BOSTON – Former Gov. Mitt Romney is the early front-runner in Florida’s Republican presidential primary, and he was the only Republican challenger who led President Barack Obama in a general election match-up there (43 percent to 42 percent), according to a Suffolk University/7NEWS (WSVN-Miami) poll of registered voters in Florida.
Republican voters said their top choice for a nominee was Romney (33 percent), followed by Mike Huckabee (14 percent), Newt Gingrich (9 percent), Donald Trump (8 percent) and Sarah Palin (8 percent), with 17 percent undecided.
“Mitt Romney appears to be a clone of Hillary Clinton before the 2008 presidential primary heated up,” said David Paleologos, director of the Political Research Center at Boston’s Suffolk University. “Like Clinton, he has a sizable lead in many key states, including Florida, and seems to be the ‘inevitable’ nominee.”
A majority of Sunshine State voters said they felt the country was on the wrong track (64 percent). Nearly half (48 percent) said they disapproved of the job Obama is doing as president, while 41 percent approved, and 11 percent were undecided. Obama won eight out of nine ballot tests against possible Republican challengers but received less than the critical 50 percent support in all but one match-up: He bested Sarah Palin 52 percent to 34 percent.
Florida Republicans are gearing up to challenge incumbent Sen. Bill Nelson, a Democrat, in 2012. However, with 67 percent of Republican voters saying they were undecided among 10 candidates listed, no clear front-runner emerged in this race. Candidates who received the most support were Congressman Daniel Webster (7 percent), television host Joe Scarborough (6 percent), and Congressman Vern Buchanan (5 percent).
When asked to characterize Republican Gov. Rick Scott’s first 100 days in office, 41 percent of respondents said “negative and damaging,” compared with 26 percent who said “positive and productive.” Twenty percent felt Scott’s actions over the last three months have had “little impact.” Overall, 53 percent said they disagreed with how Scott is governing the state. Of those disapproving, 18 percent were registered Republicans, 57 percent were Democrats and 25 percent independents/no party.
“So much for a political honeymoon; it’s taken Gov. Scott less than 100 days to begin a free fall in popularity and to generate negative perceptions about job performance and damaging the state he was elected to lead,” said Paleologos. “There has been a backlash in public opinion on both sides of the aisle in response to his aggressive and uncompromising leadership style.”
There is little question Florida still feels the sting of the economic crisis, with 88 percent of respondents saying they did not believe the recession is over in the Sunshine State, down just 1 point from October 2010, despite numerous reports suggesting that the recession has been over for a year. And, while 40 percent agreed that Scott’s plan to cut corporate taxes and regulations would help bring jobs to Florida, another 42 percent said they felt that corporate taxes in Florida were too low.
Scott’s controversial order requiring many state workers and job applicants to undergo mandatory drug testing found widespread support, with 74 percent approving the measure. However, a majority (63 percent) opposed his proposed cuts to K-12 education.
In January 2008 Suffolk University forecast that John McCain would win Florida’s Republican presidential primary by 3 points; McCain won by 5 points. In late October 2008, Suffolk University polling predicted a 5-point Barack Obama general election win. He won by 3 points on Election Day.
The statewide survey of 600 Florida registered voters was conducted April 10-12, 2011. The margin of error is +/-4 percent at a 95 percent level of confidence. Marginals and full cross-tabulation data will be posted at 6 p.m. Wednesday, April 13, 2011, on the Suffolk University Political Research Center Web site.