Former President Donald Trump's support among Republican voters in Florida for another presidential bid has significantly eroded this year, a USA TODAY/Suffolk University Poll finds, as Gov. Ron DeSantis has scored gains in the home state they now share.
In a hypothetical 2024 presidential primary in the Sunshine State, DeSantis now leads Trump 48%-40%. That's a reversal from a USA TODAY/Suffolk Poll of Florida in January, when Trump led DeSantis 47%-40%.
"This doesn't necessarily mean DeSantis would lead in any other GOP primary state," said David Paleologos, director of the Suffolk University Political Research Center. "But it is one data point suggesting a shift in preferences from GOP voters away from Trump and toward DeSantis from Republicans who know both potential combatants quite well."
Both men have made it clear they are considering presidential campaigns in 2024, although neither has made any official announcements. DeSantis supporters argue he offers a muscular populism similar to Trump without having the legal and other baggage that the former president carries.
Last week, the governor sparked a firestorm when he used state funds to fly about 50 Venezuelan migrants from Texas to the exclusive Massachusetts island of Martha's Vineyard.
Video: Texas sheriff to investigate DeSantis' relocation of migrants
Close race between Rubio and Demings; DeSantis ahead of Crist
Other big takeaways from the Florida poll include:
For the Senate, Republican incumbent Marco Rubio narrowly leads Democratic challenger Val Demings 45%-41%. Rubio's support has dropped 4 percentage points since the January survey; Rep. Demings' standing hasn't changed. Three other candidates on the ballot – Libertarian Dennis Misigoy, independent Steven Grant and independent Tuan "TQ" Nguyen – each receive 1%.
For the governorship, DeSantis leads Democratic challenger Charlie Crist 48%-41%. That's a small shift from the beginning of the year, when DeSantis led 49%-43% over Crist, a Republican-turned-Democrat who has served as governor and in Congress. Independent Carmen Jackie Gimenez receives 3% and Libertarian Hector Roos 1%.
The poll of 500 likely midterm voters, taken Thursday through Sunday by landline and cellphone, has a margin of error of plus or minus 4.4 percentage points. The error margin for the sample of 174 Republican voters is 7.4 points; for 163 Democratic voters it is 7.7 points.
President Joe Biden's approval rating has ticked up in Florida, with 42% saying they approve of how he's doing his job compared to 56% disapprove. That's a bit higher than the dismal 39%-53% standing he had in January.
Still, in a hypothetical matchup in the 2024 general election, Trump edges Biden in the state 47%-44%. DeSantis leads Biden by a wider margin, 52%-44%.
DeSantis' approval rating is 53%-45%, while Rubio's is 45%-46%.
By far the dominant issue on voters' minds is inflation and the economy, cited by a third of those surveyed. That may account for their more downbeat mood, compared with the beginning of the year. The percentage who say they are "worse off" than they were four years ago has grown to 49% from 39%.
Those who say the country is "on the wrong track" rose to 67% now from 58% then.
On a list of eleven issues, threats to democracy rank second, at 13%, and abortion rights is third, at 11%. Democrats rate abortion rights as their top issue, chosen by 21%.
In Florida, DeSantis Republicans are wealthier than Trump Republicans
The potential contest between Trump and DeSantis has sparked speculation and calculation among Republicans. The Florida governor hasn't said whether he would go ahead with a run for president if Trump decides to seek another term in the White House.
The two men have distinctive appeals among Republican voters, the survey finds.
Trump leads 53%-36% among voters earning less than $50,000 a year; DeSantis leads 55%-33% among those who earn $50,000 or more a year. Trump leads 57%-27% among voters who have not attended college; DeSantis leads 60%-30% among those who have.
Then there are the backers of Rubio, who was trounced by Trump in the Florida presidential primary in 2016, 46%-27%. The senator's supporters now split for DeSantis, 51%-38%.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: DeSantis leads Trump among Florida Republicans for 2024: Suffolk poll