• Nearly one-third strongly disapprove of his job performance
  • Reviews mixed on handling of school openings; restaurant and bar re-openings

ST. LEO, FL – Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, who has previously enjoyed job-approval ratings of greater than 60 percent in the Saint Leo University Polling Institute (polls.saintleo.edu) surveys, slid 16 percentage points in the esteem of Floridians between February and October.

The most recent survey was conducted online among 500 Floridians between September 27 and October 2, 2020, and shows 50.4 percent of those surveyed either strongly approve (28.4 percent) or somewhat approve (22 percent) of his job performance. By contrast in February 2020, before COVID-19 closures, the Republican governor and ally of President Donald J. Trump had an overall approval rating of 66.4 percent. His highest job-approval rating in the Saint Leo University survey was recorded in November 2019 at 68.2 percent. Until now, in fact, his approval ratings since his inauguration in early 2019 have all been higher than 60 percent.

The governor’s negative numbers in the most recent polling institute survey included nearly one-third, or 32.8 percent, who strongly disapprove of his job performance, and 13 percent who somewhat disapprove. Another 3.8 percent are unsure.

DeSantis was still ranked higher in September-October in Florida than President Trump. The president received a job approval rating of 44.4 percent from Floridians in the most recent survey, statistically tied with the 44 percent he received in February 2020. So DeSantis is the one whose job-approval ratings have suffered more of late.

(All these sentiments reported here as October 2020 findings were gathered and calculated before President Trump’s recent COVID-19 diagnosis was revealed. That was during the night of October 2.)

Frank Orlando, political scientist and director of the Saint Leo University Polling Institute, observed that, “Unlike some other governors, Ron DeSantis’ approval has diminished as a result of the coronavirus pandemic. First, I think the governor hasn’t always managed to communicate the state’s strategy with consistency, but I think another reason that explains this shift is that Governor DeSantis is tied very strongly to President Trump’s response to the pandemic. President Trump’s handling of the virus has not been popular in Florida, and this has helped to bring down the governor’s approval,” Orlando said. “More generally, in a closely divided election year, approval may become more polarized,” he added.

COVID-19 policy questions

Two questions about the way Florida’s state government handled aspects of the COVID-19 outbreak were included in the survey.

First, respondents were asked their reactions to “State Education Commission Richard Corcoran’s and Governor Ron DeSantis’ mandate to re-open K-12 public schools five days a week in August 2020.”

  • Strongly supported:                  24.0 percent
  • Somewhat supported:              19.6 percent
  • Combined support:               43.6 percent
  • Somewhat oppose:                    16.6 percent
  • Strongly oppose:                        34.4 percent
  • Combined opposition:        51.0 percent
  • Unsure:                                          5.4 percent

Secondly, respondents were asked their opinion on “Governor DeSantis’ recent decision to drop COVID-19 restrictions on bars and restaurants.” That took place on September 25. Responses were again mixed.

  • Strongly support:                     23.2 percent
  • Somewhat support:                 20.4 percent
  • Combined support:            43.6 percent
  • Somewhat oppose:                 15.2 percent
  • Strongly oppose:                     38.0 percent
  • Combined opposition      53.2 percent
  • Unsure:                                         3.2 percent

According to Orlando, the political scientist, “It’s not surprising that these two results are so similar. The issue of opening up schools and places of business has become a part of the polarized debate that we see in the country. Instead of monitoring what scientific experts say, Republicans appear to favor opening up, and Democrats would like more restrictions, as a matter of principle, by now.”

U.S. Senators from Florida rated on job performance

The most recent job approval ratings for U.S. Senator and former Governor Rick Scott and U.S. Senator Marco Rubio were also subdued in October, when compared to their February 2020 ratings.

Scott, for instance, had an overall approval rating of 44.8 percent, his lowest to date as senator. His February rating had been 50.9 percent. During the intervening months, Scott did face some questioning as to why the state’s unemployment insurance application system was not improved more or maintained better during his term as governor; he responded that the system was adequate for the demands at the time.

In November 2019, when DeSantis enjoyed his peak in job-approval in the Saint Leo survey, so too, did Scott as senator, at 56.8 percent.

U.S. Senator Marco Rubio’s job-approval registers at 48 percent in the October results, compared to 50 percent in February 2020, so little has changed in that regard. In November 2019 when his fellow GOP office holders received higher numbers in the survey, Rubio did too, with a job-approval rating of 55.4 percent.

“The fact that Governor DeSantis and senators Rubio and Scott have approval ratings that are within six points of one another, and not too far off from President Trump in the state, fits an election-year pattern,” Orlando said. This shows “voters aligning their valuations of candidates along party lines,” he added.

Frank Orlando, Saint Leo University Polling Institute director, is available for comments.

About the Poll

METHODOLOGY: This statewide survey was conducted from September 27 through October 2, among a base of 500 respondents, using an online instrument. The sample has an associated margin of error of +/- 4.5 percent at a 95 percent confidence for questions asked of all 500 respondents.

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: http://polls.saintleo.edu. You can also follow the institute on Twitter @SaintLeoPolls.

Media contacts:

Jo-Ann Johnston, Saint Leo University, University Communications jo-ann.johnston@saintleo.edu or (352) 467-0843 (cell/text).   

Mary McCoy, Saint Leo University, University Writer & Media Relations, mary.mccoy02@saintleo.edu, (352) 588-7118 or cell (813) 610-8416.

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, 15 education centers in five states, and an online program for students anywhere. The university is home to more than 95,000 alumni. Learn more at saintleo.edu.