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UNF poll: DeSantis ahead in Florida for Republican presidential primary

 Gov. Ron DeSantis waves as he finishes his State of the State address during a joint session of the Senate and House of Representatives on Tuesday, March 7, 2023, at the Capitol in Tallahassee.
Phil Sears
Gov. Ron DeSantis waves as he finishes his State of the State address during a joint session of the Senate and House of Representatives on Tuesday, March 7, 2023, at the Capitol in Tallahassee.

A new poll from the University of North Florida’s Public Opinion Research Lab asked registered voters across Florida about a number of policy issues, including proposed constitutional amendments and bills that have been filed or proposed ahead of the 2023 session of the Florida Legislature.

Registered Republicans were asked about their preference in the 2024 Republican presidential primary. When given a list of 10 possible candidates, 52% of respondents indicated a vote for Ron DeSantis, followed by 27% for Donald Trump. Nikki Haley came in a very distant third at 4%, followed by Liz Cheney with 3% and Mike Pence with 2%. The remaining candidates each received less than 1%. Eight percent of respondents said they do not know or refused to answer.

When asked to choose between DeSantis and Trump in a head-to-head race, 59% of registered Republicans said they would vote for DeSantis, with 28% for Trump, and 14% who don’t know or refused.

“It’s not too surprising to see DeSantis take the lead among Republicans in his home state of Florida,” commented Michael Binder, PORL faculty director and professor of political science. “But it is interesting to see how his lead jumps up from 25 to 31 points ahead, once you winnow the field from 10 to two. DeSantis is much better compared to Trump at consolidating votes if the field were to narrow.”

All respondents were asked if they support or oppose a proposed amendment to the Florida state constitution that would allow adults in Florida aged 21 and older to purchase and possess small amounts of marijuana for personal use. Seven out of 10 respondents said they support the measure, either strongly or somewhat, while the rest strongly or somewhat oppose. Previous PORL statewide polls showed similarly high support, with 76% in Spring of 2022 and 64% in November of 2019.

“Efforts to put recreational marijuana in front of voters in 2024 are in the beginning stages, but support for it is high across the political spectrum,” said Binder. “If it makes it onto the ballot next year, and that’s a big ‘if,’ it has a good chance of reaching the 60% supermajority needed to pass.”

The survey included a few questions about proposed reforms to Florida’s education system, including K-12 and higher education. Respondents were asked if they support or oppose the recently filed HB1 that, among other changes, would make all K-12 students in Florida eligible to receive public funds to use for private school tuition and other school expenses, regardless of financial need. They were told that some estimates put the additional cost of the expansion at $2.5 billion. In response, 53% said they support the bill, either somewhat or strongly, and 39% opposed it. Eight percent said they do not know or refused.

When asked if they support or oppose the proposed constitutional amendment that would require school board candidates to disclose party affiliation in their elections, a majority (65%) of respondents oppose that either strongly or somewhat, while just 26% said they support the measure, and 9% do not know or refused to answer.

With regard to higher education, respondents were asked about a recently filed bill that would, among other changes to the State University System, prohibit Florida public colleges and universities from supporting campus activities or programs that promote diversity, equity, and inclusion, and critical race theory. Again, a majority of respondents (61%) oppose the bill, while 35% support, and 4% don’t know or refused. Opposition was greatest among registered Democrats and independents, with 79% and 68%, respectively. Support among registered Republicans is 56%, with 38% opposed.

“Despite elevated support among Republicans, many voters we spoke to are not so thrilled about some of DeSantis’s most recent proposals in his war on ‘woke’ culture, this time targeting Florida’s public colleges and universities with HB999 and SB266,” said Binder. “A notable chunk of Republicans (38%) don’t like the restrictions, but the 56% in support reflects the likely outcome in Florida’s Republican-controlled Legislature.”

Another recent bill that would allow Floridians to carry a concealed weapon without a permit or license received strong opposition, with 77% saying they oppose the bill strongly or somewhat, and just 22% in support. The majority of respondents were opposed across party affiliations, with 93% of Democrats opposed, 77% among independents, and 62% among Republicans.

“Not only is there bipartisan opposition to this ‘constitutional carry’ bill, but folks seem to feel passionately about it with the majority (67%) saying they strongly oppose the bill,” commented Binder. “Even among Republicans, most people are against carrying weapons without a permit.”

Respondents were also asked what they think is the most important problem facing Florida, to which 25% said affordable housing. The next highest response is the economy, jobs, and inflation with 17%, followed by education at 12%, immigration at 10%, and gun policy with 7%.

“Affordable housing has been an issue of rising concern for Floridians, shooting up to top problem this year at 25% from just 2% last spring,” said Binder. “Among the major themes in the ‘something else’ write-in category is politicians and divisive politics with about 6%, and property insurance has a notable presence as well.”


The UNF PORL Florida statewide poll was conducted from February 25 through March 7, incorporating both telephone and online surveys, using contact information from the Florida voter file. Of the 1,452 registered voters who completed surveys, 453 were completed via telephone and 999 online.

All data were weighted by geographic strata, educational attainment, partisan registration, age, race and ethnicity, and sex to match the population of registered voters in Florida. The margin of sampling error is +/- 2.57 percentage points.

Copyright 2023 WJCT News 89.9. To see more, visit WJCT News 89.9.