Strategic U.S. Senate Seat Not Yet Registering in Minds of Voters

Republican billionaire Donald Trump and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton continue to hold strong leads in their respective party presidential campaigns among likely voters in Florida, the most recent survey conducted by the Saint Leo University Polling Institute shows.

Response patterns from likely voters in Florida concerning national political candidates turned out to be very similar to results gathered from likely voters in a separate, broader national sample (see In state primary races for a U.S. Senate seat, many voters are still unfamiliar with those seeking or possibly seeking office.

In all, the institute polled 531 Floridians from November 29 to December 3, 2015; a national survey of 1,007 adults was conducted in parallel during the same time frame. As the Saint Leo Polling Institute conducts surveys of this type quarterly, some results from December were worth comparing to responses gathered in a survey conducted from October 17 to October 22, 2015.

It is also worth noting that the most recent surveying effort—November 29 to December 3—was a period when the November 3 terrorist attacks in Paris were fresh in the minds of the public. The data collection, though, was largely completed by the time of the December 2 murders in San Bernardino, CA, and so did not reflect sentiments possibly stemming from that event.

When Republican likely voters in the Florida survey (who numbered 147 of the 531 Sunshine State respondents) were asked to name the candidate they would support if the Republican primary “was held today”:

  • Donald Trump gathered 30.6 percent, compared to 25.8 percent in the October survey.
  • S. Senator Marco Rubio of Florida was selected by 15 percent, compared to 21.5 percent in October.
  • Former Florida Governor Jeb Bush was named by 14.3 percent, compared to 15.3 percent in October.
  • Ben Carson slipped to 10.9 percent in December, compared to 14.7 percent in October.
  • S. Senator Ted Cruz of Texas was just behind at 10.2 percent, up from 4.9 percent in October.

The margin of error for answers from the above sub-group is plus or minus 8 percentage points.

On the Democratic side, when likely voters were asked to make their selection (two weeks after the televised November 14 Democratic debate), 58.8 percent backed Hillary Clinton, up from 50.9 percent in October. U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont gathered 26.9 percent, up significantly from the 13.3 percent he gathered in October.

Sanders appeared to benefit from the October news that Vice President Joe Biden would not run for president. Biden had attracted 15.2 percent of support from Florida likely Democratic voters in the October poll, when he was still included among the options.

The margin of error on Democratic likely voter responses was plus or minus 7.5 percentage points. The subgroup numbered 160.

Best Candidates on Security

Security matters are weighing on the minds of respondents. When asked to select from a list the most important issues facing the nation now, the globally oriented label “terrorism” jumped to second place among Florida likely voters (as it did nationally), attracting 16 percent of respondents. The next issue cited was “homeland security and anti-terror policy” (more concerned with the domestic U.S. picture) at 15.6 percent. Both leapfrogged over “healthcare” and “government spending and the federal deficit,” which were high up on the list previously. The “jobs and economy” issue is still first among concerns, cited by 24.5 percent of Florida likely voters.

A political question also asked likely voters to name—regardless of their personal preference—which presidential candidate from either major party “would likely mount the strongest and most effective effort against terrorists worldwide while protecting Americans at home?” In descending order, the noteworthy results supplied by Florida likely voters (numbering 404) were:

  • Trump, 25.2 percent
  • Clinton, 22.8 percent
  • Unsure or none, 10.4 percent
  • Bush, 9.7 percent
  • Sanders, 6.2 percent
  • Rubio, 5.7 percent
  • Cruz, 5.4 percent
  • Carson, 4.2 percent

Two-Candidate Presidential Race Projections from Florida

When all 404 likely voters in Florida were asked in the recent poll whom they would choose if they had to select between Hillary Clinton and each of the major GOP candidates, Clinton did better than each of the Republicans. Trump and Rubio were the closest contenders, with the margin of error for these responses at plus or minus 5 percentage points. In descending order on the GOP side, the two-way match-ups showed:

  • Clinton, 48.9 percent, vs. Trump, 41.2 percent.
  • Clinton, 48.9 percent, vs. Rubio, 41.2 percent.
  • Clinton, 51.2 percent, vs. Carson, 39.1 percent.
  • Clinton, 47.3 percent, vs. Bush, 37.9 percent.
  • Clinton, 53 percent, vs. Cruz, 34.7 percent
  • Clinton, 55.2 percent, vs. former Hewlett-Packard executive Carly Fiorina, 29.7 percent.

Three-Candidate Presidential Race Projections from Florida

Likely voters in Florida were also asked whom they would choose if there were a three-way presidential ballot with Trump running an independent candidacy, with Clinton running on the Democratic ticket, and with each of the major current Republican candidates emerging as the party nominee. In all scenarios, the results broke in Clinton’s favor, shown below in descending order:

  • Clinton, 47.5 percent; Fiorina, 12.9 percent; Trump, 30.7 percent.
  • Clinton, 46 percent; Cruz, 21.3 percent; Trump, 26 percent.
  • Clinton, 45.5 percent; Carson, 20.3 percent; Trump, 27.7 percent,
  • Clinton, 44.8 percent; Rubio, 21.8 percent; Trump, 28.2 percent.
  • Clinton, 41.8 percent; Bush, 19.1 percent; Trump, 33.4 percent.

With these results, the margin of error was also plus or minus 5 percentage points, given the likely voter base of 404 respondents.

Nominations for Upcoming Senate Race in Florida

Because current U.S. Senator Marco Rubio is running for president, his Florida seat is coming open in the 2016 election.

Republican likely voters in Florida in the survey base (numbering 147) were asked which of several people they would support if the primary were held today to select their party’s Senate candidate in the general election. The margin of error for these responses is plus or minus 8 percent. The answers, in descending order were:

  • Unsure, 56.5 percent
  • David Jolly, 11.6 percent
  • Carlos Lopez-Cantera, 8.2 percent
  • Todd Wilcox, 6.8 percent (tying with “someone else”)
  • Ron DeSantis, 6.1 percent
  • Ilya Katz, 4.1 percent

On the Democratic side, a similar pattern emerged among the party’s likely voters. The Democratic likely voters in Florida numbered 160 and the margin of error on responses is plus or minus 7.5 percentage points. The answers, in descending order, were:

  • Unsure, 46.9 percent
  • Patrick Murphy, 16.9 percent
  • Alan Grayson, 7.1 percent (essentially tying with “someone else’’ at 7.7 percent)
  • Lateresa Jones, 6.3 percent
  • Pam Keith, 4.4 percent

ABOUT THE POLL: The poll was conducted by the Saint Leo University Polling Institute ( Polling by the institute is conducted on a regular basis and may also include spontaneous polling on occurring events. In Florida, 531 adults were polled, approximately proportional to the state population contribution. Likely voters in Florida were identified within that overall sample. Simultaneously, the institute also sampled opinions of another 1,007 adults nationwide, approximately proportional to state population contribution. The survey was conducted November 29 to December 3, 2015. All surveys were conducted using an online survey instrument. The national poll has a +/- 3.0 percent margin of error at a 95 percent confidence level on a composite basis.

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 or (352) 588-7233/(717) 798-1508 or Jo-Ann Johnston, academic communications manager, at or (352) 588-8237/(352) 467-0843.