Thursday, January 23, 2014

Florida Governor Rick Scott Catches Ex-Gov Charlie Crist, In Spite Of Heavily Pro-Obama Electorate

Photo courtesy of the AP/Steve Cannon.

It's amazing what a year can do in politics. Last year about this time, still reeling from the aftermath of a devastating presidential election loss, Republicans looked awful on the generic congressional ballot. President Obama was still in the midst of his post-victory honeymoon with voters, at least as far as his job approval ratings were concerned. And up and down the 2014 Governor/Senate race roster, things just weren't looking as bleak for Democrats as they could.

Flash forward and Democrats and Republicans are virtually tied on the generic ballot (while Democrats haven't led in a single poll besides Rasmussen or YouGov for nearly two months). The President has recently gone through a spate of the worst job approval ratings of his presidency, and is still suffering on that front. And most importantly, more than a few 2014 races are looking better for Republicans than they did one year ago - namely, the Florida Governor's race.

Per Democratic pollster, Public Policy Polling, over the course of the last year, former Republican Governor and current Democratic gubernatorial nominee Charlie Crist has gone from an impressive 53% of the vote in a match-up with Republican incumbent Rick Scott (against his 39%), to 43% of the vote (with Scott up to 41%). In other words, Crist's lead has dropped from a substantial 14 points, to a statistically insignificant 2 points - a net drop of 12 points.

What's worse, there's been a fairly miraculous turnaround in Florida voters' personal views towards the man who tried but failed to leap from the Governor's office to the US Senate in 2010. Consider the table below:

One year ago, half of Florida voters had a favorable view of Charlie Crist. Today, that number has dropped to barely over one-third (36%). Meanwhile, unfavorable views of the former of Governor have risen from 38% to 46%. Overall, Crist's net favorability score has dropped 21 points since last January.

Governor Rick Scott's suddenly competitive reelection bid is less due to any improvement among voters on his end, and more thanks to Charlie Crist's precipitous drop. While the governor's job approval rating has improved from -24 to -17 points, he's still at a measly 34% approval, with 51% disapproving.

President Obama's approval rating is down, but only slightly from just after the 2012 election (a notable difference from most recent state findings by other pollsters).

In sum, things just got a lot worse for Charlie Crist in Florida. And if you buy one particular crosstab provided by the Democrats most prolific pollster, things may be even worse for Crist than they appear on the surface. Peering through the PPP tabs, consider question #20, which asks Florida poll respondents to identify who they voted for in the 2012 presidential race:

The finding is peculiar because Mitt Romney actually performed much better against Barack Obama in 2012 than the result suggests, losing the state by less than one full point. The finding is significant because it goes against a 2013 trend picked-up by Real Clear Politics' Sean Trende, in which Democratic voter turnout drops in non-presidential years from the previous presidential election - a phenomenon that is not unique to just 2013.

In 2009, for example, Virgina Governor voters told exit pollsters they voted for John McCain over Barack Obama in 2008 by a 51-43% margin. In reality, the voters that turned out in November 2008 supported Obama 53-46%, a net 15-pt difference. In 2010, voters told exit pollsters they split their 2008 vote evenly between Barack Obama and John McCain, at 45% a piece nationally. In reality, they voted 53-46% for Obama. In Florida specifically, 2010 voters told exit pollsters they split their vote evenly between McCain and Obama in 2008, at 47-47%. In reality, Obama carried the state 51-48%. This pattern shows up in the majority of the twenty-five states that were exit polled in 2010. Of those twenty-five states, the "who did you vote for in 2008" finding shifted in the Republicans favor in twenty of them (by an average of 5 points). It shifted in the Democrats favor in just 4 of the 20 states, and did not shift at all from 2008 in one state. See the chart below:

If 2013, 2010, and 2009 are any indication, the 2014 electorate will NOT feature considerably less Romney voters than turned out in 2012, PPP's January 2014 poll finding aside.

So what would that Florida PPP poll have looked like if it were reweighted to show an electorate that voted 50-49% for Obama over Mitt Romney, like what actually happened in 2012, and like what most of PPP's other Florida polls found last year, all other survey findings remaining the same? Or what if PPP had found an electorate 48% Romney, 46% Obama (the result assuming an electoral shift from 2012 to 2014 like the one seen in Florida from 2008 to 2010)?

In other looks a lot rosier for Rick Scott than it might seem today. But either way you look at it, you can't deny that Scott is the best positioned he's been to date in the Florida Governor's race against Charlie Crist. On the other hand, the mid-to-low 40% range is far from safe for any incumbent...

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