TALLAHASSEE – Florida voters dislike the new health reform law so much that President Barack Obama and the state's top Democrat, U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, are paying a hefty political price, according to a new survey and analysis by Mason-Dixon Polling & Research.
Only 34 percent of Florida voters support the new law while 54 percent are against it, according to the poll. Opposition is significantly strong among two crucial blocs: those older than 65 and voters with no party affiliation. Seniors disfavor the bill by a 65-25 percent margin, while independents oppose the law 62-34.
The poll, conducted last week, is the first to be taken in Florida since Obama signed the health care reform bill into law.
It shows that Floridians have a more negative than positive view of Obama by a margin of 15 percentage points. And they oppose his so-called "cap-and-trade" global warming legislation as well.
The negative sentiment for Sen. Nelson was especially "eye-popping," Mason-Dixon pollster Brad Coker said. He said elder voters were once a reliable base of support for Sen. Nelson, but no more.
"The only saving grace for Bill Nelson is that his election is in 2012 and some of the anger might die down by then," Coker said. "But he probably can't escape the damage completely."
The percentage of voters who have an unfavorable opinion of Nelson — 34 percent — is almost even with those who have a favorable view of him. Since his 2006 re-election, Nelson's popularity has nose-dived 18 percentage points, the poll shows.
Because Florida is such a crucial swing state with so many seniors, Nelson's troubles are a shot across the bow for Democrats everywhere, Coker said. The poll shows Nelson would lose to Republicans in theoretical match-ups against former Gov. Jeb Bush, Gov. Charlie Crist and current U.S. Senate opponent Marco Rubio.
"If Bill Nelson's getting hurt by this, you can imagine what damage there is to other Democrats across the country," Coker said.
A spokesman and top advisor to Nelson, Dan McLaughlin, acknowledged that times have been tough for Democrats. But he said Nelson has been unfairly punished by the very group he sought to help, seniors.
Nelson successfully amended an early version of the health care bill to soften cuts to Medicare Advantage, a privatized Medicare program. But the amendment was killed after Republicans denigrated it as a special backroom deal for Florida.
"If there's a dip in the polls, it's due to this inaccurate and unfair bashing for sticking up for these seniors," McLaughlin said.
Since Nelson will be appearing on the same ballot as Obama in two years, Coker said, it'll be interesting to watch whether the senator distances himself from the increasingly unpopular president.
The poll of 625 registered voters has a 4 percent error margin.
The big winner to possibly emerge from all the anger, Coker said, could be Florida Attorney General Bill McCollum, a Republican running for governor. McCollum on Tuesday sued the federal government to block the health care bill, claiming it violated constitutional principles over federal powers.
A poll on the governor's race will be released this week, Coker said.
He added that McCollum's Democratic rival, state Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink, has been wise to avoid health care on the campaign trail and focus on jobs. "She's fortunate she didn't have to vote for health care," he said.
"The story is: here's an unpopular piece of legislation and their senator voted for it," Coker said. "Unlike other votes people didn't like, this didn't go unnoticed."
Marc Caputo can be reached at [email protected]