Gov. Rick Scott is gaining ground on former Gov. Charlie Crist in the latest survey from Public Policy Polling, which shows the Democrat leads the incumbent by just 2 percentage points.
In late September, when PPP last polled the Florida race, Crist led by 12 points.
That net loss of 10 for Crist is fueled in great part by Republicans, who appear to be coming home to the once-deeply unpopular Scott.
GOP voters have shifted 22 points in Scott’s direction as the governor solidifies his base, according to a comparison of the two surveys by the firm, which tends to poll for Democrats and liberals.
The poll indicates Democrats have shifted 9 points in Scott’s favor. Independents have barely changed on balance. Put it all together, and Crist’s 58-30 percent lead in September is now 43-41.
Scott’s improvement was bound to happen in Florida, an evenly divided state where close elections are the norm. Indeed, Scott isn't a strong candidate. He barely beats former Weston state Sen. Nan Rich, a Democrat, 40-34 percent.
Still, Scott's fortunes appear to be improving along with the overall condition of the economy. Scott and the Republican Party of Florida also spent money on paid TV ads in November bashing Crist, once a Republican governor, as an “opportunist.”
PPP also surveyed voters about Obamacare’s rollout, with 62 percent saying it has been unsuccessful and 35 percent successful. By 67-27, voters say Congress shouldn’t cut long-term unemployment compensation insurance. Voters narrowly support gay marriage 47-44 (the case is now in the courts).
In light of a bizarre movie theater shooting in Wesley Chapel, voters by 73-21 percent say guns shouldn’t be allowed in movies.
Also, medical marijuana continues to poll well with 65 percent in favor and 23 percent oppose.
In Attorney General Pam Bondi’s race, she’s clinging to narrow leads of only 2 points over Democrat Perry Thurston and 3 points over George Sheldon.
Though this month’s poll and the one in September were conducted by PPP, there is a change in the firm’s techniques.
PPP conducts surveys using so-called “robo-polls” in which respondents answer questions by pushing buttons on their phones. Robo polls don’t survey cellphones, which are used more by younger people, minorities and liberals when compared to conservatives, non-Hispanic whites and older people, who tend to be more likely to have landlines. So PPP announced in January that 20 percent of its survey respondents are to be reached new Internet-based polling technique, the scientific validity of which is unclear. PPP also came under fire last year from the New Repubulic.
Cellphone polling is so important that Pew Research recently announced it’s conducting a majority of its calls via cellphone.
When The Miami Herald joined forces with Florida International University to robo-poll Hispanics, we quickly realized it didn’t work for this fastest-growing demographic group, which accounts for about 14 percent of registered voters.
Older Cuban-Americans who tend to vote Republican disproportionately answered the phone, skewing the results to make it appear as if Obama only led Mitt Romney 51-47. Strip out the Cuban-Americans, and Obama’s lead was 65-32 percent.
The exit polls showed the latter results were far more accurate, with Obama winning the Florida Hispanic vote 60-39 percent.
The complications of robo polling Hispanics is clear in the PPP surveys as well.
In September, Crist led Scott by 12 points among Hispanics. Now the poll says Scott leads by 20 points. That’s an astonishing 32-point shift in the absence of paid Spanish-language media or in-depth Hispanic outreach.
Yes, Scott appointed Miami-Dade Property Appraiser Carlos Lopez-Cantera as the first Hispanic lieutenant governor. But for a host of reasons (most people pay no attention to LG picks, Lopez-Cantera isn’t that popular in Miami-Dade, where he barely won in a low turnout election).
Bottom line: the shift in the HIspanic numbers just looks unreal. The sample size of Hispanics is small -- just 77 of them, accounting for about 13 percent of the survey of 591 respondents.
Separately, Libertarians will justifiably complain that candidates like Adrian Wyllie weren’t polled.
Still, given all those caveats, the race appears to be shifting. Quinnipiac University’s poll showed the race tightening (from a 10-point Crist lead to a 7-point edge). Florida is a swing state. Crist still has lots of explaining to do. And Scott is on pace to raise as much as $100 million.
This is shaping up to be like all the other recent big Florida elections: a close one – whether or not PPP lucked into the results or scientifically hit the nail on the head.
As said in this space time and again: It ain't the topline, it's the trend. Right now, the trend is toward Scott.