JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – With voting in Florida's Primary to begin in less than three weeks, polls show Democrat Gwen Graham and Republican Ron DeSantis are the clear front-runners in their respective gubernatorial primaries.
On the Democratic side, a Mason-Dixon poll released Friday morning shows that Graham has opened up a 9-point lead over top challenger Philip Levine, whose previously growing base of support appears to be stalled with the late entrance of Jeff Greene into the governor’s race.
Statewide, the poll found 27 percent of likely Democratic primary voters currently support Graham, while 18 percent back Levine and 12 percent are for Greene, with Andrew Gillum (10 percent) and Chris King (7 percent) following behind. But 1 in 4 Democrats polled say they are still undecided, meaning the Democratic nomination is within reach of most of the field.
Polls were showing Levine running about even with Graham until Greene jumped into the race at the beginning of June. Both men have extremely similar profiles. They are politically experienced, successful business owners who are white, male, Jewish and from South Florida. Levine and Greene each have tremendous personal wealth and are putting a considerable amount of their own money into their campaigns. With this over-lapping appeal, the two are drawing a combined 30 percent of voters -- slightly more than Graham.
As the only female candidate, Graham receives the support of 30 percent of Democratic women. She also has the highest name recognition (79 percent) and the highest favorable rating (45 percent) among Democrats.
"Polling is difficult, even exponentially more difficult in primaries where people don't have that party ID label to fall back on for information," said Dr. Michael Binder, faculty director for the Public Opinion Research Laboratory at the University of North Florida. "It gets even more complicated, particularly on the Democratic side, when four -- potentially five -- people don't have the biggest of name recognition."
The Trump effect?
DeSantis has opened a double-digit lead over Adam Putnam among likely Republican voters. Statewide, 41 percent of GOP voters support DeSantis and 29 percent back Putnam, with 2 percent for Bruce Nathan. Yet 28 percent of Republican voters remain undecided, so both front-runners will be pushing hard until polls close on Aug. 28.
DeSantis' 12-point lead over Putnam was not far off from another poll recently released by the Florida Atlantic University Business and Economics Polling Initiative that showed DeSantis leading Putnam by a margin of 36 percent to 27 percent.
"So these polls are snapshots. They're glimpses," Binder told News4Jax. "But there's certainly a lot of time between now and Aug. 28, and a lot can happen, especially in these primary races."
Mason-Dixon pollsters believe that President Donald Trump’s endorsement is likely the driving factor behind DeSantis' recent surge in the polls.
Given the number of possible general election matchups, it is likely that head-to-head races would not have much meaning right now. In the bigger picture, the pollsters note that Graham has the highest favorable rating and the top two Republicans have higher negative ratings than any of the Democrats.
The poll was conducted by Mason-Dixon Polling & Strategy Inc. of Jacksonville between July 23-25. A total of 625 registered voters statewide were interviewed by telephone. All indicated they were “likely to vote” in the general election in November.