Former Governor Charlie Crist holds a large edge among independent voters, giving him a narrow lead over incumbent Republican Governor Rick Scott in their bid for the nation’s largest swing state, a statewide poll on Thursday showed.
The results, released by Quinnipiac University in the final week of their see-saw campaign ahead of Tuesday’s election, showed Crist, a Republican-turned-Democrat, with 43 percent of the vote, and Scott with 40 percent – a statistical dead heat given the poll’s margin of error.
Libertarian Adrian Wyllie, who is on the ballot, had 8 percent of the vote among those polled.
“Independent voters are often the difference in swing states like Florida,” Peter Brown, assistant director of the Quinnipiac University Poll, said of the results. He called Crist’s popularity among non-party voters “truly remarkable.”
The latest survey, conducted between Oct. 22 and Oct. 27, polled 817 likely voters and has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.4 percentage points.
Although the race is still neck and neck, Crist appears to have momentum on his side. Just a week ago, a Quinnipiac poll found Crist and the incumbent governor tied at 42 percent, and Wyllie at 7 percent. Several other polls have shown the race extremely tight, as both parties flood Florida airwaves with attack advertising.
Crist, a former Republican governor, state Cabinet officer and legislator, ran for the U.S. Senate as an independent in 2010 and became a Democrat in 2012. Republicans have hammered him as an “opportunist,” but Crist has insisted his party switching was caused by a principled disillusionment with the Republican Party.
“Crist, who always has sought to portray himself as a pragmatist rather than an ideologue, seems to have sold that message to independents, who historically have favored problem-solvers who are less political,” said Brown.
Thursday’s poll showed Crist leading Scott 47 percent to 29 percent among independent voters, with 16 percent favoring Wyllie.
Florida has more than 2.7 million registered voters with no political party affiliation compared with 4.6 million Democrats and 4.2 million Republicans.
“It may turn out that Crist’s change from Republican to independent to Democrat branded him as the kind of less-political politician with the most important voter group,” Brown added.
(Editing by David Adams and Susan Heavey)