District split down the middle on President Obama, Affordable Care Act; Poll Aggressively Screened for Likely Voters

Democrat Alex Sink leads Republican David Jolly 46-37 percent ahead of the March 11 special congressional election in the Pinellas, Florida-based 13th congressional district, according to a new poll released today by the Saint Leo University Polling Institute. Libertarian Lucas Overby would get 12 percent of the vote if the election were held today.

“Ms. Sink’s advantage is being driven by solid favorability ratings coupled with issue positions that seem to be more closely aligned with voter preferences than are Jolly’s,” said Frank Orlando, a political science instructor at Saint Leo University. “She overcomes a partisan ID disadvantage in the district by maintaining much higher favorability among than Republicans and Independents than Mr. Jolly does among Democrats. The fact that a Libertarian candidate has robust support levels in the double digits seems to be contributing to the size of Sink’s lead.”

Democrats are overwhelmingly (88 percent) favoring Sink with only 6 percent favoring Jolly and 4 percent favoring Overby. However, Republicans are a bit more divided on their candidate. Only 64 percent of Republicans are backing Jolly. Sixteen percent of Republicans say they’ll vote for Sink and another 14 percent say they’ll chose the Libertarian candidate.

“Jolly is not only leaking Republican voters to Alex Sink, but also to David Overby,” said Orlando. “Traditionally, Libertarian candidates have siphoned off more support from Rebublicans and Republican-leaning independents, and this is the case here. Despite being outspent and advertised, Overby’s presence in the televised debate has increased his visibility, but it remains to be seen if he can maintain this support to election day.”

After a heavy advertising campaign, both Sink and Jolly have become well-known in the district and have similar favorable ratings. Sink has a net favorability ratings of +7 and gross ratings of 51 percent favorable, 44 percent unfavorable. Jolly has a net favorability rating of +3 and gross ratings of 47 percent favorable, 44 percent unfavorable. Sink enjoys an intensity advantage among voters who say they are “very favorable” toward a candidate, with 33 percent holding a “very favorable” opinion of Sink and 21 percent holding a “very favorable” opinion of Jolly.

Libertarian Overby, who has been included in debates and has received more media attention than third party candidates often do, has hard name identification of 58 percent (30 percent favorable, 28 percent unfavorable). His net favorable rating is +2.

Florida-13 is considered a swing district and the Saint Leo University survey confirms that. President Obama’s approval rating in the district is 47 percent, with 51 percent disapproving of the job he is doing.

“The 13th District is one of only two districts in Florida that voted for Barack Obama while also sending a Republican to Congress,” said Orlando. “Democrats have been eyeing this district for a while, and with the seat newly open, figure that this is a perfect time to strike. If the Democrats hope to wrest control of the House from the Republicans, they must win districts like this in November. Despite the fact that special elections always feature idiosyncracies, the national parties and media will treat this race as a bellweather for this fall,” stated Orlando,

Asked whether voters prefer a congressional candidate who would support or oppose the President and Democrats in Congress, the district is evenly split with 46 percent preferring a candidate who would help the President and 46 percent preferring a candidate who would oppose the President.

Opinion is also split about what to do about the Affordable Care Act. A plurality of voters – 40 percent – think Congress should keep the law but make changes to fix it. This is essentially Sink’s position on the law. Just 20 percent of voters say Congress should repeal the law entirely, which is essentially Jolly’s position. Overall, 57 percent of voters think the law should be kept in one form or another, while 41 percent think it should be repealed (20 percent) or repealed and replaced with another plan (21 percent).

Voters also support providing a path to legal status for undocumented immigrants (57 percent), while 34 percent think they should be required to leave the country. Jolly has taken a harder line on immigration than has Sink, and again Sink appears to be closer to where most voters are on the issue.

“David Jolly has made linking Alex Sink with President Obama’s agenda a centerpiece of his campaign,” continued Orlando. “While Jolly is performing well among voters that would like to see Obamacare repealed, he must win over at least a few voters that take a less negative view of the bill. Sink’s strategy, which will likely be repeated by her Democratic copartisans this fall, is to advocate keeping the law but agreeing to popular changes. At this point, her views seem to align more closely with a majority of likely voters in the district,” concluded Orlando.


The Saint Leo University Polling Institute poll of likely voters who live in FL-13 was conducted February 9-11, 2014 using a blended sample reached by Interactive Voice Response and an online panel. The sample size was 400 respondents, yielding a margin of error of +/- 5% with a 95% confidence level. 372 respondents (93% of sample) were reached on randomly dialed landline telephones using an automatic dialer, pre-recorded questions, and touch-tone telephone keypad responses. To ensure that a representative sample of younger voters was included, 28 respondents in this age group were reached using an online panel. Given that this is a special election, this survey was conducted among likely voters only. To be included in the survey as a “likely voter,” all respondents had to affirm twice that they are 18 or older and then they had to get past three screening questions:

1. “When general elections are held in the United States, how often do you vote?”
Accepted answers: “all of the time” and “most of the time”
Voters who responded “about half the time,” “occasionally,” “rarely or never” were screened out.

2. “Do you know where you and your neighbors go to vote?”
Accepted answer: “yes”
Voters who responded “no” or that they were not sure were screened out.

3. “Are you planning to vote in the March 2014 special congressional election to fill the seat previously held by the late Bill Young?”
Accepted answer: “yes”
Voters who responded “no” or were not sure were screened out.

“We went to great lengths to identify those voters most likely to vote, which is critical given that this is a special election that is expected to have a considerably lower turnout,”said Drew Gold, director of the Saint Leo University polling institute.

To view poll results click here.