Respondents so far less invested in the field of candidates for 2018 governor’s election

ST.LEO – A new survey of Florida residents by the Saint Leo University Polling Institute ( finds that the state’s term-limited Republican governor, Rick Scott, and incumbent U.S. Senator Bill Nelson, a Democrat, would be about tied if residents had to choose now between the two men for U.S. Senate.

Florida voters will choose in 2018 a U.S. Senator for the seat that Nelson now holds. The outcome of the race is important to legislative priorities nationally, as well as to Floridians, as the results could affect whether Republicans continue to control the U.S. Senate. Nelson is officially running for re-election. Scott is a presumed favorite to run, though yet has not made an official announcement. Scott is now in his second term as governor and his current term will expire at the end of 2018.

The nonpartisan polling institute asked 500 Florida residents to state their preference between the two politicians in a poll conducted from September 10 to September 16. The margin of error for the poll is 4.5 percentage points, meaning the actual results could vary by that much in either direction

The institute asked the same question back in March, and it was worded the same way. Both times the hypothetical results showed the contest was too close to call, though the slight advantage flipped this time from Nelson to Scott.

If the 2018 election for Florida United States Senator was held today and the candidates were Bill Nelson and Rick Scott, which would you support?

Candidate March 2017 results September 2017 results
Bill Nelson 38.7% 33.3%
Rick Scott 34.3% 35.3%
Someone else 10.3% 10.8%
Undecided 16.8% 20.5%


The polling institute also asked in both September in March if respondents had a very favorable, somewhat favorable, somewhat unfavorable, or not at all favorable opinion of the job Scott is doing as governor. The combined result for very favorable and somewhat favorable answers in September edged up to 61.8 percent from 55.8 percent in March. Meanwhile, the combined result for somewhat unfavorable and not at all favorable in answers for Scott in September was 30 percent, down from 39.2 percent in March. Another 8.2 percent said they were not sure in the September results, compared to 4.9 in March.

“It seems as though voters are giving Rick Scott good grades for his leadership during Hurricane Irma,” said Frank Orlando, director of the Saint Leo University Polling Institute and a political scientist who teaches at the university.  “Every corner of the state was affected, and this type of crisis can produce a sort of rally-around-the-flag effect for the executive when handled well.”

Possible GOP and Democratic Nominees for Governor
Floridians will also face a choice for governor November 6, 2018, so political parties will have to choose their respective candidates at the primary election on August 28, 2018.

Republicans in the most recent survey (who numbered 173 of the 500 respondents) were asked to choose from a long list of potential candidates which they would support for the party nomination. The most frequent response was unsure, selected by 43.7 percent. That is 10 points more than the March survey found.

The second most popular response was former U.S. Representative and current Florida Commissioner of Agriculture Adam Putnam, with 19.7 percent of responses. In March, Putnam had only 12.6 percent and trailed Mike Huckabee, the former Arkansas governor and transplant to Florida. But Huckabee has since said he does not want to run for Florida governor in 2018, and Putnam formally declared his candidacy in May.

“It isn’t surprising to see Adam Putnam top the GOP list at the current time because of the name ID advantage that he possesses as a statewide office holder,” Orlando said. “It’s still much too early to draw too many conclusions other than the fact that the other candidates need to play catch-up in visibility.”

On the Democratic side, 190 respondents were given a long list of names of people who might or are running for the party nomination for governor. The most popular choice of respondents was unsure at 43.7 percent, coincidentally the same as the Republicans. In March, 39.5 percent of Democrats were unsure.

The other September Democratic results are complicated, however, by the fact that former Congressman Patrick Murphy of Palm Beach County was on the list and apparently quietly withdrew from consideration for office next year at the time of the polling.

Polling director Orlando noted the rest of the Democratic field possibly includes famous attorney and medical marijuana supporter John Morgan. Morgan gets lots of coverage in the press, but has not said yet whether he will run.

Two other Democrats are officially in the race. Gwen Graham, former congressional representative and daughter of former governor Bob Graham, is a declared candidate for the nomination. Andrew Gillum, Tallahassee mayor, is another declared candidate.

Orlando said of the field, “No one is in really good shape, but Graham and Morgan (should he run) have name-ID advantages.”


What-if Selection
All respondents were asked which candidate they would choose for Florida governor in 2018 if it turned out that Republican Putnam and Democrat Morgan were the ballot choices. The same question was asked in March; the picture was murky, then and now.

Hypothetical candidate choice March 2017 results September 2017 results
Adam Putnam 19.5% 18%
John Morgan 25.6% 24.4%
Someone else 12.6% 15.8%
Undecided 42.2% 41.8%

“It’s very early, but it doesn’t look like there’s a lot of movement in our head-to-head between Putnam and Morgan,” Orlando said. “The race should heat up as we head into the winter.”

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: The poll sampled opinions of 500 approximately proportional to state population contribution nationwide. The survey was conducted September 10-16, 2017. 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 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 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 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. Saint Leo welcomes people of all faiths and of no religious affiliation, and encourages learners of all generations. The university is committed to providing educational opportunities to the nation’s armed forces, veterans, and their families. Saint Leo is regionally accredited to award degrees ranging from the associate to the doctorate, and the faculty and staff guide all students to develop their capacities for critical thinking, moral reflection, and lifelong learning and leadership.

The university remains the faithful steward of the beautiful lakeside University Campus in the Tampa Bay region of Florida, where its founding monks created the first Catholic college in the state in 1889. Serving more than 13,000 students, Saint Leo has expanded to downtown Tampa, to other sites in Florida and beyond, and maintains a physical presence in seven states. The university provides highly respected online learning programs to students nationally and internationally. More than 90,000 alumni reside in all 50 states, in Washington, DC, in three U.S. territories, and in 76 countries.