Over the last two years, Rick Scott has had one of the lowest approval ratings in the United States. According the a CBS/New York Times poll conducted in late October, Scott only had a 39% approval rating, while 48% disapproved. The remaining 14% had no opinion.
While in today’s political climate, 39% is considered a low approval rating by any standard, does it predict how an election two years down the road will turn out? Over the last 20 years, approval ratings for Florida governor have been a smokescreen for the eventual result. In this article, we are going to look back at some of the races for governor, and why Rick Scott isn’t DOA in November of 2014.
Back in 1986, Bob Graham was a popular governor. When leaving office, he had a 76% approval rating, according to a Miami Herald poll conducted in March of 1986. But in the election that followed to replace him, neither candidate really made an impact. In a poll conducted by the Miami Herald in October of 1986, 20% of respondents didn’t know who they were going to vote for on Election Day. With Bob Martinez having a slight lead, he would eventually win the election.
That was just a tiny bit of history. This is when it starts getting interesting. On October 6th, 1989, 62% of Floridians said that Governor Martinez did either an “excellent” or “pretty good” job as governor. Two Florida Times-Union polls conducted just weeks before the 1990 election had Martinez’s approval rating over 50% (51% and 54%). Another poll conducted just days before the election by Bendixen & Associates showed that Martinez would have a very slim lead (1%) going into the election. Lawton Chiles eventually won by 13%. While Martinez had an approval rating that would usually benefit his reelection as well as polling numbers showing a close election, it was far from close.
Fast forward to 1994 during Governor Chiles’ own bid for reelection. One year before the election, in October of 1993, Chiles only had a 40% approval rating according a Lakeland Ledger poll. In August of 1994, according to a Mason-Dixon poll, only 4% of Floridians thought Chiles did an “excellent” job as governor while only 35% said he did a “good” job. In September, the numbers didn’t change much with 7% “excellent” and 36% “good”. When the election rolled around, according to Mason-Dixon, Jeb Bush held a 48%-43% lead over Chiles. On Election Day, Chiles defeated Bush by a slight 1.5%. Even with the number against him, Chiles still went on to win.
Now, let’s fast forward to Jeb Bush’s reelection bid in 2002. According to a CBS/New York Times poll conducted in October 25, 2000 (roughly at the same time that we are now at in Rick Scott’s first term), Jeb Bush only had a 45% approval rating. In 2001, a Florida State University poll said that only 11% of Floridians thought that Governor Bush did an “excellect” job while only 36% said he did a “good” job. Those are roughly the same numbers that Lawton Chiles had going into his reelection bid. In the two days before Election Day, Bush’s approval rating jumped to 57% and he easily won against Bill McBride.
Fast forwarding to the 2010 race for governor, Rick Scott and a 39% favorable rating in a Quinnipiac University poll conducted Oct 25-31, 2010. His unfavorable rating was 50%. Therefore, his numbers from when he took office were the same as they are now, so no change whatsoever. What is interesting is that when Quinnipiac asked the same question of Alex Sink, she had a 43% favorable rating, with a 40% unfavorable rating. She had the endorsements, more people liked her and yet she still lost the election to the unpopular, disliked Rick Scott.
Looking at the actual election, according to a CNN/Time poll conducted on September 8th, 2010, Alex Sink held a 49% to 42% lead over Rick Scott. The next CNN/Time poll, conducted on October 20th, 2010, Rick Scott held a 49% to 46% lead. She blew the election in that last month.
In 1986, Bob Martinez looked as if he would win reelection according to the numbers, but he didn’t. In 1994 and 2002, both Lawton Chiles and Jeb Bush looked as if they would only have one term in the Governor’s Mansion, and they didn’t. In 2010, Rick Scott was just as unpopular as he is today, but still won the election.
This polling history tells us two things. First, Floridians aren’t particularly supportive of their governors while in office. Second, determining how a Florida gubernatorial election will go purely by looking at polling data is flawed. This is the reason why I say that Rick Scott is not dead yet.
(Polling information acquired by the website Polling the Nations, which I still get through my University of Utah account)