TALLAHASSEE — Gov. Ron DeSantis remains on solid ground as he heads into his reelection campaign as Democrats ramp up their efforts to challenge him, a fresh new round of polling in Florida shows.
Three polls all have DeSantis with favorable job approval ratings more than a year and a half ahead of Election Day and highlight the difficulty that Democrats will have with the incumbent, who is raking in millions for his reelection effort.
Still, at least one poll paid by Democratic state Sen. Annette Taddeo’s political committee, shared exclusively with POLITICO, shows that Democrats may have some openings to go after the incumbent. Taddeo’s poll, conducted by SEA Polling & Strategic Design, suggests not all Floridians support the governor’s move to ban so-called “vaccine passports” or crack down on mail-in balloting and drop boxes.
The poll, done for Taddeo as she considers whether to mount her own statewide bid, showed DeSantis with a job approval rating of 53 percent, compared to 55 percent in a newly-released poll on behalf of the Florida Chamber of Commerce. The governor had a 60 percent job approval rating in a survey done by well-known Republican pollster Ryan Tyson for the Florida Restaurant and Lodging Association.
The Chamber poll also showed DeSantis with double-digit leads in head-to-head matchups with U.S. Reps. Val Demings and Charlie Crist as well as Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried. Crist has already jumped into the race, with both Fried and Demings expected to follow. Fried put out a video on Wednesday teasing a June 1 official announcement.
The three polls were done between mid-April and the first week of May and ranged in size from about 600 people surveyed to a 1,000 people.
DeSantis has attracted national attention as a potential 2024 presidential contender because of his aggressive push to reopen the state following the Covid-19 pandemic, as well as his move to crack down on violent protesters with an “anti-riot” bill. DeSantis, whose own bid for governor was boosted by an endorsement from former President Donald Trump, governed initially as a moderate after his narrowly win in 2018. But since the pandemic, he routinely clashed with the media and ignored criticisms by Democrats.
The poll commissioned by Taddeo highlighted several possible fault lines between DeSantis and voters. It found that those surveyed opposed voting restrictions by a 56 percent to 37 percent margin. DeSantis recently signed the state’s controversial voting measure into law and touted it on Fox. That same poll found that 49 percent backed businesses being able to require proof of vaccinations, compared to 40 percent who did not.
Taddeo, a Miami Democrat who ran as Charlie Crist’s running mate in the 2014 governor’s race, said her polling “shows some clear opportunities we have as Democrats and some weaknesses we must tackle. Governor DeSantis is on the wrong side of critical issues, especially business mandates on public health measures and his continued efforts to make it harder to vote by mail.”
Democrats have tried to push back on Republicans by asserting that DeSantis — who this past legislative session pushed through bills aimed at Silicon Valley and racial justice protesters — is anti-Democratic. Fried’s newest video included a clip where she called him an “authoritarian dictator.”
But Tyson, who constantly tracks Florida’s voters, contends that Democrats — who lost across the board in races in Florida in 2020 — are misreading the electorate in the state.
“When you listen to Democratic candidates today you hear them speak of things that are so out of touch with the typical Florida voter,” Tyson said. “The governor is advocating center-right policies in a center right state. No one should be shocked by that.”
Tyson completed another poll on Monday that had a different reading on DeSantis’s push to ban “vaccine passports.” His survey found that 55 percent opposed allowing businesses and government to require someone to show proof of a Covid-19 vaccine.
Pointing to Fried’s video where she called DeSantis an “authoritarian,” Tyson argued that Democrats remain “disconnected.”
“They seem blinded by their hatred of the governor,” Tyson said.