Potential Players in Next U.S. Senate Race Largely Unknown Statewide

A new statewide Florida poll by the Saint Leo University Polling Institute indicates Floridians want to see an expansion of the sources of energy available to them. The survey also found widespread displeasure with the Florida Legislature on redistricting work, and significant popular sentiment in favor of allowing faculty, staff, and administrators to carry guns on the campuses of state colleges and universities. The findings come from responses to four specific questions, all of which are reflective of issues that have come up before state legislators, who are in their final days of a third special session this week.

Floridians were also asked about whom they might support in GOP or Democratic primaries for candidates for a U.S. Senate seat in the next election, but people don’t seem to be thinking about that race yet.

The poll was conducted online October 17-22, 2015 among 521 residents, with the sample being reflective of the distribution of the population in Florida. The dates also overlap with the October 19 start of the third special session of the Florida House and Senate, which concludes November 6. The margin of error on responses for the overall sample is plus or minus 4.5 percentage points. The survey was also able to further distinguish among the respondents to include likely voters, and even Democratic likely voter and Republican likely voters, with some increase in the possible margins of error for responses.

Energy Questions

The survey found that more than 72 percent of Floridians strongly agree or somewhat agree that people who have solar panels or other means of collecting electricity should be able to legally sell surplus electricity they generate. Florida power companies oppose such a change in the marketplace, but facing such popular sentiment, will have to lobby hard to “convince people it is a bad idea,” predicted Frank Orlando, political science instructor at Saint Leo University.

Florida residents surveyed were asked if they strongly agreed, somewhat agreed, somewhat disagreed or strongly disagreed with each statement. The following table holds the cumulative percentage for those who agreed or disagreed.

Statements Florida – Agree Florida – Disagree Florida Likely Voters – Agree Florida Likely Voters – Disagree
Florida residents, with solar panels or other means to collect electricity, should be permitted by new laws to sell surplus electricity to the grid or electric companies 72.8% 15.8% 76.8% 13.5%
I oppose a ban on Fracking in Florida – otherwise known as Hydraulic Fracturing – the process to bring natural gas to the earth’s surface for consumer use 44.7% 37.0% 48.4% 28.9%
Numerical base = 521 521 409 409


On another question related to energy, more Floridians said they would oppose a ban on fracking in Florida to retrieve natural gas than would support a ban. Fracking, otherwise known as hydraulic fracturing, involves injecting fluid into shale beds under high pressure to create fissures to extract oil or natural gas. While it is an additional source of energy, fear of contamination to water supplies and concerns for other possible environmental and health issues have made the topic controversial. In Florida, the survey found a combined 44.7 want the option of fracking available—they oppose a ban on fracking—while a combined 37 percent are on the other side of the issue. Among the likely voters, 48.4 percent strongly or somewhat agreed they do not want fracking banned, and the percentage who strongly or somewhat favor a ban was less, at 28.9 percent. The margin of error for the likely voter population was plus or minus 5 points.

“It makes sense that the public is closely divided on this issue,” said Saint Leo political scientist Orlando. “On the one hand, citizens are leery of a process that can have negative effects on the environment. On the other hand, voters seem to be enjoying the lower prices at the the pump that fracking advocates point to arguing for the economic benefits of the procedure. Floridians aren’t much different than the nation as a whole on the question of fracking.”

Looking at the two questions together—although one has to do with regulations on solar energy and the other on subterranean petroleum resources—Orlando said: “Floridians want more energy options, whether it is selling or buying.”

Drawing New Political Boundaries

This was the year that the Florida House and Senate were to draw new geographic lines for congressional and state legislative district boundaries to fairly represent the population, which can grow, shrink, or shift over time. That effort failed in earlier sessions, and efforts are ongoing.

The following table holds the cumulative percentage for those who strongly and somewhat agreed with the statement presented, or somewhat or strongly disagreed.

Statement Florida – Agree Florida – Disagree Florida Likely Voters – Agree Florida Likely Voters – Disagree
The Florida Legislature has handled recent redistricting very poorly 64.0% 12.1% 68.7% 11.2%
Numerical base = 521 521 409 409


Floridians were also asked which entity should be responsible for redistricting within the state going forward. The most popular answers, in order were:

  • An independent commission appointed by Democrats and Republicans – 29.7 percent of Floridians overall and 32.8 percent of likely voters.
  • Unsure – 28.7 percent of Floridians overall and 23.5 percent of likely voters.
  • Florida Legislature members (current system) – 14.3 percent of Floridians overall and 14.9 percent of likely voters.
  • An independent commission appointed by the governor – 13.9 percent of Floridians overall and 14.4 percent of likely Florida voters.
  • Florida judiciary and staff – 7.1 percent of Floridians overall and 7.3 percent of likely voters.

Saint Leo’s Orlando noted the “popular discontent” but said it seems that a voter ballot issue could be required to change the system.

Guns on State College Campuses

Bills have been introduced to allow concealed carry of weapons on state-controlled colleges and universities by certain individuals, prompting the Saint Leo University Polling Institute to test this statement for survey reaction.

The following table holds the cumulative percentage for those who strongly and somewhat agreed with the statement presented, or somewhat or strongly disagreed.

Statement Florida – Agree Florida – Disagree Florida Likely Voters – Agree Florida Likely Voters – Disagree
I support proposed Florida legislation that would allow administrators, faculty and staff to carry guns on college campuses 50.5% 38.6% 52.8% 37.4%
Numerical base = 521 521 409 409


Dr. Eloy Nuñez of Saint Leo University’s Department of Public Safety Administration said while it is interesting that the results show Floridians think employees should be able to carry conceal firearms on state college campuses, the results do not indicate whether the same proportion “believe that it is a good practice for these people to actually carry guns on campus.”

Primary Voters Not Looking Ahead Yet to Senate Race

Both Republican and Democratic respondents were asked about their support for candidates in the upcoming primary election for the U.S. Senate seat currently held by Marco Rubio, who will vacate it because of his run for the GOP presidential nomination. They were asked the question as if the primary were being held now. The margin of error for these responses was plus or minus 7 percentage points (both GOP and Democratic likely voter responses).

Leaders among Florida GOP likely voters for the 2016 U.S. Senate Republican nomination included U.S. Rep. David Jolly of Pinellas County (8.6 percent), and U.S. Rep. Ron DeSantis of St. Augustine and areas south of that city (6.7 percent). Most were unsure (64.4 percent).

Leaders among Florida Democratic likely voters for the 2016 U.S. Senate Democratic nomination included U.S. Rep. Patrick Murphy of Palm Beach and nearby areas (17.6 percent), and U.S. Rep. Alan Grayson of Orlando (14.5 percent). But 48.5 percent were unsure.

“For now It appears both races are ‘up for grabs’ but it’s really too early to tell,” said Saint Leo’s Orlando. “The Republican race is wide open as no one is rising to the top and ‘unsure’ is the big winner. On the Democratic side, it’s a two-horse race between Patrick Murphy and Alan Grayson. Overall, it will be a very interesting race to watch support-wise and it means a lot to both parties in Washington.”

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

About the Saint Leo University Polling Institute/Methodology

This Saint Leo University poll sampled opinions of 521 adults in Florida approximately proportional to state population contribution nationwide. The survey was conducted between October 17 and 22, 2015 using an online survey instrument. The margin of error on political questions (of 409 likely voters only) is approximately 5 percent +/- with 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 dollar deposited into an iTunes or Amazon account—for their participation.

About Saint Leo University

Saint Leo University is a regionally accredited, liberal-arts-based institution known for an inclusive Catholic heritage, enduring values, and 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.

Media Contacts: Kim Payne, staff writer and media coordinator, at kim.payne@saintleo.edu or (352) 588-7233/(717) 798-1508 or Jo-Ann Johnston, academic communications manager, at
jo-ann.johnston@saintleo.edu or (352) 588-8237/(352) 467-0843.