TALLAHASSEE — Emerging from his final legislative session, Republican Gov. Rick Scott holds a small lead over incumbent Democrat Bill Nelson in a potential U.S. Senate race that could help determine control of the Senate, according to a poll released Monday.
The poll of likely voters, conducted this month by the Tallahassee-based firm Clearview Research, shows Scott receiving 43.3 percent of the support, while Nelson gets 41.3 percent. The difference is within the poll's margin of error of 3.58 percentage points.
Scott has not announced that he is running for the Senate but is widely expected to do so — and no other prominent Republicans are running against Nelson. After the annual legislative session ended Sunday afternoon, Scott indicated a decision on entering the high-profile race could be weeks away.
"I'm focused on this (governor's) job. I'm glad we had a very successful session," Scott said. "I'll think about my future in the next few weeks."
Steve Vancore, president of Clearview Research, said Scott leads Nelson by a margin of 37 percent to 34 among voters without party affiliations. Another key factor in the poll results is that Vancore's firm estimates Republicans will have a narrow turnout edge in the mid-term election.
"While it is still very early to make any predictions, it is clear that this off-year election could come down to two simple factors: turnout and gaining margins among NPA (no party affiliation) voters," Vancore said in an analysis of the results. "Both candidates are extremely well known and have the strong support of their parties, so turnout will be vital and in the event turnout is even, it will come down to NPA or 'independent' voters who, right now, slightly favor the governor."
Vancore said Nelson does best among young voters, African-Americans and non-Cuban Hispanics. Scott, meanwhile, does well among voters over age 35, white voters and Cuban Hispanics.
Retaining Nelson's seat could be pivotal to Democratic hopes of taking control of the U.S. Senate, where Republicans now hold 51 seats. Democrats hold 47 seats and are typically joined by two independents.
A Quinnipiac University poll released Feb. 27 showed Nelson with a four-point lead in the potential matchup. But the methodology of that poll differed from the Clearview poll Monday.
As an example, Clearview used a turnout model based on 41 percent of voters being Republicans, 39 percent Democrats and 20 percent with no party affiliation or being registered with other parties. Vancore said the model would have ordinarily used a 4 percentage-point turnout advantage for Republicans, but Clearview scaled it back to 2 points because of recent election results, higher enthusiasm among Democrats and the "natural tendency" for mid-term elections to favor the party out of the White House.
"A few recent polls released to the media have shown samples that seem to anticipate more Democrats voting than Republicans," Vancore said. "While that could possibly be the case, we see little evidence for it at this time. "
The poll of 750 likely voters was conducted from March 1 through Wednesday. The results said the composition of the poll respondents "took into account current registration and previous voter turnout in an attempt to make the final sample 'look like' the state's likely 2018 general election voting population."