This morning's Quinnipiac Poll of Florida, a poll of 705 likely Florida voters, was ugly for Marco Rubio and absolutely fatal for Ted Cruz and the also-rans, showing Donald Trump up 44-28 on Rubio, Cruz way back at 12%, and the two minor candidates combining for 11%. But a new poll is out that shows the race tighter than all that.
The Associated Industries of Florida poll, which Politico Florida reporter Marc Caputo described as Florida's premier poll, polled 600 likely Republican voters, with Trump leading Rubio 34-27, with Cruz in third place at 17% and the two minor candidates combined at 10%.
A 7-point Trump lead is still not good news for Rubio, but it suggests a more manageable deficit and is in line with those polls showing Trump still around a third of the vote in most states without having ever been the subject of the sort of withering negative ad campaigns that saw Mitt Romney destroy Newt Gingrich in Florida in 2012 and, in an earlier generation, saw Bill Clinton destroy Paul Tsongas in Florida in 1992. With almost three weeks to go and Rubio having had only a week since becoming the only Floridian in the race, that would suggest this one is far from over - especially if additional candidate(s) drop out between now and then. You will notice that in 2012 and 2008 there were significant lead changes down the stretch in the Florida primary, and throughout this race, Rubio has cleaned up with late-deciding voters, while Trump has fared poorly with them.
The AIF poll uses a different and - at least in a normal year - better polling methodology, which could matter given that Florida is a closed primary:
Quinnipiac, like many firms, randomly dials voters in Florida and asks them to self-identify their party registration. As a result, some people who are technically not registered Republicans but identify personally as GOP wind up surveyed.
In AIF’s surveys, its pollsters call off a list from the Florida voter file and only contacts registered Republicans. That’s a preferred polling technique for a Florida primary because only registered Republicans can vote in the GOP contest.
And as in the Q poll, Jeb dropping out added to Rubio's momentum, and he remains much more popular with undecided Republicans than Trump:
Rubio’s support has grown from 10 percent to almost 20 percent in two surveys in December to 27 percent now...“Basically, Marco got all of Jeb’s voters,” Tyson said.
One of the big numbers to watch: the 12 percent who are undecided Republican voters. Of them, 59 percent have a favorable view of Rubio and 10 percent have an unfavorable view, giving him a favorable rating of 49 percent. Trump’s rating is 31 percent, with 47 percent holding a favorable view and 16 percent holding an unfavorable view of him.
Also the poll noted that of the 53% polled who voted in the last two Florida primaries, Trump leads Rubio 34-30, whereas he leads 35-25 margin with those who voted in only one of the last two.
Marco Rubio has his work cut out for him, and it's troubling that early voting is already happening, so some voters are locked in already. But there are two and a half weeks, three debates and 23 other primaries between now and March 15. That's an eternity in primary-season time. The Republican Party and its longtime supporters have not been defeated yet.