Gov. Rick Scott's poll numbers are showing signs of progress, but he would still lose to former Gov. Charlie Crist by 10 points if the 2014 election were held today, according to a new Quinnipiac University poll.
Still one of America's least popular governors, Scott trails Crist 47 percent to 37 percent in a face-off between the Republican governor and his possible now-Democratic rival.
But the poll contains a glimmer of hope for Scott: Voters are closely divided in their assessment of his job performance, with 43 percent approving and 44 percent disapproving. That's a significant improvement over the previous Quinnipiac poll in March, when 36 percent of voters approved of Scott's performance and 49 percent disapproved.
The percentage of voters who have a favorable view of Scott is up to 40 percent, the highest since he took office nearly two-and-a-half years ago. But he has persistent problems with women, who favor Crist by 51 to 32 percent, and Hispanics favor Crist over Scott, 40-33 percent.
Crist's 13 percent share of Republican crossover votes is slightly higher than Scott's 8 percent share of Democrats.
Voters still say by a margin of 50 percent to 35 percent that Scott does not deserve to be re-elected, but that too is an improvement over the previous survey in March, when 55 percent said he didn't deserve a second term and 32 percent said he did.
"It is an indication of how far down Gov. Rick Scott's numbers have been that he can take some solace from a poll that finds him losing by 10 points to his predecessor in the governor's office," said Quinnipiac's Peter Brown. "In addition to cutting the deficit between himself and Crist, Scott sees his tepid job approval and favorability numbers and still-negative re-election numbers as notably improved. That doesn't mean that happy days are here again for the governor, but if he is going to make a comeback, these are the kinds of steps that would be required."
Voters have a favorable view of Crist by a margin of 48 to 31 percent. For Scott, that number is 40 percent favorable, 42 percent unfavorable.
By a margin of 47 to 44 percent, voters said Crist's switch to the Democratic Party is a positive thing, including 53 percent of independent voters. Speaking of independents, they favor Crist over Scott for governor by 45 percent to 33 percent.
The poll also shows that U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson would defeat Scott, 48-38 percent, but that Scott would defeat former Senate Democratic leader Nan Rich, 42-36 percent. Rich is one of three announced Democratic candidate for governor in 2014, and Nelson has repeatedly said he has no intention of running for governor. Quinnipiac did not ask voters about Alex Sink, the Democratic nominee in 2010 who is considering another bid.
Nelson does slightly better with independent voters against Scott (48-33 percent) than Crist.
Scott travels the state extensively claiming credit for improvements in Florida's economy, and the poll suggests that message is slowly getting through to Florida voters. One-third of them said the economy in Florida is getting better, and 14 percent said Scott deserves "a lot" of credit for that and 44 percent say he deserves "some" credit.
The bottom line: Scott's numbers were close to rock bottom and they had nowhere to go but up. The headline on Quinnipiac's news release summed it up nicely: "Gov's grades are low, but best ever."
Quinnipiac surveyed 1,176 Florida voters from June 11-16. The survey has a margin of error of plus or minus 2.9 percentage points.
-- Steve Bousquet