SAINT LEO –  Most voters in the Sunshine State still have yet to learn much about the people running for an important open seat in the U.S. Senate in the 2016 election, the newest Saint Leo University Polling Institute survey shows.

But with the Senate election occurring at the same time as a presidential election, the pool of candidates will try to raise their profiles among the public. At the same time, both Democratic and Republican party organizations will want voters to pay attention, as the seat party affiliation of the eventual winner stands to help sway the outcome of important votes on hotly contested issues coming up in the next year, according to Frank Orlando, Saint Leo University political scientist.

The U.S. Senate seat is coming open because current Republican Senator Marco Rubio vacated it to run for the Republican party nomination for president. He set aside that effort on March 15 after a disappointing showing in the Florida primary.

In an online poll of 540 Floridians, conducted between March 13 and 17, both Republican and Democrats (self-identified) were asked to report whom they would support if the primary election for the Senate seat was held that day. (It will actually be on August 30.) The polling institute was able to distinguish between the responses of likely voters and the overall population for each party, but results were nearly identical. And overall, more than half the voters in both parties simply don’t know yet.

Among 198 Republicans, 65.1 percent of likely voters said they did not know whom they would choose. The candidate with the highest percent of responses was Ron DeSantis, with 11.1 percent, followed by David Jolly with 10.1 percent. Carlos Lopez-Cantera was third with 7.4 percent of the vote.

The poll questions do not identify the individuals by occupation or residency but simply by name. Ron DeSantis and David Jolly are both members of Congress—DeSantis is from Jacksonville and Jolly represents most of Pinellas County, including Clearwater and the many precincts in St. Petersburg. Lopez-Cantera has been lieutenant governor but only for two years; his home is in Miami and he was born in Spain.

“They represent three different areas of the state,” noted Orlando, the political scientists, “but statewide, no one knows about these candidates.” To date, Orlando added, both political donors and the general public have been more interested in the the presidential primaries, so the candidates have not yet had much of a chance to ask for voter attention.

Two other Republicans are in the field along with those three, but they had small followings:  Todd Wilcox with 3.2 percent and Dr. Ilya Katz with 2.1 percent. Wilcox describes himself as a political newcomer, is a veteran who owns a defense contracting company, and now lives in Orlando. Katz, originally from the old Soviet Union, is active in conservative politics in Broward County but has not held office.

On the Democratic side, 54.6 percent of the 216 likely Democratic voters said they did not know whom they would support.  Patrick Murphy held the lead with 19.9 percent and Alan Grayson followed at 16.7 percent. Murphy, an accountant, has been Congress since 2013 representing Miami. Grayson is a three-term congressman from Orlando and an attorney.

Saint Leo University’s political scientist Frank Orlando commented that the Democratic Party leadership in Florida appears to favor a Murphy candidacy, and Hillary Clinton’s strong victory in the Florida primary augurs well for the strength of the Democratic establishment in the sunshine state

Other Democratic candidates collected small percentages. Lateresa A. Jones got 5.1 percent of likely voters, and Pam Keith got 1.9 percent. Jones lives near Tallahassee and has run for office before as an independent candidate. Keith is a North Palm Beach attorney and served also as an attorney while in the U.S. Navy.

“On the Republican side,” Orlando continued, “it will be interesting to see who will get the most support from establishment donors and politicians.  Will Marco Rubio endorse a possible successor?”

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 Our Research

METHODOLOGY: All surveys were conducted using an online survey instrument, and the national poll has a plus or minus 3 percent margin of error. The Florida poll has a plus or minus 4.5 percent margin of error.

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 dollar 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 be found here: You can also follow the institute on Twitter @saintleopolls.

About Saint Leo University

Saint Leo University ( is a regionally accredited, liberal-arts-based institution known for an inclusive Catholic heritage, enduring values, and a capacity for innovation. The school was chartered in 1889 by Catholic Benedictine monks in rural Pasco County, FL, making Saint Leo the first Catholic college in the state. Saint Leo provides access to education to people of all faiths, emphasizing the Benedictine philosophy of balanced growth of mind, body, and spirit.

The university welcomes learners from all generations and backgrounds, from civilian occupations and the armed forces, and from across the country and more than 60 nations around the world. Saint Leo’s nearly 16,000 undergraduate and graduate students may elect to study at the beautiful University Campus in Florida, at more than 40 teaching locations in seven states, or online from any location. The university’s degree programs range from the associate to the doctorate. Through these rich offerings, Saint Leo develops principled leaders for a challenging world.

Saint Leo University boasts nearly 80,000 alumni in all 50 states, Washington, DC, five U.S. territories, and 72 countries.