WASHINGTON – A new poll says President Joe Biden is struggling in the politically pivotal state of Florida, where more than half of potential voters disapprove of his handling of the economy and of his job overall.
The Suffolk University/USA TODAY Network poll of likely Florida voters says only 39% of respondents approve of the job Biden is doing, while 53% disapprove. By a 30 point margin – 58%-28% – the poll says voters in Florida believe the nation as a whole is on the wrong track, and a full 57% disapprove of the president’s handling of the economy.
While President Donald Trump won Florida in 2020, Biden and the Democrats hope to make a big play for the nation’s third most populous state, one that that will have 30 electoral votes in the 2024 election; the new poll indicates that their work is cut out for them.
Florida is the largest of a small handful of states that are not considered locked down by either party — states that, as a result, effectively determine the results of presidential elections.
The new survey also reports that two prominent Florida Republicans – Gov. Ron DeSantis and Sen. Marco Rubio – are leading in their re-election bids, but not without potential danger signals.
As it stands now, Biden would lose Florida in the 2024 presidential race to a Republican nominee, whether it’s DeSantis or Trump – and he is even trailing in a hypothetical Democratic primary to former presidential nominee and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, by a within-the-margin-of-error tally of 46%-43%.
There is no indication Clinton plans to seek the presidency again in 2024, but the poll results indicate that Biden could be vulnerable to a nomination challenge from her or another prominent Democrat.
“That’s something that’s got to give President Biden pause and other potential Democratic challengers pause,” said David Paleologos, director of the Suffolk University Political Research Center.
Bonnie Hall, 66, a retired nurse who lives in St. Augustine, Fla., who participated in the poll, said she supports Biden but is frustrated by him. Hall said she wants the president to confront intransigent Republicans like DeSantis and Trump and push Democrats to approve items like the Build Back Better spending plan and the elimination of student debt.
“I’m not happy with Biden, but I will support him,” Hall said.
Hall said young people in particular are losing faith in the president: “If he doesn’t get the youth vote, forget it – he will lose Florida big time.”
Republican respondents to the Florida poll denounced Biden.
“He’s a disaster,” said Thomas Murphy, 71, a retired chief financial officer who lives in Venice, Fla.
Murphy, who praised DeSantis and said he likes Trump’s policies but not the man himself, criticized Biden over border policy, crime, education and inflation, among other things.
“The man has no leadership skills,” he said. “None.”
Still, Biden does have a chance to carry Florida the next time around, Murphy said: “There’s a ton of liberals in Florida, and more of then move in from the northeast every day.”
The new poll also contains some good news for the two top Florida Republicans seeking re-election.
DeSantis, the first-term governor who narrowly won election in 2018, leads both of the top Democrats vying to replace him.
The new poll says DeSantis tops congressman and former governor Charlie Crist by 49%-43%; his lead over Florida Commissioner of Agriculture Nikki Fried is 51%-40%.
Many Republicans see DeSantis as a potential presidential candidate in 2024 should he win re-election as governor in November.
But the new poll shows him losing a GOP presidential primary 47%-40% to another state resident: Trump.
The poll shows both Trump and DeSantis defeating Biden or Clinton in a 2024 general election match-up in Florida. DeSantis leads Biden 52%-44%; Trump’s margin over Biden is closer, 47%-44%.
DeSantis has not publicly discussed a 2024 presidential run, saying he is focused solely on Florida.
It’s not all good news for the governor. Paleologos noted that, while DeSantis enjoys a big lead over his Democratic rivals, he does not crack 50% against Crist. “That’s always a red flag,” he said.
Another prominent Florida Republican – Sen. Marco Rubio – currently leads in his re-election bid, according to the poll. The poll gave Rubio a 49%-41% lead over Democratic challenger U.S. Rep. Val Demings, while the remaining 10% are undecided.
While Demings looks like a long shot at this point, Paleologos said the data indicates that many voters don’t know much about the congresswoman and former police chief from Orlando.
That could change: Paleologos pointed out that, among poll respondents who know of both candidates, Demings actually leads Rubio by 51%-42%.
The poll was conducted between Jan. 26-29 and involved likely voters in the 2022 mid-term elections. The margin of error in the survey overall is plus or minus 4.4 percentage points. The error margin is higher among respondents who are party members: Plus-or-minus 7.6 percentage points for Democrats; plus or minus 7.4 percentage points among Republicans.
Jennie Rivera, 41, a social worker who lives in Belleview, Fla., said she supported Biden in 2020 because “I would have voted for a potato before I voted for Donald Trump.” Rivera said Biden is doing a good job in the face of immense challenges, and attacks from the “far right” and the “far left.”
“I appreciate the fact that he tries to find a middle ground,” Rivera said.
Other issues in the Florida poll:
A slight majority of voters, 52%, support the state’s ban on vaccine requirements. By a margin of 49%-38%, Florida voters said the state’s more open pandemic policies have helped the state’s economy rather than hurt it.
DeSantis, who has led the push against mandates for masks and vaccinations, fares less well. Less than a majority of respondents, 46%, rated his handling of the pandemic as excellent or good, while 53% called it fair or poor.
Voters also offered a mixed assessment of Biden’s handling of COVID. A total of 45% of Florida respondents approve of Biden’s handling of the pandemic and 48% disapprove.
Critical race theory
Voters in Florida oppose the teaching of critical race theory by a margin of 53%-33%. The issue has a wide partisan gap: Democrats favor the teaching of critical race theory by 57%-26%; Republicans oppose CRT by a wider margin, 77%-13%, while independents are opposed by 58%-26%.
Like most Americans everywhere else, 73% of Florida voters believe the nation is in a mental health crisis. A Suffolk University/USA TODAY national poll in early January said that 88% of respondents believe that the nation currently faces such a crisis.