For Rick Scott, a Tough Road to Reform
Governor prioritizes campaign promises over popularity, poll reveals
Around the State
"It's obviously horrible, and it makes perfect sense," says Jim Lee, president of Voter Survey Service, which conducted the July 5-7 statewide poll.
"Other [polling] firms have said he has the 'lowest' approval rating of any governor in the nation. While it may be true, it’s not hard to understand when you consider that Scott only won with 49 percent of the vote last year," Lee said.
Reflecting on the ups and downs of another first-term governor, Lee noted that Pennsylvania's Tom Corbett suffered from an anemic 35 percent approval rating shortly after he unveiled an unpopular state budget blueprint in March. Corbett won election with 55 percent of the vote last year.
"This means Scott is down 22 points compared to his re-election margin, while Corbett is down 20," Lee said.
Lee noted, "Corbett and Scott balanced budgets by relying on unpopular funding cuts to public education and other safety-net programs as a way to keep their campaign pledges and avoid raising taxes, so they are clearly paying the price politically for budgets that appear to have not spread the pain 'fairly.'
But the pollster acknowledged that Scott, with a 27 percent approval rate, faces a steeper climb back.
"The one difference between Scott and Corbett is that Scott has alienated more in his own party, since GOP voters give him only a 48-34 approval rating, while a solid majority of Pennsylvania Republicans still approve of Corbett," Lee reported.
Florida's Democrats and independents disapprove of Scott’s job by 83-7 and 59-21 margins, respectively.
Mired with an overall approval score of just 27 percent in the survey of 1,000 registered likely voters, Scott has been pilloried by the left and the right.
The venom spreads across both genders and all corners of the state. Even Scott's conservative home base of Southwest Florida rated him 36-50 approve/disapprove.
The VSS poll was conducted just days after the governor angered elements of his base by approving the controversial SunRail commuter train project. Tea party groups called it a sellout to business lobbyists -- notably CSX -- and provincial interests in Central Florida.
A longtime RPOF state committeeman, speaking on background, said he hoped that Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam would run for governor in 2014. Putnam, a former GOP congressman from Polk County, has said he has no plans to do so.
Left-wing activists have assailed Scott from day one for his budget cuts. His prickly, or nonresponsive, relations with the press haven't helped his cause.
Some pollsters, including the left-leaning Public Policy Polling, have suggested that Scott's high negatives could doom the Republican Party's prospects for carrying Florida in the 2012 presidential election.
But other analysts downplay the connection.
"I do not believe that Rick Scott's poor performance will directly lead to a significant number of Obama votes," said Steve Schale, a Democratic strategist in Florida.
Amplifying on that skepticism, national political strategist Stuart Rothenberg wrote recently:
"I don’t know who will carry the Sunshine State in the 2012 election. But to argue that the Florida governor will cost the Republicans the state in 2012 is to argue that Scott will be more important than the presidential candidates, the issues and all of the media coverage surrounding the contest.
"If you believe that, you don’t understand campaigns and elections."
The editor of the Rothenberg Political Report concluded:
"After debates, national conventions, millions of dollars of TV spots and weeks of nonstop news coverage about the candidates, voters will go to the polls to pick the nation’s next leader. When they do so, Scott will constitute only a microscopic part of their information as they consider their vote ... even if Democrats spend millions of dollars in Florida to try to make the presidential election about Scott."
Patricia Sullivan, head of the Tea Party Network in Florida, said the polls "reflect a passionate electorate, a dialogue that wasn't taking place two years ago, and an elected official who is making decisions based on his conscience instead of the direction of the wind.
"I'm glad the pot is being stirred and I expect the tea party movement will continue to elect public servants who will act differently than 'establishment' candidates who typically are more concerned with popularity and the next election than what is best for the next generation."
Billie Tucker, leader of the First Coast Tea Party in Jacksonville, also stuck by the governor:
"Governor Scott is doing what we sent him to Tallahassee to do. He is working on keeping his promises. It is hard work and he cannot make everyone happy. His promise to bring jobs and prosperity back to Florida is his ultimate goal and we trust what he is doing. The end game will result in jobs."
On the other hand, Damien Filer of Progress Florida said, "Rick Scott is prioritizing his image and poll numbers over the real problems of middle-class Floridians. Ask working families in Florida what they care more about -- Rick Scott's poll numbers or the number of jobs he's cut."
As for Scott himself, spokesman Lane Wright said, "The governor is not here to win a popularity contest, but to do what he said he would do during the campaign -- help the private sector get Floridians back to work."
Scott's office previously reported that Florida added 28,000 jobs in May, 2,000 more than in all 49 other states combined. The state's unemployment rate dipped to 10.6 percent for the month, the latest for which data were available.
Richard Johnston, a Palm Beach County-based Republican consultant, said Scott's high poll negatives are par for the course this year.
"Really, is anyone doing well out there?" he asks. "The economy drives the numbers, and Florida is having a harder time digging a path to recovery."
Johnston said Scott is dealt a double-whammy because he is shaking up the status-quo.
"Any place you have reform, that creates negativity as well. Look at Jeb [Bush]. He was despised at the time for education reform. But look at it now -- Florida has dug itself out of the basement on just about every criteria. It's a byproduct of leadership."
Methodology: This statewide poll was conducted July 5-7 for Sunshine State News with 1,000 registered likely voters. Only voters with prior vote history in general elections 2006 and/or 2008 were contacted. Interviews are randomly selected and conducted from a statewide voter file using our IVR (or automated) polling software which uses a prerecorded voice to ask the questions, with respondents then instructed to score their answers by using their telephone key pads. Interviews are closely monitored to ensure a representative sample of Florida's electorate is achieved based on geography, party affiliation, gender, age and other demographics; results are sometimes statistically weighted. The margin of error for a sample size of 1,000 interviews is +/- 3.10 percent at the 95 percent confidence level, but higher for subgroups of respondents.
See cross tabs in the attachment below.
On Thursday: Sunshine State News Poll looks at the favorability ratings of Marco Rubio, Bill Nelson and Charlie Crist.
Contact Kenric Ward at email@example.com or at (772) 559-4719.