Murphy Pulls Ahead of Grayson in Democratic Primary Bid for U.S. Senate

The current junior U.S. Senator from Florida—and former GOP presidential candidate—Marco Rubio appears to be in a strong position to fend off the major challenger for the GOP nomination in the upcoming Florida primary, according to the latest survey by the Saint Leo University Polling Institute (

The survey of Florida Republicans (numbering 479) and Democrats (numbering 532), was taken online from August 14 to August 18, and asked members of the political parties how they intend to vote in the state’s primary on August 30. The primary will determine the final candidates from each of the two major parties to compete for the U.S. Senate seat in the November 8 general election. Florida is a closed primary state, meaning Republicans can vote only for Republican candidates, and Democrats only for Democratic candidates (though all can vote on a ballot proposal that will appear on the August 30 ballot). In the cases of both the Republican and Democratic survey bases, the margin of error for the results is plus or minus 4.5 percent, meaning the actual results could be off in either direction by that many points.

On the Republican side, Rubio’s strongest challenger is home builder Carlos Beruff from Manatee County. Also on the ticket are Ernie Rivera, a Christian pastor from outside Tampa,  and Dwight Young, a detention deputy with the Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office.

Republicans committed to one of those candidates, or at least leaning toward one of the candidates, were asked whom they would select if the August 30 primary was being held the day they answered the survey. Respondents strongly preferred Rubio, who attracted more than two-thirds of the GOP survey base.

Republican Candidates Combined percent of supporters and those leaning toward support with 479 individuals polled
Marco Rubio 68.2% (decided supporters = 64.7%)
Carlos Beruff 14.1% (decided supporters = 12.9%)
Dwight Young 3.6% (decided supporters = 2.3%)
Ernie Rivera 2.6% (decided supporters = 1.7%)


Noting the wide margin between Rubio and Beruff, Saint Leo University Polling Institute Director Frank Orlando commented, “It doesn’t seem like Carlos Beruff will be able to surprise Marco Rubio the way Rubio overtook former Governor Charlie Crist in 2010. Rubio is winning handily across all demographics.”

Meanwhile, on the Democratic side, the party’s preferred nomine, U.S. Rep. Patrick Murphy of southeastern Florida, showed much higher support among poll respondents than did his main competition, liberal U.S. Rep. Alan Grayson of Orlando. Also on the ballot are Democrats Rocky de la Fuente, a real estate developer from California with residency in Orlando; Pam Keith, a labor attorney from Miami; and Reginald Luster, an attorney from Jacksonville.

Democrats were asked which candidate they had selected, or were at least leaning toward, if they had to vote the same day they were surveyed. Murphy, who has benefitted from campaign commercials featuring President Barack Obama, had more than twice the support of Grayson.

Democratic candidates Combined percent of supporters and those leaning toward support with 532 individuals polled
Patrick Murphy 47.7% (decided supporters = 41.9%)
Alan Grayson 17.4% (decided supporters = 13.5%)
Pam Keith 7.9% (decided supporters = 5.5%)
Rocky de la Fuente 5.3% (decided supporters = 3.4%)
Reginald Luster 1.8% (decided supporters = 1.3%)


Reviewing the Democratic results, Orlando, who also teaches political science at Saint Leo University, commented that it appears the Democratic Party will get its “preferred candidate on the ballot in November. While they were both mired in the mid-teens in June, Patrick Murphy is now winning handily over liberal firebrand Alan Grayson. Even though Murphy has had to endure a rough couple of months with reports of the embellished nature of his resume, Grayson has had his own more serious personal foibles, including allegations of spousal abuse during a previous marriage, which made previous concerns about his tendency to resort to name-calling in politics fade from the foreground. Grayson’s problems, coupled with the impact of the Democratic establishment supporting Murphy with its full weight, has put Murphy in a solid position. He’s even winning by a wide margin among self-identified liberals.”

General Election Possibilities

Looking ahead to the November race, the survey also asked the broader sample of 1,380 likely voters about which candidate they would pick if the general election for U.S. Senator were held the same day they were taking the survey. The likely voters were asked about these two different scenarios:

  • Marco Rubio versus Alan Grayson: Rubio got 47.1 percent and Grayson, 34 percent. Almost 19 percent were unsure. These results have a margin of error of only plus or minus 3 percentage points.
  • Marco Rubio versus Patrick Murphy: Rubio got 46.2 percent and Murphy, 38.1 percent. Another 15.7 percent were unsure. As above, these results have a margin of error of only plus or minus 3 percentage points.

Though Rubio appears significantly stronger than either opponent, Orlando, the political scientist, noted there is another factor to consider, given the presidential contest. The U.S. Senate race is “down ballot” from the Clinton-Trump  contest for the presidency, and results from the same Saint Leo University Polling Institute survey (see related release) put Clinton 14 percentage points ahead of Trump—51.7 percent to 37.7 percent—among Florida likely voters.

“Despite being the incumbent, Marco Rubio is attempting to defy political gravity to some extent,” Orlando said. “When the top of your ticket is losing by 14 points, it is difficult (and perhaps not sustainable) to be ahead this comfortably. This (lead) might be due to the fact that Murphy has had to answer many questions about his resume and personal life during the critical rollout of his campaign.  Still, if things continue to go south at the top of the ticket, it will become even more difficult for Rubio to hold his lead as Republican voters lose the enthusiasm to go to the polls.”

Media contacts: Jo-Ann Johnston, Saint Leo University, University Communications by email at or (352) 588-8237 or (352) 467-0843 (cell/text) or

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 from August 14 to August 18, 2016. This special statewide poll of 1,500 Florida adults includes 1,380 likely voters. In both cases the poll has a plus or minus margin of error of 3.0 percent.

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 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.

More About Saint Leo University

Saint Leo University ( is a modern Catholic teaching university that is firmly grounded in the liberal arts tradition and the timeless Benedictine wisdom that seeks balanced growth of mind, body, and spirit. The Saint Leo University of today is a private, nonprofit institution that creates hospitable learning communities wherever our students want to be or need to be, whether that is a campus classroom, a web-based environment, an employer’s worksite, a military base, or an office park. We welcome people of all faiths and of no religious affiliation, and encourage learners of all generations. We are committed to providing educational opportunities to our nation’s armed forces, our veterans, and their families. We are regionally accredited to award degrees ranging from the associate to the doctorate, and we guide all our students to develop their capacities for critical thinking, moral reflection, and lifelong learning and leadership.

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