St. Leo University poll has Alex Sink with 9-point lead over David Jolly

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Democrat Alex Sink widens the lead over Republican David Jolly by 46-37 percent in the special election for Pinellas County’s 13th Congressional District, according to a new survey conducted by the Saint Leo University Polling Institute.

In the poll described as “aggressively screened” for likely voters, if the election were held today, Libertarian Lucas Overby would also receive 12 percent of the vote, appearing to siphon off some Jolly voters.

Saint Leo University pollster Frank Orlando says that driving Sink’s popularity are strong favorability ratings, as well as views aligned closer to voter preferences than Jolly.

“She overcomes a partisan ID disadvantage in the district by maintaining much higher favorability among than Republicans and Independents than Mr. Jolly does among Democrats,” Orlando said in a statement issued Thursday. “The fact that a Libertarian candidate has robust support levels in the double digits seems to be contributing to the size of Sink’s lead.”

Democrats overwhelmingly favor Sink (88 percent) and favor Jolly by only 6 percent, with 4 percent for Overby.

In contrast, the study found Republicans divided on their candidate, with only 64 percent approving Jolly. Sink gets 16 percent of Republicans, and 14 percent go to the Libertarian.

“Jolly is not only leaking Republican voters to Alex Sink, but also to David (sic) Overby,” Orlando said. “Traditionally, Libertarian candidates have siphoned off more votes from Republicans and Republican-leaning independents, and this is the case here.

Despite being far outspent, Orlando says Overby’s presence in the Feb. 3 Tampa Bay Times and Bay News 9 televised debate increased his visibility; it is not a sure thing that he can keep this support through the March 11 Election Day.

Both Sink and Jolly, after heavy advertising, are now well known in the district, resulting in similar favorable ratings.

According to the poll of 400 likely voters, taken February 9-11, 2014:

  • Sink has overall favorability ratings of +7 and gross ratings of 51 percent favorable, 44 percent unfavorable.
  • Jolly has overall favorability rating of +3 and gross ratings of 47 percent favorable, 44 percent unfavorable.

Sink’s advantage is among voters who say they are “very favorable” toward a candidate, with 33 percent of voters saying they have a “very favorable” opinion of Sink. Only 21 percent hold a “very favorable” opinion of Jolly.

Overby, after inclusion in the debates and more media attention than usual for a third party candidate, enjoys “hard” name recognition of 58 percent (30 percent favorable, 28 percent unfavorable), with a net favorable rating of +2.

Florida’s 13th congressional District is a truly swing district, confirmed by Saint Leo pollsters. President Barack Obama has an approval rating in CD 13 of 47 percent, with 51 percent disapproval.

“The 13th District is one of only two districts in Florida that voted for Barack Obama while also sending a Republican to Congress,” Orlando said. “Democrats have been eyeing this district for a while, and with the seat newly open, figure that this is a perfect time to strike.

“If the Democrats hope to wrest control of the House from the Republicans, they must win districts like this in November,” he added. “Despite the fact that special elections always feature idiosyncracies, the national parties and media will treat this race as a bellweather for this fall.”

Opinion is also divided over the Affordable Care Act.

Forty percent believe Congress should keep the law but fix it with some changes, which is Sink’s position. Only 20 percent of voters support Jolly’s opinion of repealing the law entirely.

Overall, 57 percent of respondents want the law to stay  in one form or another, while 41 percent support repeal (20 percent) or repeal and replacement with some another plan (21 percent).

“David Jolly has made linking Alex Sink with President Obama’s agenda a centerpiece of his campaign,” Orlando continued. “While Jolly is performing well among voters that would like to see Obamacare repealed, he must win over at least a few voters that take a less negative view of the bill.”

“Sink’s strategy, which will likely be repeated by her Democratic co-partisans this fall,” Orlando said, “is to advocate keeping the law but agreeing to popular changes.”

“At this point, her views seem to align more closely with a majority of likely voters in the district.”

The Saint Leo University Polling Institute poll of likely voters used a blended sample reached by Interactive Voice Response and an online panel. The margin of error is +/- 5% with a 95% confidence level.

Poll results are now online at polls.saintleo.edu.

“We went to great lengths to identify those voters most likely to vote, which is critical given that this is a special election that is expected to have a considerably lower turnout,” said Saint Leo University polling institute director Drew Gold.

To be included in the survey as a “likely voter,” all respondents were asked twice that they are 18 or older and pass three screening questions:

  • “When general elections are held in the United States, how often do you vote?”

Accepted answers: “all of the time” and “most of the time. ”Voters responding “about half the time,” “occasionally,” “rarely or never” were screened out.

  •  “Do you know where you and your neighbors go to vote?”

Accepted answer: “yes.” Voters responding “no” or that they were not sure were screened out.

  •  “Are you planning to vote in the March 2014 special congressional election to fill the seat previously held by the late Bill Young?”

Accepted answer: “yes.” Voters responding “no” or were not sure were screened out.

Phil Ammann is a St. Petersburg-based journalist and blogger. With more than three decades of writing, editing and management experience, Phil produced material for both print and online, in addition to founding HRNewsDaily.com. His broad range includes covering news, local government and culture reviews for Patch.com, technical articles and profiles for BetterRVing Magazine and advice columns for a metaphysical website, among others. Phil has served as a contributor and production manager for SaintPetersBlog since 2013. He lives in St. Pete with his wife, visual artist Margaret Juul and can be reached at phil@floridapolitics.com and on Twitter @PhilAmmann.