A Majority Endorsed a Rewording in the State Constitution on Voting Rights and Citizen Status, and a Push for Dedicated High School Civics Instruction Met with General Acceptance

ST. LEO, FL – The most recent Saint Leo University Polling Institute (http://polls.saintleo.edu) survey of Florida voters reveals that Republican governor Ron DeSantis was rated positively by almost two-thirds of participants in a poll of 900 likely voters.

The survey was conducted online between February 17 and February 22, and has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.5 percentage points.

Of those surveyed, 31.1 percent strongly approved of the governor’s job performance and 35.3 percent somewhat approved, making for a combined positive approval rating of 66.4 percent. That is less than 2 percentage points lower than the previous Saint Leo findings of a combined favorable approval rating of 68.2 percent in November 2019.

Those who disapproved of the governor’s job performance in the most recent poll include 11 percent who somewhat disapproved, and 10.2 percent who strongly disapproved, or 21.2 percent combined. The remaining voters, who numbered more than 12.3 percent, were unsure.

“Governor DeSantis remains popular with Floridians,” said Frank Orlando, director of the Saint Leo University Polling Institute, “and state legislators are dealing with him with that in mind.” Orlando, who is also a political scientist, added that the governor’s “next big hurdle will be to navigate the state through the coronavirus situation.”

The survey also showed the governor is more popular than Florida U.S. Senators Rick Scott and Marco Rubio. They received combined approval ratings of 50.9 percent and 50 percent, respectively.

Scott’s job performance was strongly approved by 23.6 percent of the sample and somewhat approved by 27.3 percent. On the other side, 25.1 percent strongly disapproved of his job performance, and 11.8 percent somewhat disapproved. The remaining respondents, 12.2 percent, were unsure.

As for Rubio, 20 percent strongly approved of his job performance and 30 percent somewhat approved. More than one in five, 22.1 percent strongly disapproved, and 14.1 percent somewhat disapproved. The percent who are unsure was 13.8 percent.

As a point of comparison, 44 percent of the Floridians surveyed somewhat or strongly approved of the job performance of President Donald J. Trump, while 54.8 percent strongly or somewhat strongly disapproved. In other words, the state’s three leading Republicans all showed stronger job-approval ratings than the president, who also is their party leader.

“Unsurprisingly, our statewide officials are more popular than our federal officials,” commented Orlando, the polling director. “The nature of the job means that the governor can avoid partisan fights that senators and presidents must confront, which leads to polarized valuations of their work.”

Possible Ballot Measures for Statewide Consideration

The survey also asked about four policy proposals that Florida voters may have to consider on the November 2020 election ballot. In Florida, a supermajority of 60 percent of voters must be in agreement with a ballot measure for it to be approved.

Orlando noted that the polling institute has surveyed voters on the first two issues below in late 2019, and “there hasn’t been a huge amount of movement” since then. But attention to all these issues may increase soon, so public reaction bears watching. “We can predict that these issues will become much more visible after the March 17 Florida primary and voters take a brief respite from thinking about the presidential race,” he said.

In the meantime:

  • There was broad support when state voters were asked whether Florida should restate the wording in the state Constitution to say that only U.S. citizens may vote in federal, state, or local elections held in Florida. A sum of 71.9 percent of the survey agreed, including 50.3 percent who strongly supported the idea and 21.6 percent who said they somewhat supported it. If enacted, this would prevent localities from deciding to allow allow noncitizens to vote in local school board races, for example.
  • A combined tally of 68 percent support the idea of increasing the Florida minimum wage (now at $8.56 an hour) to $15 by 2026. The tabulations show 43.9 percent of those surveyed strongly supported the idea and 24.1 percent somewhat supported it. Business interests, especially in the hospitality industry, have come out in opposition and said such a hike would force them to cut employees’ hours or even reduce staff sizes.
  • Somewhat over half, at 58.5 percent, said they supported the idea that voter-approved constitutional amendments should be approved a second time by voters at another general election before they could be enacted. The support base for this split between 27.4 percent who said they strongly support it and 31.1 percent who said they somewhat support it. Advocates said this added step would make people think whether they truly want a given amendment or whether it is unnecessary. Nearly one in five respondents were unsure.
  • Lastly, just 50 percent of respondents supported an idea that would change Florida’s current closed primary system for state office races, such as state legislators, the governor, the chief financial officer, and so on. Instead of allowing only registered Republicans to vote in the GOP primaries and enrolled Democrats to vote in Democratic primaries, this idea calls for a top-two open primary in which the top-two vote-getters, regardless of party affiliation, advance to the general election. This would mean interested independent voters and party-switchers would gain some voting influence. The established political parties are against this proposal. While 30.3 percent of respondents somewhat supported the idea, a smaller group of 19.7 strongly supported the idea, and the sum of those is still 10 percentage points lower than what would be needed to secure passage in the 2020 election, to be enacted in 2024. Nearly one-quarter polled, at 23.7 percent, were unsure.

Statewide Civics Education Idea for Schools

The polling institute also tested the popularity of an education idea that DeSantis proposed in his State of the State Address, that among changes he would like to see in Florida public schools would be “a renewed emphasis on American civics and the U.S. Constitution,” though he left the possibility of testing on the subject unresolved. Respondents were given a range of options on this and asked to choose which one best matched their opinions.

  • Just over half, at 52.6 percent, said: “All Florida high school students should have to pass a civics course as a graduation requirement.”
  • More than a quarter, 29.4 percent, preferred a less stringent approach: “All Florida high school students should have to take/finish a civics course but not as a graduation requirement.”
  • Another group, 9.2 percent, agreed that “A civics course should be optional.”
  • Finally, 8.8 percent were unsure.

“Clearly, increasing civics education is a popular issue for Florida voters,” said Orlando, who also teaches political science at Saint Leo University. “Governor DeSantis would be wise to continue to push for this issue that has bipartisan support.”

In another wrinkle, though, the Republicans in the sample, with 67.9 percent, agreed that Florida students should pass a civics test to graduate high school, compared to only 46.5 percent of the Democrats and 42.7 percent of independents.

Democrats, Republicans, and independents as individual groups were more alike in their responses to the option of requiring civics instruction, but not insisting that students pass in order to graduate from high school—with the results that each group were within several percentage points of the overall answer of 29.4 percent. Of Republicans, 23.8 percent chose this response, along with 29.8 percent of Democrats, and 36.9 percent of independents.

There was another big split among responses by party line, though. Of Democrats, 13.5 percent said a civics course should be optional, compared with only 2.9 percent of Republicans. Of independents, 12 percent said a civics course should be optional. These compare with the percentage of the overall base of 9.2 percent who said civics should be an optional course.

In looking at the party-level reactions, Orlando said he is “not quite sure yet what to make of the Republicans being more supportive of this push, but one could speculate that Republicans may have been primed by support from a Republican governor.” Also, he added that “Democrats could also be skeptical of the type of civics taught, but this is certainly a question to continue to monitor going forward.”

About the Poll

METHODOLOGY: This statewide survey was conducted from February 17 through February 22, 2020, among a base of 900 likely voters, using an online instrument. The results have an associated margin for error of +/-3.5% at a 95% confidence level.

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

Media contacts:

Jo-Ann Johnston, Saint Leo University, University Communications jo-ann.johnston@saintleo.edu or (352) 467-0843 (cell/text).     

Mary McCoy, Saint Leo University, University Writer & Media Relations, mary.mccoy02@saintleo.edu, (352) 588-7118 or cell (813) 610-8416

About Saint Leo University

Saint Leo University is one of the largest Catholic universities in the nation, offering nearly 60 undergraduate and graduate-level degree programs to more than 19,500 students each year. Founded in 1889 by Benedictine monks, the private, nonprofit university is known for providing a values-based education to learners of all backgrounds and ages in the liberal arts tradition. Saint Leo is regionally accredited and offers a residential campus in the Tampa Bay region of Florida, 32 education centers in seven states, and an online program for students anywhere. The university is home to more than 95,000 alumni. Learn more at saintleo.edu.