SAINT LEO – Florida Republicans asked to think about the next major election in their lives— coming in 2018—favor current Governor Rick Scott above others named as possible GOP nominees to run for U.S. Senate, a new Saint Leo University Polling Institute  ( survey shows.

The poll of 501 Florida residents was completed November 27 through November 30, 2016.

Republicans in the sample were asked whom they could support in a primary for the six-year term for U.S. Senate. The seat is currently held by three-term Democratic incumbent Senator Bill Nelson.

If Florida Governor Scott wanted to be the GOP candidate, 41 percent of the Republicans surveyed said they could support him. Scott is prevented by term limits from seeking the office of governor again. He has been elected twice, consecutively.

After Scott, the next most common answer was “unsure or don’t know,” selected by 33.1 percent. Another 11.2 percent said they wanted “someone else” instead of the names presented. The choices shown were solely names, without current political offices or occupations attached.

Outgoing Republican Congressman David Jolly of St. Petersburg, who lost his bid to return to the U.S. House of Representatives, was supported by 6.2 percent. The other names presented were current officeholders, all even at less than 3 percent: U.S. Rep. Ron DeSantis of Ponte Vedra Beach on Florida’s east coast; Carlos Lopez-Cantera, lieutenant governor under Scott; and U.S. Rep. Tom Rooney of Okeechobee.

“Clearly Rick Scott is benefitting from the fact that he is the most well-known of the Republicans seeking to unseat Bill Nelson,” said Saint Leo University Polling Institute Director Frank Orlando. “When facing off against the candidates who sought the GOP nomination before Marco Rubio decided to run for re-election, he’s dominating against candidates that have a lot of catching up to do in terms of name identification.”

Nelson, who is now 74, enjoys long-established name recognition.

All Florida residents taking the survey, regardless of party, were asked to rate the senator’s job performance. His approval rating was 51.8 percent (16.8 percent very favorable and 35 percent somewhat favorable). Another 24.8 percent held an unfavorable view (15.8 percent somewhat unfavorable and 9 percent very unfavorable). The remaining 23.4 percent were unsure.

“Bill Nelson remains relatively popular, but in this era, all politics are becoming national,” said Orlando, who also teaches political science at the university. “His re-election effort will certainly be affected by the climate in 2018. Democrats have to play defense in many states that Donald Trump won, with the Sunshine State being foremost among them.”

Possible primary candidates for governor

Neither Democrats nor Republicans surveyed showed strong support for potential nominees listed. In fact, 49.4 percent of the Democrats surveyed and 47.2 percent of the Republicans said they didn’t know or were not sure. And for both parties, that was the top answer.

For Democrats, the next most popular choice was John Morgan, the private attorney who recently said he might run for governor following his successful advocacy for the November passage of a state constitutional amendment allowing medical marijuana. Morgan is also recognizable for broadcast commercials and other advertisements for his family’s personal injury and consumer law practice. He was selected by 19.7 percent of the Democrats polled.

The next most popular choice: “someone else” at 6.7 percent.

That exceeds the 5.1 percent who were supportive of: Gwen Graham, the daughter of former governor and U.S. Senator Bob Graham, who is finishing her term as a congresswoman representing North Florida; Bob Buckhorn, Tampa’s mayor; and Buddy Dyer, Orlando’s mayor.

Tampa Congresswoman Kathy Castor attracted 3.9 percent. Phil Levine, mayor of Miami Beach, got 3.4 percent.

Jack Seiler, Fort Lauderdale’s mayor, registered the support of 1.1 percent. Florida State Senator Jeremy Ring of Broward County, got 0.6 percent. Ring is term limited.

“Once again, we’re very early in the cycle, so it’s tough to draw too many conclusions, but there are no slam-dunk favorites in this race. John Morgan is in the early lead, but it will be interesting to see who ends up receiving the most ‘establishment’ and national money in this race,” Orlando said.

GOP primary nominee names

On the Republican side for governor, after the more than 47 percent who said they didn’t know whom to support, the most favored choice of respondents was former Arkansas governor, presidential hopeful, and conservative broadcast host Mike Huckabee. Huckabee was selected by 31.5 percent of respondents. He has lived in Florida since moving to the Panhandle in 2010.

Next in the ranking came “someone else” at 7.3 percent, followed by Adam Putnam at 6.2 percent. Putnam served in Congress and the state legislature before winning his current elected post as Florida’s commissioner of agriculture, which also oversees consumer protection.

After Putnam, came the state’s elected Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater at 4.5 percent. Florida. State House Speaker Richard Corcoran of Pasco County attracted the support of 2.2 percent.

Former State House Speaker Will Weatherford of Pasco County and former St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Baker each got 0.6 percent.

“Here again, it’s difficult to tell how much to read into Mike Huckabee’s early lead beyond just name identification,” Orlando said. “Still, it must be a bit concerning for statewide officials like Adam Putnam and Jeff Atwater to be the top choice of so few Florida Republicans at this point. Huckabee is in a good position to benefit from his support of Donald Trump, his past high profile on Fox News, and his ideology and faith, which will play well in his new home in the Panhandle.”

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. The national poll 1,001 adults was conducted from November 27 through November 30, 2016 and has a plus or minus 3.0 percent margin of error. A sample of 501 adults in Florida were also surveyed from November 27 through November 30, 2016. The findings from the Florida survey have 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 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.

We remain the faithful stewards of the beautiful lakeside University Campus in the Tampa Bay region of Florida, where our founding monks created the first Catholic college in the state in 1889. Serving nearly 15,000 students, we have expanded to downtown Tampa, to other sites in Florida and beyond, and maintain a physical presence in seven states. We provide highly respected online learning programs to students nationally and internationally. More than 82,000 alumni reside in all 50 states, in Washington, DC, in three U.S. territories, and in 76 countries.