TALLAHASSEE -- The race for governor of Florida looks as close as ever with a new statewide poll showing voters are evenly divided on the contest and many people question the integrity of both candidates.
The Sept. 17-22 poll by Quinnipiac University shows Republican Gov. Rick Scott with 44 percent support, Democrat Charlie Crist with 42 percent and Libertarian Adrian Wyllie at 8 percent. Six percent were undecided and 17 percent said they still might change their minds.
The poll of 991 likely voters has a margin of error of 3.1 percentage points, making the race a statistical tie days before hundreds of thousands of voters begin to cast absentee ballots.
This marks the first time that a Quinnipiac poll shows Scott in the lead in his bid for a second term, even though he has never been viewed favorably by more than 50 percent of Florida voters in any poll.
“Scott may not have made everybody love him, but he’s changed some minds. He’s very competitive,” said Peter Brown, assistant director of the Quinnipiac Polling Institute.
The trend of Quinnipiac polls over the past four years shows the full impact of Scott’s $36 million TV ad onslaught against Crist since he entered the race in November 2013. Crist’s favorability rating has plummeted deeper than in 2010 when he was governor during a deep recession and lost an independent U.S. Senate bid.
Now, 49 percent view Crist unfavorably and 41 percent view him favorably. That’s a 25 percentage-point decline in Crist’s favorability rating since June 2013.
Scott’s favorability rating has fallen 6 points. But because his ratings were so low for so long, both candidates are now viewed similarly by voters.
Scott is viewed unfavorably by 48 percent of likely voters and favorably by 42 percent, compared to a 49-41 percent margin for Crist.
A Quinnipiac poll in March 2013 showed Crist with a mammoth 16-percentage-point lead over Scott, 50 percent to 34 percent.
Today, fewer than four out of 10 voters consider Scott or Crist honest and trustworthy.
Among independent voters only, 55 percent said Crist is not honest and trustworthy, and 51 percent said Scott is not.
Scott outpaces Crist on leadership qualities, 58 percent to 46 percent, and Scott performs better among independents than Crist, 44 percent to 37 percent.
According to Quinnipiac, Crist’s advantage with women voters has virtually disappeared, at 43 percent to Scott’s 41 percent.
Men prefer Scott by 48 percent to 40 percent.
Crist does slightly better on the “empathy index,” but again the numbers are razor-close. When the pollster asked which candidate “cares about the needs and problems of people like you,” 46 percent favored Crist and 42 percent said Scott.
With less than six weeks to Election Day, Brown said two keys to the outcome of the election are independent voters and supporters of Wyllie, who began a low-budget TV ad campaign in Tampa Bay on Wednesday in which he offers himself as “the third choice,” an alternative to Scott and Crist and their negative ads.
The outcome begins to take shape next week when hundreds of thousands of absentee ballots will be mailed to Florida households.
“Voters are just now beginning to think about it,” Brown said.