Poll: Florida voters narrowly prefer Romney to Obama

Florida voters disapprove of President Barack Obama’s job performance, say he doesn’t deserve to be reelected and narrowly prefer Republican Mitt Romney in a theoretical matchup, according to a new poll.

Romney would get 46 percent of the Florida vote to Obama’s 43 percent if the election were held today, Quinnipiac University’s latest poll of Florida finds. The poll also shows that incumbent Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson is essentially tied with U.S. Rep. Connie Mack in a theoretical matchup, with Nelson earning 41 percent of the vote and Mack 40 percent.

This isn’t the only bad news for Democrats in the poll. It also continues to show that Republicans are far more excited than Democrats about voting this year. More than half of Republicans describe themselves as enthusiastic about casting ballots. Only 29 percent of Democrats feel that way.

Obama’s problems are particularly striking. The economy is showing more signs of improvement. And Republicans are starting to savage each other in the GOP primary.

Voters seem unimpressed. Even the Republican polling in third place this primary season, Rick Santorum, is in a statistical tie with Obama, the poll shows. Chances are, Obama would face Romney, who’s the GOP frontrunner.

Obama’s greatest strengths: black voters — who favor him 92-4 over Romney — and young voters, who side with Obama over Romney by a 51-39 percent spread. Independent voters, who tend to call elections in Florida, also favor Obama over Romney, 47-39.

But Hispanic voters are almost evenly split between the two. White voters, who outnumber black voters in Florida, favor Romney by 21 percentage points. And those older than 49 are in Romney’s camp right now by relatively significant margins.

“The problem for Obama is that those over 50 make up 62 percent of the electorate, compared to the 35 percent who are under 50,” Peter A. Brown, assistant director of the Quinnipiac University Polling Institute, said in a written statement.

“But the election isn’t for 10 more months so he has plenty of time to turn things around," he said. "Nevertheless, President Obama needs to mend fences in the Sunshine State, especially among men, whites and those voters without college degrees. The difference among voters by age is especially striking.”

And where Obama wins women, he loses men 52-40 percent to Romney, “a yawning gender gap,” Brown said.

Late Wednesday afternoon, however, Democratic pollster Dave Beattie noted that the Quinnipiac poll under-sampled Democrats and over-sampled Republicans. So the poll results could skew too Republican, he noted.

Only 42 percent give Obama a positive job-approval rating, while 54 percent disapprove; 52 percent say he doesn’t deserve a second term. Only 44 percent say he should be reelected.

Despite all his problems, Obama isn’t clearly losing the election. And his numbers haven’t moved that much over the past few months. The poll’s overall error margin is 2.6 percentage points, making the presidential race close to a tie.

Obama’s campaign is actively trying to add new, young voters to the rolls and the president is trying to reach out more to independents at the same time that Romney and the other Republican candidates have to appeal to the right in the GOP primary. If the economy continues to improve, Obama could get a share of the credit — though voters right now seem more inclined to tie the state’s economy to Gov. Rick Scott, who’s not on the ballot and is about as unpopular as Obama.

Also, Obama doesn’t need Florida as much as a Republican challenger, who needs swing-state Florida to cancel out the likely Democratic wins in larger states such as California and New York.

Sen. Nelson is therefore in a tougher spot than Obama. The 12-year senator has been a fixture of Florida for more than three decades. But the son and namesake of his predecessor, Connie Mack, is running neck-and-neck with the Democrat.

Still, Nelson does far better than Obama among white, older and independent voters. Voters approve of his job performance by double digits. About a third of the electorate says it hasn’t heard enough about Nelson to form an opinion. More than half of the voters say that about Mack — an indication that Democrats and his fellow Republican opponents might try to define the Fort Myers congressman negatively as the election season rolls on.

Mack’s victory in the crowded Senate primary isn’t a sure thing. But his poll numbers are the envy of the other candidates.

Mack pulls in 39 percent of the Republican primary vote, compared to 6 percent for former Sen. George LeMieux and businessman Mike McCalister. Former Florida House Republican leader Adam Hasner is stuck at 2 percent and businessman Craig Miller pulls in just 1 percent of the vote.

The primary for that race is Aug. 14; the presidential primary is Jan. 31.

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