SAINT LEO, FL – In hypothetical head-to-head contests pitting the possible Republican presidential candidates against Hillary Clinton or Bernie Sanders, either of the Democratic candidates would defeat a Republican challenger, a new poll released by the Saint Leo University Polling Institute shows.

The national online poll of 1,015 adults shows likely voters favoring U.S. Senator Sanders of Vermont over Republican frontrunner Donald Trump, with 51.1 percent saying they would select Sanders, while 37.4 percent said they would vote for the billionaire businessman. And in a Clinton-versus-Trump scenario, 47.7 percent report they would support the former U.S. Secretary of State, comfortably topping the 38.4 percent who said they would back Trump.

The margin of error for the poll was plus or minus 3 percentage points, meaning the results could be off by 3 points in either direction.

Ohio Governor John Kasich scored the highest among Republican candidates in the head-to-head hypothetical matches, but he still did not get above a tie and emerge a winner. He had 40.7 percent against Clinton, who got 42.4 percent; the margin of error makes that too close to call. Kasich garnered 38.4 percent when pitted against Sanders, who earned 44 percent.

Continuing the possible different scenarios, likely voters gave Sanders 49 percent when competing with U.S. Senator Ted Cruz of Texas, who received 34.2 percent. In a Clinton-versus-Cruz race, Clinton earned 46.9 percent while Cruz secured 37 percent.

The poll was conducted March 13 through March 17, 2016, and did offer respondents opportunities to select Republican U.S. Senator Marco Rubio of Florida. But Rubio announced that he was suspending his presidential campaign on March 15, following a loss in the primary in his home state.

“Head-to-head, it looks like a good start for the Democrats. They’ve taken advantage of the fact that the GOP race is beset by a perceived dysfunction,” said Frank Orlando, Saint Leo political science instructor. “Still, it’s a long way from November, and the parties haven’t crystallized completely behind their nominee yet. It’s going to get closer as the campaigns focus their attacks on their opponent in the general election.”

Internal Party Popularity Numbers

Among Democratic likely voters, Clinton was the top choice for presidential candidate with 58.7 percent nationally and 69 percent among likely Democratic voters in Florida; Sanders earned 35.2 percent nationally and 26.4 percent in Florida. The poll surveyed 540 people in Florida, making the margin for answers to those questions plus or minus 4.5 percentage points.

On the Republican side nationally, likely voters were asked to choose one candidate they would support for the Republican nomination. Trump was the top vote-getter with 44.6 percent. Next was Cruz with 21.3 percent; Kasich with 18.2 percent. Rubio had 10.1 percent; and someone else/unsure was 5.8 percent.

The poll in Florida—largely conducted while Rubio still was campaigning—showed Trump with 35.5 percent; Rubio with 27 percent; Cruz with 16.4 percent; Kasich with 14.8 percent; and someone else/unsure with 5.3 percent.

“I think Clinton still is going to be a strong favorite, especially if Donald Trump is her Republican opponent,” said political scientist Orlando. “That being said, general elections are not isolated from shocks in the economy or world affairs. In a head-to-head race, things can change quickly, and if the terrible events that just played out in Belgium occur closer to Election Day, all bets are off.”

Jobs and the economy topped poll respondents’ lists of the most important issues facing the United States today with 28.3 percent of likely voters (and a nearly identical sum with the survey base as a whole) while government spending and the federal budget deficit came in second with 13.9 percent of likely voters (almost the same as the with the overall survey base). In the Saint Leo University Polling Institute’s survey in December, jobs and the economy also was No. 1 with 27.8 percent of likely voters (25.8 percent of the general base).

In December, though, terrorism came in second as the most important issue with 15.5 percent of likely voters (16.9 percent of the general base). The related but distinct choice of homeland security and anti-terror policy earned 15.3 percent (and 15.1 percent of the general base). The December 2015 poll numbers appear to have been influenced by the immediacy of the November 13, Paris, and December 2, San Bernardino, CA, terrorist attacks. In the national March 2016 poll, 8.2 percent of likely voters (7.9 percent of the overall base) cited terrorism as the most important issue, and 9.2 percent of likely voters (8.7 percent overall) cited homeland security and anti-terror policy. But the March poll results were completed and counted before the attacks March 22 in Belgium.

“People as a whole are talking about jobs and the economy,” Orlando said. “And the Republican candidates are talking about immigration. The main reason for the disconnect is that the Republican candidates are speaking to a subset of people— those Republicans who vote in the primaries. It does not supplant the fact that jobs and the economy are important. Speaking to immigration gets Republicans who are concerned about immigration out to vote. Furthermore, Donald Trump has worked hard to link the immigration issue with jobs and the economy in a way that is resonating with voters”

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) 588-7118 or (813) 610-8416 (cell/text)

More About Our Research

METHODOLOGY: All surveys were conducted using an online survey instrument, and the national poll has a plus or minus 3 percent margin of error. The Florida poll has a plus or minus 4.5 percent margin of error.

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, can be found here: You can also 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. 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.

Saint Leo University boasts nearly 80,000 alumni in all 50 states, Washington, DC, five U.S. territories, and 72 countries.