat oppose combined % Unsure
Allowing most released felons to
vote even if they cannot pay
fines/fees from their sentences
26.6 – strongly
22.4 ­– somewhat
24.0 – strongly
16.8 – somewhat


“While there is a split here,” Orlando said, “the Florida public seems to continue to favor expanding voting rights to a greater number of citizens without stipulations.”

Marijuana possession

If proponents have their way, this proposal for limited legalization of marijuana may appear on the Florida ballot in November 2020 for consideration as a constitutional amendment.

Policy described Strongly & somewhat support combined % Strongly & somewhat oppose combined % Unsure
Legalizing possession of
up to one ounce of marijuana by residents 21 years of
age or older
35.8 – strongly
23.2 – somewhat
20.2 – strongly
11.2 – somewhat


Advocates say this measure would essentially regulate personal marijuana usage in the same way alcohol is regulated—as available to adults. But Florida Attorney General Ashley Moody has said that other permissions are also discussed in the current language, covering cultivation and licensing, and, in fact, too many related topics are packed into the language for voters to know exactly what they would be voting on in this proposal. She will make arguments to this effect before the Florida Supreme Court.

Change in language describing citizenship requirement for voting

Some want to see this exact language below used in the Florida Constitution to establish who in the state may lawfully vote. This proposal could be on the ballot for the November 2020 election.

In practical terms, Florida already states that one must be a citizen to vote. The difference is the use of the word “only,” as the current law says “every citizen” of the United States who meets residency and age requirements in Florida can vote in the county where the citizen is registered. That has led some skeptics to wonder if this proposal is actually a means of inspiring fear of immigration by raising concerns that some people are voting without the legal right to do so. Advocates, however, have pointed out that some U.S. cities allow non-citizens to vote in local elections. By contrast, they say they want Florida to set a standard now that makes it clearer that people living in the state without citizenship will not be able to vote in any election held in Florida.

Policy (wording) described Strongly & somewhat support combined  Strongly & somewhat oppose combined % Unsure
Allowing only U.S. citizens to vote in federal, state, local or school elections in within Florida 80.4
59.6 – strongly
20.8 – somewhat
5.2 – strongly
5.2 – somewhat


“Despite the relative minor change in language,” Orlando said, “this amendment seems to be in great shape to receive broad support. Those who are familiar with the issue want to make it more difficult to roll back this rule in the future, whereas those only casually reading the amendment seem to see it as common sense.”

State minimum wage

Another initiative that appears headed for the ballot in the November 2020 election would gradually raise the minimum wage in Florida.

The current state minimum was is $8.46 an hour. (The federal minimum wage is currently $7.25, but a worker is entitled to the higher of the two under federal labor rules. Not all employees must be paid at least a minimum wage; there are exceptions.)

Policy described Strongly & somewhat support combined % Strongly & somewhat oppose combined % Unsure
Increasing the minimum
wage to $15 by 2026
41.8 – strongly
21.4 – somewhat
12.0 – strongly
14.2 – somewhat


Supporters of this measure contend that the current minimum pay amount is not a livable wage, and that 200,000 Floridians affected should be better compensated. Opponents include industry groups whose members include hospitality businesses. They are on the record as saying that an increase like this would not be financially possible for them, and it would force them to reduce the numbers of people they employ, or cut the weekly working hours of some employees, or even both.

About the Poll

METHODOLOGY: This national survey was conducted from November 13 through November 18, 2019, among a base of 500 respondents statewide, using an online instrument. The sample has an associated margin of error of +/- 4.5 percent at a 95 percent confidence level.

The Saint Leo University Polling Institute conducts its surveys using cutting-edge online methodology, which is rapidly transforming the field of survey research. The sample is drawn from large online panels, which allow for random selections that reflect accurate cross sections of all demographic groups. Online methodology has the additional advantage of allowing participants to respond to the survey at a time, place, and speed that is convenient to them, which may result in more thoughtful answers. The Saint Leo University Polling Institute develops the questionnaires, administers the surveys, and conducts analysis of the results. Panel participants typically receive a token incentive—usually $1 deposited into an iTunes or Amazon account—for their participation.

The Saint Leo University Polling Institute survey results about national and Florida politics, public policy issues, Pope Francis’ popularity, and other topics, can also be found here: You can also follow the institute on Twitter @saintleopolls.

Media contacts: Jo-Ann Johnston, Saint Leo University, University Communications or (352) 467-0843 (cell/text).

Mary McCoy, Saint Leo University, University Communications or (352) 588-7118 or (813) 610-8416 (cell/text).

About Saint Leo University

Saint Leo University is one of the largest Catholic universities in the nation, offering nearly 60 undergraduate and graduate-level degree programs to more than 19,500 students each year. Founded in 1889 by Benedictine monks, the private, nonprofit university is known for providing a values-based education to learners of all backgrounds and ages in the liberal arts tradition. Saint Leo is regionally accredited and offers a residential campus in the Tampa Bay region of Florida, 32 education centers in seven states, and an online program for students anywhere. The university is home to more than 95,000 alumni. Learn more at