While Gov. Rick Scott remains generally unpopular, his months-long charm offensive and singular focus on jobs creation may be slowly winning Floridians over, according to a new Tampa Bay Times/Miami Herald/Bay News 9 poll.
More than four in 10 Florida voters, 43 percent, approve of Scott's job performance a year into his first term; 47 percent disapprove; while 10 percent are not sure.
While these numbers are not fantastic — they remain worse than President Barack Obama's approval rating in the state, for example — they still represent a marked improvement for a man who took office facing an extremely polarized electorate.
"His numbers aren't great. He is still not where he needs to be in order to get re-elected," said Brad Coker, managing director of Mason-Dixon Polling & Research, which conducted the poll. "But people don't seem to have such a negative gut reaction.
"The makeover's working."
The telephone survey of 800 registered Florida voters — all likely to vote in the general election — was conducted Jan. 24-26 for the Times, Miami Herald, El Nuevo Herald, Bay News 9 and Central Florida News 13. Mason-Dixon is a nonpartisan, Jacksonville-based company. The margin of error is 3.5 percentage points.
The poll shows that more men than women approve of Scott's performance — 47 percent compared with 38 percent. And while Scott is popular in Republican-rich southwest Florida (51 percent approve compared with 38 percent who disapprove), the script flips in Democratic southeast Florida. There, just 33 percent of voters approve of the governor, compared with 58 percent who disapprove. Seven in 10 Republicans approve of Scott's performance; seven in 10 Democrats disapprove. In a separate question, voters were asked whether they recognize Scott favorably or unfavorably. Thirty-five percent of voters recognized the governor favorably, and 39 percent recognized him unfavorably.
In December a Quinnipiac University poll showed him at only 33 percent approval. Scott in recent months has reshaped his image in ways big and small — from ditching his dark business suits for khakis and casual button-down shirts, to reversing course on cuts to education funding, to blitzing talk radio shows across the state.
"He's politically playing smart and you're seeing his numbers improve," Coker said.
Aaron Sharockman can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.