A pair of Palm Beach neighbors — President Donald Trump and billionaire real estate investor Jeff Greene — have shaken up Florida’s race for governor while Republican Gov. Rick Scott is edging Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson in a nationally watched Senate contest, according to a new Florida Atlantic University poll.
U.S. Rep. Ron DeSantis, who got Trump’s “full endorsement” last month, has zoomed to a 36 percent-to-27 percent lead over Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam in the GOP primary for governor, the FAU Business and Economics Polling Initiative survey says. DeSantis and Putnam were virtually tied when FAU last polled the race in early May.
Greene, who lives two properties south of Trump’s Mar-a-Lago estate, has thrust himself into contention for the Democratic gubernatorial nomination after entering the race in June and spending more than $10 million of his own money. FAU’s poll puts former U.S. Rep. Gwen Graham atop the Democratic field with 20 percent support, followed by former Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine at 16 percent and Greene at 14 percent.
“It appears that the Greene candidacy is a game-changer in the race for the Democratic nomination,” said Polling Initiative Director Monica Escaleras.
The poll of 800 registered voters was conducted Friday and Saturday. Its margin of error is 3.4 percent overall, with a 6 percent margin of error for the Republican sample and 5.9 percent margin of error for the Democratic sample.
Trump has a 41 percent approval rating in Florida, a state he narrowly won in 2016, with 47 percent of voters disapproving. That’s down slightly from the 43 percent approval and 45 percent disapproval FAU measured in May.
Trump’s approval is 52 percent among men and 31 percent among women. Eighty percent of Republicans approve of Trump’s performance while only 13 percent of Democrats do. Among independent voters, 30 percent approve of the job Trump is doing while 51 percent disapprove.
“While the President can help Congressman DeSantis in the primary, Mr. Trump’s underwater approval ratings may be a drag in the general election,” said FAU Political Science Professor Kevin Wagner.
In the U.S. Senate race, Scott holds a 44 percent-to-40 percent lead over Nelson in the new poll. That’s the same advantage he had in FAU’s May survey.
Independent voters favor Scott over Nelson by a 39-to-34 percent margin. The two-term governor has a 50 percent job approval rating, with 32 percent disapproving. Three-term Sen. Nelson’s approval rating is 37 percent, with 31 percent disapproving.
As the Aug. 28 primaries approach, the FAU poll shows considerable fluidity in the Republican and Democratic gubernatorial races.
Twenty-three percent of Republican voters say they’re undecided and another 14 percent back other candidates or “someone else.” Among Democrats, 31 percent are undecided, with 9 percent favoring businessman Chris King and 7 percent for Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum.
Sixty-two percent of Florida voters say they are concerned that Russia may try to interfere in the 2018 elections. That includes 88 percent of Democrats, 45 percent of Republicans and 67 percent of independent voters.
Two-thirds of voters are concerned about toxic algae blooms in Florida waters. Voters who are “very concerned” about the issue favor Nelson over Scott by a 55-to-34 percent margin while those who are “somewhat concerned” prefer Scott, 51 percent to 31 percent.
Among Democrats, 34 percent rate health care as the most important issue in the upcoming elections, with 20 percent identifying immigration. Among Republicans, 44 percent say immigration is the top issue, with health care a distant second at 19 percent.