ST. PETERSBURG -- Gov. Rick Scott has emerged from last week's primary election with a 6-point lead over former governor Charlie Crist in their contentious race for Florida's top office, according to our exclusive Bay News 9/Tampa Bay Times/UF Graham Center statewide poll released Tuesday night.
Prepared by the Graham Center and University's of Florida's Bureau of Economic and Business Research, the poll also shows that the majority of voters don't trust Republican Scott or Democrat Crist and that Libertarian candidate Adrian Wyllie is not yet having a substantial impact on the race.
It was conducted between Aug. 27 (the day after the primary) through Sunday and has a plus or minus margin of error of 3.4 percent.In phone interviews with 814 Florida registered voters likely to vote, pollsters found that 44 percent of respondents would vote for Scott and 38 percent for Crist if given a choice between only the two. When Wyllie was added to the mix, Scott's advantage fell slightly to 5 percent.
The numbers reflect a turnabout for Scott, who in February trailed Crist by 7 points in another Graham Center poll and once trailed by as many as 16 points in a Quinnipiac University poll when Crist was still a speculative candidate.
While attack ads have been flying both ways, UF economist David Denslow points to an improved state economy as the biggest factor in the voter shift.
He cited a university survey that showed a 10-point improvement in the confidence of Florida consumers from February to August. "Being better off makes people like a sitting governor," Denslow said. "Why they are better off is almost irrelevant."
According to the poll, most voters do believe the governor plays an important role in the state economy. Seventy-one percent said the governor has a great deal of control over it, while 22 percent believe it is beyond his control.
Dan Smith, a UF political scientist, said the results show that Crist has his work cut out.
"He has broad name recognition, but lacks standing within the Democratic Party and has done little to rectify that," he said. "By contrast, he is facing a well-funded, disciplined and focused Republican opponent."
Many analysts have been casting Wyllie as a wild-card who could pull a significant number votes away from one of the candidates. But the poll shows the Libertarian collecting only 6 percent of the vote. That's in spite of the fact the poll shows a continued high level of voter distrust for both major candidates.
Only 39 percent of respondents said they see Scott, who once ran a hospital company that paid a record $1.7 billion in fines for health care fraud, as honest and ethical. And even fewer - 35 percent - said they see Crist, who since serving as a Republican governor from 2007-2011 has switched parties and done an about-face on several of his fundamental positions, as honest and ethical.
When voters were asked whether the candidates could be trusted, only 44 percent said yes about Scott (45 percent said no), 37 percent said yes about Crist (53 percent said no) and 61 percent said yes (7 percent said no) about Wyllie.
But voters do have high regard for Crist's and Scott 's intelligence. Seventy percent regarded both men as intelligent, and less than 23 percent viewed them as not intelligent.
In terms of leadership, Scott scored higher than Crist with 53 percent responding yes when asked if he would provide suitable leadership. Only 46 percent said the same for Crist. By contrast, Crist scored slightly higher than Scott in the category "understands my problems." Forty-six percent said yes for Crist, while 44 percent said yes for Scott.
Ana Cruz, Bay News 9's Democratic political analyst, said the poll shows that the negative campaigning that has defined the race so far has hurt both Scott and Crist.
"I think it's something that both the Democrats and the Republicans need to worry about," she said. "You could quite possibly elect a governor in the state of Florida with 45 or 46 percent of the vote, because you have a Libertarian pulling votes. I'm not too concerned at this point, but it is certainly something that the Democrats need to look out for."
Sixty-four percent of respondents said they have a great deal of interest in the election, and 83 percent said they were certain they would vote.
Polling was weighted by age, party identification and media market, allowing the results to mirror the distribution of age groups, party identification and media market in the Florida Voter File. It was also prepared for News Channel 13, Bay News 9's sister channel in Orlando.