By DARA KAM and JIM SAUNDERS
THE NEWS SERVICE OF FLORIDA
Less than two months before Election Day, Florida voters are split between their top two choices for governor, but they agree on one thing — neither candidate turns them on.
That’s according to a poll by Quinnipiac University released Wednesday. The survey found that Republican Gov. Rick Scott has a slight edge over Democrat Charlie Crist but, because that two-point lead falls within the margin of error, the contest is too close to call.
“The race is likely to be won by the candidate who’s able to convince voters that he is the least objectionable,” Peter Brown, assistant director of the Quinnipiac University Poll, told reporters.
The poll found that 44 percent of likely voters support Scott, while 42 percent back Crist and 8 percent support Libertarian Adrian Wyllie.
The poll also found that 17 percent of voters might change their minds, further proof that the race is a toss-up just a week before absentee ballots go in the mail and a month before early voting begins.
With the support of 83 percent of Democrats queried in the survey, Crist — the one-time Republican governor who left the GOP in 2010 in a failed bid for the U.S. Senate as an independent — appears to have solidified support from his new party. Similarly, 80 percent of Republicans favored Scott.
The key to the November election rests with independent voters and Wyllie supporters, Brown said. The level of support in the poll for the relatively unknown Wyllie, whose campaign finances are eclipsed by the war chests amassed by Scott and Crist, might not pan out at the ballot box, according to Brown.
“The big question is, will those who tell us today that they’re going to vote for Mr. Wyllie actually vote for Mr. Wyllie? And if they don’t vote for Mr. Wyllie, will they stay at home, or will they vote for one of the two major party candidates? That’s the $64,000 question,” he said.
Third-party candidates’ popularity tends to fade closer to the election, Brown said.
“Eight percent isn’t chopped liver, but at this point it doesn’t look like Mr. Wyllie’s competitive to win. But his voters could make the winner,” he said.
The survey comes after months of mudslinging on the air by Scott’s campaign and his backers, who have spent more than $30 million on television ads, mostly bashing Crist. Crist and his supporters have spent at least another $10 million, including ads attacking his opponent.
The negative campaigning appears to have paid off for Scott, at least in part. Crist’s popularity has dropped since the ads started airing, according to earlier Quinnipiac polls. But Brown cautioned against comparing Wednesday’s results with previous surveys because the most-recent poll was conducted of likely voters, while the earlier polls were conducted of registered voters, an important distinction.
Voters gave both Scott and Crist low marks on character. By a 49-37 percent margin, voters said Crist is not honest and trustworthy. Fifty-one percent of respondents said that Scott is not honest and trustworthy. Voters were split 46-45 percent on whether Crist cares about their needs and problems, while only 42 percent said they think Scott has those cares.
“Mr. Scott and Mr. Crist are both looked at, meehhhh, by voters in a less than complimentary way,” Brown said, shrugging. “Fewer than four in ten voters think either man is honest and trustworthy. That’s not unheard of, but it is unusual.”
Quinnipiac, which frequently conducts polls in Florida and other states, surveyed 991 likely Florida voters from Sept. 17 to Sept. 22. The poll has a margin of error of 3.1 percentage points.
The Quinnipiac results mirror other recent polls that showed Scott closing a gap in the race or taking a narrow lead. But Democratic pollster Steven Vancore said the Quinnipiac University survey is flawed.
Thirty-two percent of the voters who participated in the poll identified themselves as Republican, 30 percent as Democrats, and 31 percent as belonging to neither major party.
But those party affiliations don’t reflect actual turnout in the last two gubernatorial elections, Vancore said. In 2010, 46 percent of voters who cast ballots were Republicans, 38 percent were Democrats and 16 percent belonged to either minor parties or no party at all.
Republican voters are expected to edge out Democrats in November by at least four percentage points, while independents are predicted to comprise — at most — about 22 percent of the total turnout, Vancore said.
“They slightly under-sampled Republicans and they dramatically over-sampled (no-party affiliation) voters,” Vancore said.