Sen. Bill Nelson leads Gov. Rick Scott in a potential 2018 U.S. Senate match-up, according to a new public-opinion poll that suggests next year's election will be defined by the presidency of Donald Trump.
Nelson is ahead of Scott by 46-41 percent in the survey released Wednesday by Jacksonville-based Mason-Dixon Polling & Research. That 5-percentage-point lead is similar to the 6-point advantage Nelson had over Scott in another poll released Monday by the University of North Florida. Scott has yet to declare his candidacy.
While favorable views of both candidates are almost identical — 42 percent for Nelson and 41 for Scott, according to the poll — more respondents viewed Scott unfavorably: 38 percent, compared to 25 percent for Nelson. President Trump is even more disliked: 43 percent hold a favorable opinion of him, compared to 48 percent who hold a negative one.
"This contrast in perception will be part of the dynamic of the race, as Scott stirs more passion and polarization (much like Trump), while Nelson is generally liked but perceived as a bland policy wonk," pollster Brad Coker wrote in a memo outlining the results. "The outcome of the race will likely be shaped by the political fortunes of President Donald Trump. The central question is how will the country feel about Trump in 2018?"
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Florida appears just as divided in the poll as it did last November, when Trump won the state by about 1 percentage point. Asked about their preferred senate candidates, 47 percent said they'd back a Democrat who'd oppose Trump's agenda — and 45 percent said they'd back a Republican who supports it.
Historically in Florida, Republicans do better at getting their voters to the polls in midterm elections.
The poll of 625 registered voters was conducted by phone from Feb. 24-28. It has an error margin of plus-or-minus 4 percentage points.