TALLAHASSEE — A day after a Senate committee grudgingly passed a bill to bring destination resort casinos to Florida, the first independent statewide poll on the issue shows that Florida voters narrowly support the idea but an overwhelming majority believes casinos would be "good for Florida's economy."
The poll of 1,412 registered voters by Quinnipiac University was conducted Jan. 4-8 and has a margin of error of 2.6 percentage points. The casinos numbers: voters support the creation of "non-Indian casinos similar to those in Atlantic City and Las Vegas" by a slim 48-43 margin. A larger 61-33 percent margin believe casinos would improve the state's economy and voters do not think gambling is morally wrong by a 73-22 percent margin.
The poll also asked voters how they felt about the job being done by Gov. Rick Scott and the state Legislature. Scott remains overwhelmingly unpopular a year after his inauguration with only 38 percent of voters approving of the way he is doing his job, up 5 percentage points since December, and 50 percent disapproving. A similar majority disagree with his policies and are unhappy with the way he is handling the state budget.
The governor "has a long way to go to get into the voters' good graces and the high 40s percent range in job approval which is the minimum generally needed for re-election — and less than three years to get there,'' said Peter A. Brown, assistant director of the Quinnipiac University Polling Institute. "Scott needs to bring home more of his own party members and improve his standing among independents."
Pollsters also offered a glimpse into what voters think of Scott's suggestions for shearing $1 billion from Medicaid and local hospitals in order to free up money for education, opposing it by an overwhelming 67-24 percent. Voters, however, support the decision by legislative leaders to cut another $2 billion from the budget rather than increase taxes.
Legislators are even more unpopular than the governor with only 30 percent of voters approving of the job they are doing and 54 percent unhappy about it. Voters believe by a 48-39 percent margin that the state budget written by lawmakers is unfair to them and 56 percent of those surveyed are dissatisfied "with the way things are going in Florida today," while 42 percent are somewhat satisfied or satisfied.
The governor has never had an approval rating of over 38 percent since the Connecticut university began polling about him in May last year and he retains one of the lowest job approval ratings of any governor in the seven states in which Quinnipiac University conducts surveys, pollsters said.
Despite national numbers showing support for President Barack Obama wavering, 34 percent of Florida voters believe that the economy has gotten worse since Scott took office, 45 percent think it has stayed the same and 16 percent say it is better. They blame the governor, not Obama, by a 65 to 19 percent margin.
On a personal level, voters are a bit warmer about Scott, a first-time politician — with 39 percent saying they like the governor regardless of his policies, 34 percent saying they dislike him and 27 percent who say they don't know.
U.S. Sens. Marco Rubio and Bill Nelson seem to escape blame for the electorate's disposition. A majority of voters approves of the way each of them is handling his job: Rubio by a 50-29 percent margin and Nelson by a 47-30 percent margin.
Brown noted that while voters narrowly support creating Las Vegas-style casinos in Florida there are interesting partisan, gender and educational and age differences.
Republicans split 46-48 percent on casinos, while support is 51-40 percent among Democrats and 53-39 percent among independent voters. Women are divided 44-45 percent, while men favor casinos 53-40 percent.