Florida Gov. Rick Scott holds a double-digit lead over Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson among Hispanic voters 50 and older in a new Florida poll, the latest sign that Nelson is struggling to rally Hispanic voters behind his reelection bid.
Scott’s support is buoyed by strong Cuban-American backing and decent favorability ratings from Puerto Rican voters, who tend to support Democrats. Without a greater foothold among Hispanic voters, Nelson is at risk in a Senate race that is essential to Democratic hopes of winning a Senate majority this fall.
The Republican governor’s 14-percentage-point advantage in the Senate race stands in stark contrast to the essentially tied gubernatorial contest in which Republican Ron DeSantis has a slim lead of 2 points over Democrat Andrew Gillum, according to the AARP/Bendixen & Amandi International survey.
The disparity in results between the two statewide races reinforces what Democratic activists have been fretting about for months: Nelson is getting outflanked by Scott with Latino voters.
“Scott is outworking Nelson in Latino communities across Florida,” said Fernand Amandi, pollster for Bendixen & Amandi, echoing numerous Democrats, activists and insiders. “These numbers should sound the alarm for Bill Nelson if he hopes to win reelection against an opponent like Scott, who’s spending more time doing paid media in Latino communities.
“Rick Scott has gone to Puerto Rico eight times and he’s done something on the order of 25 events with Colombians, Cubans, Nicaraguans, Venezuelans and Puerto Ricans. He’s leaving no Hispanic vote un-mined,” Amandi said.
Put it all together, and Scott is ahead of Nelson 52 to 38 percent in the poll of 500 Latino Florida voters who are 50 or older. The error margin is 4.4 percentage points. The most recent general election poll of all Florida voters showed Gillum marginally ahead of DeSantis, while Scott and Nelson are tied.
Overall, other polls of the general Hispanic Florida electorate — not just those 50 and older — show Nelson is winning Florida Hispanics. But not by enough, Amandi says, to hold together the winning coalition stitched together by the last top-of-the-ticket Democrat who won Florida: President Obama.
Obama had massive support from Latinos and, especially, African-Americans to cover for the loss of white votes in 2012. Nelson was on the ticket at the time and rode Obama’s coattails while facing a historically weak opponent.
The 50 and over demographic among Hispanics — just as it is among Florida voters at large — is key because they tend to vote far in bigger proportions than those who are younger. In 2014, the last Florida midterm election, Hispanics 50 and older accounted for 58 percent of the Latino vote. About 16 percent of Florida’s 13 million voters are registered as Hispanics.
The Amandi poll also has surprising results for those unfamiliar with the peculiarities of Florida’s Hispanic vote, which is largely divided between Republican-leaning Cuban-Americans who are clustered in the Miami area and Democratic-leaning Puerto Ricans, who primarily live in the Orlando area. Other non-Cuban Hispanics also tend to vote Democratic in Florida.
In the Florida poll, 47 percent approve of Trump and 50 percent disapprove, a net favorability rating of -3. Among Cuban-Americans, Trump’s net favorability is +35 but is at -40 among Puerto Ricans, who are outraged by his administration’s lackluster response to Hurricane Maria and his disputing of the island’s now-official death toll of 3,000. Trump’s decision to say Monday that he’s an “absolute no” on Puerto Rican statehood is also expected to drive his numbers even farther down and could further hurt Scott and Nelson, Republicans worry.
Nelson’s campaign has begun running a Spanish-language ad showing how close Trump is to Scott, who chaired a super PAC for the president and was encouraged to run for Senate by Trump.
Scott began making serious inroads into the Boricua community for welcoming Hurricane Maria evacuees after the storm devastated the island. Democrats point out that Scott essentially took credit for passing out federal funds and that the GOP-led legislature did relatively little to open the state‘s pocket book to help evacuees while also raiding an affordable housing trust fund that would have helped many find shelter.
Still, the Scott playbook has paid dividends and he leads Nelson 47-42 percent among older Puerto Rican voters in Florida, though the small sample size for this demographic is small.
Gillum, however, is ahead 58-33 percent among Puerto Rican voters in his matchup against DeSantis, Amandi said.
Both DeSantis and Scott roll up their biggest margins over their Democratic rivals with Cuban-Americans. They back Scott 67-23 percent — a 44-point margin — and support DeSantis over Gillum by 62-23 percent in the poll. Hispanics whose heritage is from Mexico and South and Central America both support Nelson and Gillum by wide margins.
When it comes to net favorability ratings, Scott’s is 70 percentage points among Cuban-Americans, compared to -9 for Nelson; it’s 19 points among Puerto Ricans, compared to 27 for Nelson; and 18 points among other Latinos compared to 38 for Nelson.
In the governor’s race, DeSantis’ net favorability rating among Cuban-Americans is 34 percentage points, compared to -15 for Gillum; DeSantis is at -9 points among Puerto Ricans, compared to 27 for Gillum, and -4 points among other Latinos compared to 25 for Gillum.
So why is Gillum doing so much better in his matchup against DeSantis compared to how Nelson fares against Scott?
“The variable is Scott’s more effective campaign,” Amandi said. “These numbers are a testament to the work Scott is doing, spending the time, effort and resources to cultivate Hispanic voters in Florida. It shows.”