The king of Florida Republicans is not the former president ensconced at his Palm Beach estate, according to a new poll, but the occupant of the governor’s mansion in Tallahassee.
Not only is Gov. Ron DeSantis well ahead of his 2022 Democratic rivals as he seeks re-election, according to the University of North Florida survey released Thursday, but he also is beating former President Donald Trump in a hypothetical 2024 GOP presidential primary match up in Florida.
DeSantis is supported by 44% of Florida Republicans in the poll, while 41% back Trump.
Both DeSantis and Trump are speaking at the Conservative Political Action Conference, which kicks off Thursday in Orlando.
Last year’s CPAC straw poll found that DeSantis was the top choice among the gathered activists for the 2024 GOP presidential nomination if Trump doesn’t run.
“With a lot of speculation about a possible presidential bid from DeSantis, we thought this would be an interesting hypothetical,” said Michael Binder, a political science professor at UNF and the faculty director of the school’s Public Opinion Research Lab. “It turned out to be pretty close with DeSantis up by three points against Trump. With both of them calling Florida home, this is a pivotal state and an outlier compared to national polling on this race.”
The survey of 685 registered voters has a margin of error of 3.7 percentage points. The pollsters do not say what the margin of error is for the GOP and Democratic primary questions, but it undoubtedly is higher.
DeSantis’ strength is evident in his high approval rating. The poll found that 58% of Florida voters approve of his job performance.
In head-to-head matchups with U.S. Rep. Charlie Crist and Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried, two Democrats running for governor, DeSantis leads Crist by 21 percentage points and Fried by 23 points.
“We’re seeing a very wide margin for DeSantis against both top Democratic candidates— Crist and Fried,” Binder said. “A lot of Democratic voters still doesn’t know who they would vote for, so I would expect that lead to narrow between now and November.”
Crist leads the Democratic primary with 27% support, compared to 19% for Fried and 4% for state Sen. Annette Taddeo. But 38% of Democratic voters are undecided.
“Crist has eight points on Fried in the governor’s primary, but we still have 38% of registered Democrats in this survey who are undecided,” Binder said. “These folks likely won’t make up their minds for a while, so this will be a pretty muddled picture until later in the summer.”
The poll also found Republican U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio leading his Democratic challenger, U.S. Rep. Val Demings. Rubio is at 46% support in the survey, compared to 34% for Demings and 17% who are undecided.
President Joe Biden’s approval rating is dismal in the survey. Just 36% of Florida voters approve of his job performance, compared to 57% who disapprove.
The poll also found that 58% of Florida voters believe Biden definitely or probably won the 2020 election while 34% believe Trump won, a sign of how deeply Trump’s unfounded claims of voter fraud have been accepted.