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UNF poll finds Nelson, Scott neck-in-neck in 2018 US Senate race

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – A new poll of registered Florida voters who told pollsters they will vote in 2018 shows only one percentage point separates Sen. Bill Nelson, a Democrat, and Gov. Rick Scott, the Republican who is likely to run for the U.S. Senate seat.

Scott has not formally announced he is a candidate, but his second term as governor will end next year and he is widely expected to the the Republican's choice to run against Nelson, the four-term incumbent Democrat.

The University of North Florida Public Opinion Research Laboratory found, of all likely voters, 37 percent say they plan to vote for Nelson, while 36 percent plan to vote for Scott. One fifth of the voters polled said the didn't know who they would vote for and 7 percent said they would pick someone else.

“Like most statewide races in Florida, the Senate race between Nelson and Scott is going to be too close to call all the way until Election Day,” said Michael Binder, faculty director of the UNF Research Lab. “The one major concern for Democrats has to be the public’s lack of awareness of Nelson. When a three-term sitting U.S. senator has almost half of the sample unable to assess his job approval, you have a problem.”

Registered Democrats in the sample intended to vote for Nelson at 66 percent, while 68 percent of registered Republicans plan to vote for Scott. Interestingly, nonparty affiliates and other partisans are leaning toward Nelson at 32 percent, compared to the 28 percent who plan to vote for Scott.

When asked about Scott’s job approval, 59 percent strongly or somewhat approve of his job as governor, with 82 percent of registered Republicans approving of Scott and 40 percent of registered Democrats approving. Nelson, however, has a 35 percent overall job approval rate and only 15 percent disapprove. Surprisingly, 49 percent don’t know how he’s handling his job as senator.

When asked about President Donald Trump’s job approval rating, 59 percent of the overall sample strongly or somewhat disapprove of how he’s handling his job, with only 37 percent approving. A vast amount of registered Democrats -- 91 percent -- disapprove of Trump, while only 23 percent of registered Republicans disapprove. On the flip side, there is 72 percent job approval for Trump among registered Republicans, compared to only 33 percent for nonparty affiliates and other party registrants and a measly 6 percent job approval among registered Democrats. 

“Donald Trump is just as divisive in Florida as he is across the rest of the country, but as long as he maintains support from Republicans, I wouldn't expect any major changes in his administration,” Binder noted.  

Regarding income taxes, a large majority of registered voters in Florida -- 67 percent -- prefer a progressive tax rate to a flat-tax rate. Only 29 percent prefer a flat federal income rate. When asked about the role of government and the private sector providing insurance, 41 percent thought that the government should insure most people or everyone. Only 24 percent believe private insurance should insure most or everyone. 

“In the wake of Bernie Sanders’ presidential run and the struggles with Obamacare, there appears to be support for government to take on a larger role in providing health insurance to Floridians,” Binder said.

The poll also shows very few Floridians want to reduce legal immigration, as 30 percent of registered voters want to see legal immigration increased and 42 percent want to keep immigration at present levels.

“For all of the debate about illegal immigration and undocumented immigrants, Florida is very supportive of legal immigration,” Binder said.