• The conservative governor shows double-digit leads over Democratic candidates for the job
  • Half of respondents oppose the idea of enacting a Texas-style abortion law in Florida
  • Rubio challenger in U.S. Senate race, Demings, trails the GOP incumbent

ST. LEO, FL – The most recent poll of 500 Floridians by the Saint Leo University Polling Institute (polls.saintleo.edu) shows that more than half of respondents say Governor Ron DeSantis is doing a good job overall and that his handling of the COVID crisis meets with their approval. Still, the Republican governor’s work on both counts is met with strong feelings of disapproval from more than one-quarter of those polled.

The governor is up for re-election during the 2022 election, and is also considered by some to be a contender for a future presidential race. U.S. Senator Marco Rubio, another prominent Republican, is also up for re-election in 2022, and respondents weighed in on a race between Rubio and Democratic challengers.

The Saint Leo University Polling Institute also asked voters their opinions about a new bill prepared for the 2022 Florida state legislative session that would, if passed, restrict access to abortions after the sixth week of pregnancy, as has been done in Texas.

The survey responses were collected statewide from October 17 through October 23 by the polling institute, which is sponsored by Saint Leo University, located in Florida, just north of Tampa. The margin of error for the responses is plus or minus 4.5 percentage points.

In regard to the governor’s overall performance in leading Florida, the survey asked respondents the following question, with results shown below.

How would you rate the job Florida Governor Ron DeSantis is doing? Would you say you…

Possible responses   %
Strongly approve 36.0
Somewhat approve 20.4
Combined approving 56.4
Somewhat disapprove 11.0
Strong disapprove 29.6
Combined disapproving 40.6
Unsure 3.0


Frank Orlando, political scientist and director of the Saint Leo University Polling Institute, said the Florida governor is benefitting, in part, from a state economic outlook that “remains decent,” if not thriving. And the Delta variant of COVID-19 has apparently not left lasting damage on the governor’s record, Orlando added.

“In fact, a majority of respondents approve of the handling of the pandemic by the governor,” Orlando said. The institute asked specifically about DeSantis and the pandemic  in October, as it did in February.

A few elements of the governor’s recent actions have stood out. He told public school districts that they should not mandate the wearing of face masks by children, citing it as a matter of personal choice, and said over the summer that local governments should drop any mask mandates as vaccines had become available. Additionally, the governor threatened to fine any Florida cities and counties that decide to require employees get vaccinated against COVID or risk losing their jobs, saying such policies infringe on the personal freedom of individual workers. DeSantis also opposes a federal government vaccination mandate that would apply to federally contracted workers in Florida.

Please think about Governor DeSantis’ handling of the COVID pandemic in Florida. Please indicate if you strongly approve, somewhat approve, somewhat disapprove, or strongly disapprove.

Possible responses   %
Strongly approve 34.2
Somewhat approve 19.2
Combined approving 53.4
Somewhat disapprove 10.6
Strongly disapprove 32.0
Combined disapproval 42.6
Unsure 4.0


Orlando assessed the results this way: “Apparently the laissez-faire approach to the situation is matching up well with voters who want to move on from lasting restrictions. It remains to be seen what effect the special session will have on the governor’s popularity, but as the threat from COVID recedes, support for mandates seems to be weakening.”

The November session, Orlando continued, could prove to be “another chance for Ron DeSantis to boost his bona fides amongst 2024 primary voters in a relatively costless manner.”

As for the stance DeSantis has taken in opposing vaccination mandates for federally contracted workers, Orlando said the move allows DeSantis to draw a public contrast between himself and President Joe Biden. “Opposing President Biden is good politics right now, and anything that shows DeSantis fighting the president will get him in the spotlight,” Orlando said.

Appeal of potential DeSantis challengers

The survey asked respondents about how they would vote in three potential matchups featuring DeSantis and Democratic gubernatorial challengers if the November 2022 election was held on the day they completed the survey. The survey asked only how the respondents would vote in choosing a governor, but did not give party affiliations or other biographical information about the candidates, such as current job or position. So, a candidate’s level of name recognition, or lack of it, can matter, just as in elections. The potential matchup questions were asked in the following order with these results:

  • In the case of DeSantis versus Annette Taddeo, who is a Florida state senator from Miami: 47.2 percent chose DeSantis; 28.2 percent selected Taddeo; and 24.6 percent were unsure.
  • In the case of DeSantis versus Charlie Crist, who is now a Democratic Congressman from St. Petersburg but who was elected governor of Florida (2007-2011) as a Republican: 46.6 percent selected DeSantis; 35 percent said they would vote for Crist; and 18.4 percent were unsure.
  • In the instance of DeSantis versus Nikki Fried, Florida’s commissioner of agriculture and consumer services: DeSantis was chosen by 46.4 percent of respondents; Fried was selected by 32.6 percent; and 21.0 percent were unsure.

Orlando said it is natural that DeSantis would be in the lead against all three Democrats so far, given the context. The governor’s approval rating is strong enough to mean that “voters won’t want to throw out a governor they approve of.” The national environment for Democrats, meanwhile, is “almost toxic,” Orlando said. And the visibility of the governor’s office favors DeSantis now. “His opponents, in particular new entrant Annette Taddeo, are not nearly as well-known as DeSantis,” Orlando said.

Orlando predicted that the election race “will tighten” as respondents who are currently not sure of which candidate to support identify a favorite, but added “the governor is in a strong position to win re-election at this point. As is often the case, much of the race is out of the challengers’ hands. They need to run solid, mistake-free campaigns so that they are in a position to benefit if the situation improves for Democrats, or if the governor’s approval fades.”

Opinions on possible Texas-style abortion measure

State abortion law is another prominent political topic in Florida now, and may become more so come January, when the Florida Legislature assembles for its regular annual session. Lawmakers will face a bill called the “Florida Heartbeat Act” that has already been introduced by a Republican legislator from Volusia County, Webster Barnaby.

Like a law already in place in Texas, this bill would prohibit abortions after the point where a fetal heartbeat can be detected or after six weeks of pregnancy. The bill would also allow civil lawsuits against doctors who perform abortions and penalties against those who “aided and abetted” the procedures. There would be exceptions that would still permit abortions in the cases of rape, incest, domestic violence, human trafficking, or conditions threatening to the life of the mother—with the provision that documentation would be provided. If enacted, the law would go into effect in Florida on July 1, 2022.

Without listing all the provisions of the bill, the polling institute survey asked respondents the following question, with results as shown.

The state of Texas recently passed a law prohibiting abortions after the sixth week of a pregnancyalso known as “the heartbeat” legislation. How strongly would you support or oppose a similar law in the state of Florida? Would you say…

 Possible responses    %
Strongly oppose 35.4
Somewhat oppose 14.6
Combined opposing responses 50.0
Somewhat support 16.6
Strongly support 25.4
Combined supporting responses 42.0
Unsure 8.0


The results, Orlando said, show that “support for a Texas-style abortion bill is not there.” But opposition to the idea is not as widespread as Democrats might have hoped, he added. “If this issue moves forward, it’s likely that it will be a top issue in terms of fundraising and enthusiasm, on both sides,” Orlando predicted.

Preferences so far in coming election for U.S. Senate

The Saint Leo University Polling Institute also captured some data relevant to the 2022 election and the expected contest for the U.S. Senate seat now held by Republican Marco Rubio.

First, in a standing question, the survey asked about respondents their opinion of the job Rubio and his Senate counterpart Rick Scott are doing.

The survey found that 54.4 percent of the respondents approve of Rubio’s performance, with 28.6 percent strongly approving, and 25.8 percent somewhat approving. Of the 36.8 percent who disapprove of the job Rubio is doing, 13.4 percent somewhat disapprove, and 23.4 percent strongly disapprove. (Rick Scott’s approval numbers were very similar; he is in year three of a six-year term that will conclude after 2024.) The other 8.8 percent said they are unsure about Rubio’s work. The overall October results were almost the same as those Rubio had in the February 2021 survey.

As for what will happen next year in the election, voters were asked if they would choose Rubio or Val Demings for U.S. Senate if the election was held that day. The results are:

  • Rubio: 8 percent
  • Demings: 6 percent
  • Unsure: 6 percent

Demings was not identified by party or profession in the question. A Democrat, Demings has represented part of Orlando in the U.S. House of Representatives since 2017; her current term extends through 2022. She is also known locally in and around Orlando as a retired chief of the Orlando Police Department and career law enforcement professional.

The Saint Leo polling director said the survey results show that “Marco Rubio has solid approval and it will be up to Val Demings to raise her visibility and get the race on her terms. The good news for her is that she’s raised a lot of money, so she’ll have the war chest to do it, but she’ll be facing the same difficult environment that the Democratic gubernatorial candidate will face.”

About the Poll

METHODOLOGY: This survey was conducted from October 17, 2021, through October 23, 2021, among a base of 500 respondents from across Florida, using an online instrument. The sample has an associated margin of error of +/- 4.5.0 percentage points 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) 588-8237 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 57 undergraduate and graduate-level degree programs to more than 18,200 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, 16 education centers in five states, and an online program for students anywhere. The university is home to more than 98,000 alumni. Learn more at saintleo.edu.