Political Party Members Must Name Candidates for Florida’s Governor’s Race Soon, Maybe Reluctantly

ST. LEO, FL – The most recent survey of Florida voters from the Saint Leo University Polling Institute (http://polls.saintleo.edu) indicates Republican Gov. Rick Scott may have an edge over the Democratic incumbent Bill Nelson in the upcoming race to represent the Sunshine State in the United States Senate.

Nelson first took office in the U.S. Senate in 2001 and is now nearing the end of his third term. Scott formally announced in April that he is challenging Nelson. Scott is near the end of his second term as governor and is prevented by term limits from seeking that office again now.

The most recent poll of 506 Florida voters conducted by the Saint Leo University Polling Institute found that 39.5 percent would choose Scott if the election was held at the time of the survey, which was conducted from May 25 through May 31, 2018. Nelson was selected by 34.4 percent.

Not everyone has made a decision, though, as 17.8 percent say they did not know, and another 8.3 percent say they wanted someone else. Results collected by the polling institute in February were similar.

Voter preferences for U.S. Senate seat from Florida over time

Survey choices May 2018 – % February 2018 – % November 2017 – %
Bill Nelson (D) 34.4 35.2 31.6
Rick Scott (R) 39.5 41.6 41.8
Someone else 8.3 8.6 8.2
Undecided 17.8 14.6 18.4


“Governor Scott has consistently held an advantage over Senator Nelson in our polling, so the concern from Democrats nationally about losing in Florida is justified,” said Frank Orlando, director of the Saint Leo University Polling Institute and a political scientist. “Governor Scott has maintained his popularity over the past year, which makes him a formidable opponent for Nelson. The hope among Democrats is that President Donald Trump’s lack of popularity will drag Scott down. The issue is that Trump’s approval has been in the mid- to upper-40s in Florida for a while. If that rating doesn’t drop, it’s probably not enough to drag Scott down. Nelson is definitely behind,” Orlando noted, adding “but it’s still a long way to November.”

A different question asked voters what they think of Scott’s job performance as governor, and results were in his favor. Of the voters responding, 27.5 percent say they have a very favorable opinion of Scott’s work as governor and 31 percent say somewhat favorable, for a combined 58.5 percent expressing positives. Those who say their opinions were somewhat unfavorable were recorded at 15 percent, and another 18.4 percent say their opinions are not at all favorable, for a combined 33.4 percent expressing negative views. Just 8.1 percent say they are unsure.

Party Nominations for Gubernatorial Candidates

Florida voters who are registered either Democrat or Republican are being asked to choose in their parties’ respective primaries on August 28 which candidate they want to run for governor in the general election in November. The survey asked which way the party members are leaning.

On the Republican side, Florida Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam, who is well-known in state politics, was selected by 34.5 percent of the 174 Republicans responding to the survey. U.S. Rep. Ron DeSantis of Jacksonville, who has been endorsed by President Donald J. Trump, was preferred by 12.6 percent.

But the largest group of GOP survey respondents, 43.7 percent, were unsure. And 9.2 percent of respondents say they want someone else to back.

Putnam and DeSantis GOP primary candidate results over time

Candidate May 2018 – % February 2018 – % November 2017 – %
Putnam (GOP establishment figure) 34.5 15.4 15.1
DeSantis (challenger) 12.6 13.7 4.8


“While a lot of voters remain undecided, Adam Putnam seems to be gaining momentum. He has been in the news a lot lately, but the race is his to lose. DeSantis hasn’t been able to turn this race into the 2016 primary in the state where he plays the role of Donald Trump and Putnam is in the Marco Rubio role,” Orlando said, recalling the unsuccessful bid of Florida’s other U.S. senator for the GOP presidential nomination in 2016. “DeSantis has ground to make up in the next few months.”

It is a more crowded primary field on the Democratic side. The survey showed former U.S. Rep. Gwen Graham and former Palm Beach Mayor Philip Levine were each selected by 14.4 percent of the 195 Democrats included in the survey sample. Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum was chosen by 9.7 percent and Orlando businessman Chris King trailed at 5.6 percent.

Strikingly, 46.7 percent said they don’t know which candidate to back and another 9.2 percent say they want someone else. And now there is someone else. Billionaire and real estate investor Jeff Greene of Palm Beach entered the Democratic field as a latecomer, a day after Saint Leo stopped taking answers from respondents.

“The Democratic race is still very open,” Orlando commented. “Gwen Graham continues to rack up establishment support, such as the endorsement of the Florida Education Association (teachers’ union) last week. She is still being outspent by the Levine campaign. It remains to be seen whether his money will allow him to gain a foothold outside of his native South Florida.”

Respondents Weigh Options with Two Final Gubernatorial Candidates

The survey also tested all Florida voters to see how the leading Democratic candidates might fare against the two GOP candidates. This was accomplished through four questions stating possible matchups. Each time, the most popular response—at percentage levels of roughly 43 percent to 49 percent—showed that people said they don’t know. Other results trailed so far behind that no one office-seeker demonstrated an unshakeable lead.

For instance:

  • Adam Putnam vs. Gwen Graham put Putnam ahead at 24.5 percent, compared to 19.6 percent for Graham.
  • Adam Putnam vs. Philip Levine had Putnam at 24.3 percent, compared to 20.2 percent for Levine.
  • Gwen Graham vs. Ron DeSantis put Graham ahead at 21.5 percent, compared to 16 percent for DeSantis.
  • Philip Levine vs. Ron DeSantis had Levine at 21.9 percent, compared to 17 percent for DeSantis.

Also, in each of those potential scenarios, roughly 11 percent to 13 percent of respondents wanted to be able to choose someone else.

“It looks like Putnam has a small advantage over the top two Democrats,” Orlando said,  “whereas DeSantis is behind. This probably shows both that Putnam is better known and that Putnam is seen as the more moderate Republican in the race. He is less likely to ‘scare’ away moderate voters that may not like DeSantis receiving the Trump endorsement.”

About the Poll

METHODOLOGY: The poll sampled opinions of 506 Florida respondents. The survey was conducted May 25 through May 31, 2018. 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) with questions asked of all 506.

To attain a representative view of the electorate, the sample included 174 Republican voters and 195 Democratic voters.

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 also be found here: http://polls.saintleo.edu. You can also follow the institute on Twitter @saintleopolls.


Media contacts: Jo-Ann Johnston, Saint Leo University, University Communications jo-ann.johnston@saintleo.edu or (352) 588-8237 or (352) 467-0843 (cell/text).     

Mary McCoy, Saint Leo University, University Communications mary.mccoy02@saintleo.edu or (352) 588-7118 or (813) 610-8416 (cell/text).


More About Saint Leo University

Saint Leo University (www.saintleo.edu) 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.