Symptoms of public divisions abound; Trump approval rating still sub-50%

ST. LEO, FL – The latest survey on national politics by the Saint Leo University Polling Institute shows that possible Democratic candidate for president and former Vice President Joe Biden has the widest support of respondents for a primary nomination run, followed by declared candidate and U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont.

The survey was conducted among 1,000 respondents nationally and among a separate sample of 500 respondents in the politically significant state of Florida, which is the home of the Saint Leo University Polling Institute and Saint Leo University itself. The responses were collected online from February 16 through February 25, 2019. The margin of error for national responses is plus or minus 3.0 percentage points, and for Florida responses is 4.5 percentage points.

The survey delved at length into the current political mood.

Democratic options

First, respondents who identify themselves as Democrats in the national sample and in the Florida sample were asked which candidate from the big field they could support for a primary nomination; respondents could give multiple answers. The list included 17 names* and an entry for “none of these.” The following candidates gained the widest support. They are shown in the declining order of percentage support revealed in the national results.

Declared and probable candidates favored by Democrats National February
2019 – %
Florida February
2019 – %
Joe Biden 58.3 58.5
Bernie Sanders 38.1 29.8
Kamala Harris 29.5 31.7
Cory Booker 26.3 24.4
Beto O’Rourke 22.4 24.9
Elizabeth Warren 21.2 23.9


Next, the survey asked unaffiliated voters, Democrats, and Republicans alike to indicate their opinion of these Democratic figures, based on a scale. The percentage results were tabulated by party, both within the nation and the Florida sample. Below are the seven Democratic politicians who were rated positively by at least 30 percent of the respondents in any of those groups*Other names listed were: Kirsten Gillibrand, Amy Klobuchar, Julian Castro, Pete Buttigieg, Michael  Benet, Howard Schultz, Marianne Williamson, John Delaney, Tulsi Gabbard, and Andrew Yang. John Hickenlooper and Jay Inslee were not listed although they did declare themselves candidates after the survey results were collected.

Democrats with highest positives National Dem National no party National GOP   Florida Dem Florida no party Florida GOP
Joe Biden 62.8 39.0 29.3 66.8 41.1 24.7
Bernie Sanders 49.9 34.7 17.4 45.4 28.4 16.3
Kamala Harris 39.4 23.3 13.7 41.5 21.1 13.2
Cory Booker 37.8 20.7 15.2 43.9 17.9 15.8
Elizabeth Warren 33.7 22.8 12.6 38.5 22.1 13.7
Beto O’Rourke 32.7 34.7 14.1 38.0 21.1 14.7
Amy Klobuchar 27.6 22.5 10.7 31.2 14.7 12.6


“Even though Joe Biden hasn’t committed to running for president, he still is the most well known of the possible Democratic nominees,” said Frank Orlando, director of the Saint Leo University Polling Institute and a political scientist. “This is giving him an early advantage. It’s also interesting to see Bernie Sanders performing better nationally than in Florida. He needs to overcome some of the problems he faced in southern states if he wants to win the nomination this time.

“Conversely,” Orlando added, “Sanders may benefit from a fractured field. While he is a very polarizing figure, his supporters are very loyal. If there are enough candidates in the field, they could leave the plurality to the strongly committed Sanders supporters.”

Trump job performance ratings

Meanwhile, current job approval ratings for President Donald J. Trump and Vice President Mike Pence remain in the in the 40-percent range, close to where they were in February 2018 polling.

How would you rate… National Approval
February 2018 -%
National Approval February 2019 – %   Florida Approval
February 2018 – %
Florida Approval
February 2019 – %
The job Donald Trump is doing as President 40.7 39.8 42.6 45.0
The job Mike Pence is doing as Vice President 42.4 40.8 46.0 46.0


Independents continue to influence Trump’s rating for the worse; only 35.8 percent of independents nationally approve of the job he is doing, dragging on the approving marks 82.6 percent of Republicans award him. Democrats who gave Trump positive job approval ratings nationally amounted to 7.7 percent. In Florida, Trump’s job performance is seen positively by more independents, with 48.4 percent approving.

Trump is also doing better with women in Florida than nationally, although a gender gap still persists. Nationally, 53 percent of men approve of the job Trump is doing while only 26.6 percent of women agree. In Florida, where Trump’s overall job-approval rating is a bit higher than nationally, 53.8 percent of men and 36.3 percent of women approve of the president’s work.

“President Trump’s national approval has slipped from where it was in 2018,” said Orlando, who also teaches at Saint Leo University. “It appears that the public is blaming him for any lingering effects of the government shutdown.”

In a different question, the survey asked respondents nationally and in Florida to cite from a long list of topics the one that they consider the single most important issue facing the country. The most frequently mentioned issue in both cases was health care. That was closely followed in the national sample by jobs and the economy, and then immigration. In Florida, the second-and third-ranked results were reversed: immigration came right after health care, and then, jobs and the economy. In the fourth-place on the list, both nationally and in Florida, came the issue of government spending and the federal deficit.

Voters describe their own level of political engagement

The polling institute has kept track of how active and engaged voters are, by their own estimation, since the 2016 national election. They could describe themselves as more active, less active but still engaged, less active or almost not engaged, no longer active, or not active back in 2016.  Nationally, about one-third of respondents in the recent poll, 33.8 percent, said they are more active, which is almost the same result as in February 2018.

In Florida, a similar result occurred: 39.4 percent in the most recent poll said they are more active since the 2016 election, compared to 37.2 percent in February 2018, or basically, a statistical tie. During 2018, Florida voters knew they would have to choose between two new candidates to select a new governor for their state, and decide how to fill a U.S. Senate seat that came up for election in November. (The close races resulted in two Republican wins, one for current Governor Rick DeSantis, and the other for former Governor Rick Scott in his successful bid to unseat Democrat Bill Nelson from the U.S. Senate.)

Compared to the “more active” group, the next most populous segment of the survey base were the people who say they are less active but still engaged in events. About one in four people nationally described themselves in these terms this year and in 2018. In Florida, 21.6 percent of people described themselves in 2019 as less active but still engaged. In February 2018, 27.2 percent said they were less active but still engaged.

How voters perceive the broad electorate

Voters continue to agree, either strongly, or somewhat, that the nation seems more divided to them than ever before. The combined percentages of agreement on this question have stayed at 80 percent or more in recent national and Florida state surveys.

Sizable proportions are still agreeing, either strongly or somewhat, that they see democracy slipping away. In the national sample, a combined 68.4 percent agree with that statement, nearly the same as in 2018. In Florida, the combined agreement level was 69.4 percent in the February 2019 poll, compared to the nearly identical result 12 months previously.

There were other signs of fractures, too. The institute added a new test statement in the February 2019 poll to see how many agree that “I expect the outcome of the Mueller investigation on possible Russian election collusion will help heal some of the divisions in this country.” Only about one-third of respondents agree, either strongly or somewhat: the sum agreeing nationally was 32.1 percent, and in Florida, was 38 percent.

Distrust of what people hear or read about politics is prevalent, too. Nationally, more than half the respondents, at 54 percent, conveyed some level of doubt in the accuracy of mainstream media reporting on politics in the nation (it was 51.6 percent in Florida). Mainstream media were described as U.S. newspapers, broadcasters, and online media such as ABC, CBS, NBC, CNN, the Associated Press, the New York Times and The Washington Post.

As for tweets, news releases, and statements from the White House, 64.3 percent of respondents nationally conveyed a lack of trust in those communications. In Florida, 56.8 percent are in doubt.

“Clearly, citizens feel divided,” Orlando said, “and if you’ve observed political behavior online or on cable television, it is hard to blame them. This feeling has been accelerated by a decline in trust of media.”

About the Poll
METHODOLOGY: This national survey was conducted from February 16 through February 25, 2019, among a base of 1,000 respondents, using an online instrument. The national survey has a +/- 3.0 percent margin of error at a 95 percent confidence level on a composite basis. In Florida, the survey was conducted among 500 people across the state during the same time frame, also using an online survey instrument. The Florida poll has a +/- 4.5 percent margin of error at a 95 percent confidence level (on a composite basis).

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) 588-8237 or (352) 467-0843 (cell/text).     

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

More About Saint Leo University
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The university remains the faithful steward of the beautiful lakeside University Campus in the Tampa Bay region of Florida, where its founding monks created the first Catholic college in the state in 1889. Serving nearly 12,000 students, Saint Leo has expanded to downtown Tampa, to other sites in Florida and beyond, and maintains a physical presence in seven states. The university provides highly respected online learning programs to students nationally and internationally. More than 93,000 alumni reside in all 50 states, in Washington, DC, in three U.S. territories, and in 76 countries.