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Gov. Scott remains unpopular with Florida voters, but majority support noncitizen voter purge

Published Jul. 16, 2012

TALLAHASSEE — After 18 months as governor, Rick Scott remains personally unpopular with a majority of Floridians, according to a new Tampa Bay Times/Miami Herald/Bay News 9 poll.

But despite voters' displeasure with Scott, they strongly support his efforts to rid Florida's voter rolls of noncitizens in this presidential election year.

The latest survey by the nonpartisan Mason-Dixon Polling & Research of Jacksonville shows that 51 percent of voters disapprove of Scott's job performance and 40 percent approve, with 9 percent not sure.

Scott's positive name recognition also remains low, with 29 percent of voters viewing him favorably, 37 percent unfavorably, 30 percent neutral and 4 percent with no opinion, despite his people-friendly work days, blitz of ceremonial bill signings and frequent visits to high-profile, cable TV shows.

"I like some of his ideas and I don't care for others," said Josephine Boyington, 64, of Lake City, a Democrat who says she's leaning toward becoming a Republican. "I liked the idea when he said that the people that were on welfare had to provide drug testing. That would get rid of some of the riffraff."

Scott, 59, is only the fifth Republican governor of Florida since Reconstruction. He says he will run for a second term in 2014.

A political neophyte and former chief executive of the Columbia HCA hospital chain, Scott spent $73 million of his personal fortune to clinch the governorship in 2010.

The statewide telephone survey of 800 registered voters, all likely to vote in the Nov. 6 general election, was conducted July 9-11 for the Tampa Bay Times, Miami Herald, El Nuevo Herald, Bay News 9 and Central Florida News 13. The margin of error is 3.5 percentage points.

Scott's popularity remains low even though his policies have broad support, and despite a run of TV ads paid for by the Republican Party promoting his agenda.

"It's a charisma gap," pollster Brad Coker said. "He doesn't turn even Republican voters on the same way that (former Gov.) Jeb Bush did."

Coker attributes Scott's low popularity to a lack of communication skills on TV.

"There's a certain stiffness to him and he doesn't seem like a natural communicator," Coker said. "You can be an actor and memorize your lines … but if you don't come across well on camera, it doesn't really matter. There's just something not there."

Women in Florida are more critical of Scott's performance than men (56 percent disapproval among women compared to 45 percent among men). One of every four Republicans disapproves of his performance, too, while GOP voters overall support Scott's performance by a margin of 65 percent to 25 percent; 10 percent are not sure.

"I'm pleased with his performance," said Audrey Collette, 76, a Republican and retired property manager who lives in Lake Wales. "He takes the bull by the horns. When he says he's going to do something, he does it."

Helen Ahern, 81, a Port Orange retiree, sees Scott differently.

"I have a hard time believing he was elected governor," Ahern said. "I haven't seen him do anything yet other than say we're not going to do health care."

Despite misgivings about Scott, a majority of Florida voters agree with him on the need to remove noncitizens from lists of voters.

By a margin of 54 percent to 35 percent, with 11 percent undecided, voters said they support the purge efforts.

Republicans overwhelmingly support the purge, 80 percent to 13 percent, while a majority of Democrats oppose it.

The purge of suspected noncitizen voters was halted last month, but it will soon resume. The state announced Saturday that it has gained access to a federal citizenship database that it says will allow for more accurate screening of the citizenship status of voters.

By a larger margin of 82 percent to 15 percent, voters agreed that people should be required to show a photo ID before they cast a ballot. Florida's photo ID requirement has been the law since 2002.

Times/Herald staff writers Katie Sanders and Michael Van Sickler contributed to this report. Steve Bousquet can be reached at bousquet@tampabay.com or (850) 224-7263.

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