In Florida, billionaire Donald Trump is maintaining his lead among GOP presidential candidates, getting the support of 41.4 percent of likely Republican primary voters surveyed earlier this week by the Saint Leo University Polling Institute. Florida’s own U.S. Senator Marco Rubio trailed behind, attracting just 22.8 percent of the respondents in the online poll of 500 Republicans.

The likely Florida GOP voters answered the survey on March 8 and 9—with only days left before both major parties hold their presidential primary contests on Tuesday, March 15.  As for the other GOP candidates, 12.4 percent of the Republican respondents favored U.S. Senator Ted Cruz of Texas, and 10.8 percent will vote for Ohio Governor John Kasich. Another 12.6 percent said they are undecided.

The Saint Leo University Polling Institute also polled 500 likely Florida Democratic voters during the same two days, and found U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton strongly in the lead with 59.4 percent selecting her over U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont. Sanders supporters amounted to 27 percent of those polled, meaning he was more than 32 points behind Clinton. The proportion of undecided Democrats was 13.6 percent.

Each poll has a margin of error of plus or minus 4.5 percentage points.

Candidates are still campaigning hard in the remaining days before the primary, including in the influential Interstate 4 corridor from Tampa to Orlando. The geographic area includes the main campus of Saint Leo University, whose faculty members guide the Saint Leo University Polling Institute and analyze results.

Republicans Futures Examined

Political science Instructor Frank Orlando said upon reviewing the GOP contest that the trailing Marco Rubio is under intense pressure in his home state. “If he loses Tuesday, he’s effectively done,” said Orlando. “Even if he wins, the road is still very difficult, but one could see him gaining some momentum back and surviving the process.  He needs to use Thursday night’s debate performance and all the ground game he can manage to change the tide in a hurry.”

Trump’s results showed broad appeal, but more so among men, particularly among white males, than among women. In the poll, 47.3 percent of males said they would vote for Trump compared to 34.2 percent of females. “If he does end up being the [Republican] nominee, we might witness the greatest gender gap in recorded history,” said Orlando. “This is especially true if we look at the fact that only 54.7 percent of Republican women polled would vote for Donald Trump if he were to win the nomination compared to 76 percent of the men. In fact, 15 percent of the Republican women in Florida would resort to voting for the Democratic candidate.”

The poll specifically asked all the GOP likely voters how they would respond if Trump wins the party nomination. Two-thirds, exactly 66.6 percent, said they would vote for Trump in the general election if he wins the nomination, while 11.2 percent will choose the Democratic nominee. Another 15.2 percent said they were not sure, and the balance, 7 percent, said they would not cast a vote for a presidential candidate.

Considering these factors, Saint Leo history Professor Douglas Astolfi commented, “If Florida is the bellwether we think it is, then the Democratic nominee is likely to win the election.” But he noted that this assumes a portion of the GOP electorate will in fact stay away from the election or vote for the Democratic candidate.

What may be the more important result of a Trump candidacy, Astolfi said “is what it might mean to U.S. House and Senate races. If even half of those who now say that they will stay away in fact do, the result would be a disaster for the Republicans.” A brokered Republican convention, meaning one in which the candidate has to be determined by negotiating, could mean “the results for Republicans at all levels would be a rout,” Astolfi said.

Clinton Holds Advantages in Florida

On the Democratic side, Orlando sees Clinton’s poll results foreshadowing victory in the Florida primary. Even though Sanders scored a surprise victory over Clinton in the Michigan Democratic primary on March 8, Saint Leo’s poll does not show a repeat of that is likely to happen in Florida. “Being down by 32 is quite a mountain to climb,” Orlando said. “Also, Florida has a higher minority population and a larger proportion of older voters. Both of these things help Clinton. From what our poll is showing, she’s winning across the board here, and after Michigan, we will be less likely to see complacency set in among her campaign or supporters.”

More About Undecided Voters 

In both polls—Republican and Democratic—the undecided respondents were in the double digits: 12.6 percent of the GOP sample and 13.6 percent of Democrats. Each survey asked those voters to say which candidate they were “leaning toward.”

Among the Democrats, Clinton and Sanders each garnered 50 percent. “Undecided voters seem pretty split, so perhaps the March 9 debate could have swayed them,” Orlando commented. “But there don’t seem to be enough undecideds for Bernie to make up the distance.”

In the Republican race, 31.7 of the undecided respondents said they are leaning toward Trump, 30.2 percent might vote for Rubio, and 28.6 percent are inclined to vote for Kasich. Another 9.5 percent said they would lean toward Cruz.

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) 588-7188 or (813) 610-8416 (cell/text)


More About Our Research

METHODOLOGY:  One poll sampled opinions of 500 likely Republican voters.  The poll was conducted March 8–9, 2016, using an online survey instrument. The poll has a +/- 4.5 percent margin of error at a 95 percent confidence level on a composite basis.

The institute sampled opinions of 500 likely Democratic voters also.  The poll was also conducted March 8 – 9, 2016. All surveys were conducted using an online survey instrument. The poll has a +/- 4.5 percent margin of error at 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.

The Saint Leo University Polling Institute survey results about national and Florida politics, public policy issues, Pope Francis’ popularity, and other topics. 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.