GOP’s Rubio Holding a Firm Lead in Quest to Return to Senate from Florida

SAINT LEO, FL – Surveys fielded earlier this week by the Saint Leo University Polling Institute ( show Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton with double-digit leads nationally and in the important state of Florida­­­ over her Republican opponent Donald Trump. The pattern was consistent with likely voters who have decided their choice and with voters who had not committed but could say which candidate they were leaning toward.

The Saint Leo Florida survey also showed U.S. Senator Marco Rubio leading the Democratic challenger U.S. Rep. Patrick Murphy of Jupiter (Palm Beach County), by 5 percentage points—43.8 percent vs. 38.8 percent—in the contest for the incumbent’s U.S. Senate seat. The race is being watched intensely nationally as its outcome will help determine whether Republicans or Democrats control the Senate during the next presidential term.

“This has become one of the seats that Republicans are relying on to hang on to control in the Senate,” noted Frank Orlando, director of the Saint Leo University Polling Institute. “Marco Rubio has held a consistent lead in all three of our fall polls, and he’s running almost 20 points ahead of Trump in the state. Democrats seem to be more interested in pursuing gains elsewhere, though they’d still relish the opportunity to take away Rubio’s Senate platform leading into 2020,” Orlando said, referring to the former Republican presidential candidate, and his possible future ambitions.

All the survey results have a margin of error of plus or minus 3 percentage points. Nationally, 1,050 likely voters completed the online survey between October 22 and October 26. In Florida, 1,028 likely voters responded during the same time period.

The percentage of likely voters who favor Trump never got above the high 30-percent range in any of the groups surveyed nationally or in Florida. The survey questions allowed respondents to report which candidate they would vote for if the election was held that day, or which candidate they had selected in early voting. Since 11.6 percent nationally, and 7.4 percent in Florida, were still unsure, a follow-up question allowed those respondents to indicate which candidate they were leaning toward. “With results like these that put Clinton at least 10 points ahead, the thing the Democratic campaign will want to do most is guard against complacency. The campaign will still keep pressing voters to come out and cast ballots, and not feel they don’t need to bother,” Orlando said.

Exact results are as shown.

Party/Candidate Combined support – national

Voters leaning toward support and decided supporters – National

Combined support – Florida

Voters leaning toward support and decided supporters – FL

Democrat – Clinton 49.3% (decided voters = 45.4%) 52% (decided voters = 49.7%)
Republican – Trump 38.4% (decided voters = 34.2%) 39.4% (decided voters = 36.7%)
Libertarian – Johnson 9% (decided voters = 6.6%) 6.3% (decided voters = 4.9%)
Green – Stein 3.3% (decided voters = 2.2%) 2.3% (decided voters = 1.4%)


The survey also found that nationally, 14.2 percent of respondents had changed their mind about which presidential candidate to support in the previous month. In Florida, 9.3 percent reported switching choices.

To determine possible influences on voter decision-making, the survey asked respondents to indicate “Which of the following developments, if any, in the presidential election, contributed to your decision to support one candidate over another. Please indicate all that apply.”

Election Development Contributed to decision – national – % Contributed to decision – FL – %
Learned that Donald Trump had nearly a $1 billion dollar business loss in 1995 – allowing him not to pay taxes for years afterwards 32.7 33.8
Being reminded that Hillary Clinton did not defend the women former President Bill Clinton allegedly had affairs with 27.3 29.6
Hearing about or seeing/hearing the recently released recording of Donald Trump describing his conduct toward women as well as his treatment of women including a former Miss Universe 39.2 39.4
Learning more about the Clinton Foundation and “pay for play” allegations 39.0 40.5
Learning that Donald Trump’s bankruptcies left small businesses unpaid 31.6 30.9
Learning more about Hillary Clinton’s positions on issues such as the 2nd Amendment 32.0 32.0
Learned that Donald Trump may have not contributed to charities, including his own, since 2008 26.1 26.7
Learning during the final debate that Donald Trump could not say, before the election, that he is willing to accept the final results based on the moderator’s question 34.5 37.6


Reviewing the results, Orlando said, “It seems as though these major campaign stories over the past month seemed to reinforce voter’s preferred candidates, rather than provoke a major shake-up.”

Expected Election Outcomes

A clear majority expect—no matter their personal preference—that Hillary Clinton will emerge the winner. Nationally, 70.8 say Clinton will win compared to 26.3 percent predicting Trump will win; in Florida, 69.8 percent think Clinton will win, compared to the 28.5 percent who say Trump will be elected.

The survey found some sympathy for Trump’s assertions of a “rigged election,” but not a majority. Two more specific statements on the topic were presented to survey respondents, and they were asked to say whether they strongly agree, somewhat agree, somewhat disagree, or strongly disagree.

Statements Strongly & Somewhat Agree – National % Somewhat & Strongly Agree- FL – % Somewhat & Strongly Disagree- National – % Somewhat & Strongly Disagree – FL _%
There is likely to be widespread fraud in the actual polling process in the U.S. 39.0 40.6 54.4 53.2
The U.S. election is rigged because of media bias — the majority media supporting one candidate 49.6 48.9 45.3 46.1


Saint Leo’s Orlando, who also teaches political science, noted that, “People don’t like to believe that they supported a losing candidate. The rhetoric emanating from the Trump campaign allows voters to take solace in the fact that they were truly in the majority if not for forces conspiring to hold them down. Still, more Republicans are willing to make the softer claim of media bias than the harsher claim of voter fraud.”

Senate Race in Florida

Looking more deeply into results from Florida, where incumbent Rubio’s showing of 43.8 percent of support from likely voters was 5 percentage points ahead of his Democratic opponent Murphy, 17. 4 percent said they were still unsure. Still, when the results included voters who were still undecided, but leaning enough toward one candidate to say so, Rubio’s total likely support came to 52.5 percent, compared to 47.6 percent for Murphy. Since the margin of error on the poll is only 3 percentage points, Rubio’s 5-point advantage makes his lead appear firm, said Orlando, the Saint Leo political scientist, even though Florida isn’t giving the GOP presidential candidate that kind of support.

“Perhaps the single biggest difference in support between Trump and Rubio is among Hispanic voters. Trump is losing that demographic by 30 points in Florida, while Rubio (from Miami) is winning among Hispanics by 20 points,” Orlando observed. Rubio speaks Spanish fluently and notes often in his campaigns that he is of Cuban-American descent.

Media contacts: Jo-Ann Johnston, Saint Leo University, University Communications by email at or (352) 588-8237 or (352) 467-0843 (cell/text) or Mary McCoy, Saint Leo University, University Communications or (352) 588-7118 or (813) 610-8416 (cell/text)


More About Our Research

METHODOLOGY: Our surveys were conducted using an online survey instrument between October 22 and October 26, 2016. These simultaneous polls contacted 1,028 Florida likely voters, and 1,050 likely voters nationwide. Responses drawn from those sample bases have a margin of error of plus or minus 3.0 percent.

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

More About Saint Leo University

Saint Leo University ( is a modern Catholic teaching university that is firmly grounded in the liberal arts tradition and the timeless Benedictine wisdom that seeks balanced growth of mind, body, and spirit. The Saint Leo University of today is a private, nonprofit institution that creates hospitable learning communities wherever our students want to be or need to be, whether that is a campus classroom, a web-based environment, an employer’s worksite, a military base, or an office park. We welcome people of all faiths and of no religious affiliation, and encourage learners of all generations. We are committed to providing educational opportunities to our nation’s armed forces, our veterans, and their families. We are regionally accredited to award degrees ranging from the associate to the doctorate, and we guide all our students to develop their capacities for critical thinking, moral reflection, and lifelong learning and leadership.

We remain the faithful stewards of the beautiful lakeside University Campus in the Tampa Bay region of Florida, where our founding monks created the first Catholic college in the state in 1889. Serving nearly 16,000 students, we have expanded to downtown Tampa, to other sites in Florida and beyond, and maintain a physical presence in seven states. We provide highly respected online learning programs to students nationally and internationally. More than 82,000 alumni reside in all 50 states, in Washington, DC, in three U.S. territories, and in 76 countries.