Crist Finishes with High Approval Ratings

By: David Royse, The News Service of Florida
By: David Royse, The News Service of Florida

THE CAPITAL, TALLAHASSEE, Dec. 29, 2010 --

As he prepares to leave office after one term Gov. Charlie Crist remains popular, with half of voters telling pollsters just before Christmas that they approved of the job he has done as governor.

In fact, noted pollster Tom Jensen of North Carolina-based Public Policy Polling, Crist is finishing with the highest approval rating he’s gotten in the firm’s surveys all year. Crist’s approval was 50 percent with 39 percent saying they disapproved in a telephone poll of 1,034 voters conducted Dec. 17 to 20.

That’s up from a low of 35 percent in March.

Crist has wound down his governorship quietly, making almost no news since Election Day when he was defeated in a three-way race for the U.S. Senate running as an independent. Crist has made several appointments since then, but mostly has stayed out of the limelight.

The one exception was in early December, when the state executive clemency board, chaired by Crist, made international headlines when it gave a pardon to long-dead rock and roll star Jim Morrison for an obscenity conviction four decades ago. Crist had pushed for the pardon.

But otherwise, Crist has done little to garner approval or disapproval, with almost no public events. He also hasn’t said yet what he will do when he leaves the governor’s office next Tuesday, though he has confided he is interested in working at the law firm of friend John Morgan.

A spokesman, Sterling Ivey, said Wednesday that Crist is still “evaluating several opportunities.”

The favorable opinion of the lame duck governor may be high, but it’s still nowhere close to his approval back in early 2009 – albeit, according to different pollsters. The economy had only recently tanked and it wasn’t clear how deep, or long, the recession would be. In early February of 2009, a Quinnipiac University poll found Crist with a 67 percent approval rating – roughly where he had been since being elected in late 2006.

Crist also was still firmly in the Republican fold then, although Florida political watchers were starting to see the first cracks as Crist enthusiastically backed the Obama stimulus package, one of the earliest positions he would take that would begin a path to alienation from the GOP.

There has been wide speculation – stoked in part by Crist himself who has noted that he is only 54 – that the career politician may seek another office, perhaps as soon as two years from now when the St. Petersburg-based congressional seat of Rep. C.W. “Bill” Young may be open, if the veteran Republican congressman decides to retire.

“Crist may have a political future but if he does it's in the Democratic Party,” noted Jensen on the polling firm’s blog Wednesday. “Any thought that he might try to go back to being a Republican can probably be put aside by the fact that 50 percent of GOP voters say they would never vote for Crist again- that's a pretty brutal starting point in a primary contest.”

But a quarter of of all respondents, regardless of party, say they’d definitely vote for Crist again in the future and more than a third of those polled are at least open to the possibility. The poll found 27 percent of Democrats would definitely vote for Crist in the future.

Actually, if he has a political future, it might also be as an independent.

“Crist has stratospheric numbers with independents at 70 percent approving of him to only 26 percent disapproving,” Jensen wrote. “That's the highest approval with them PPP has found for any politician this year.”

Republicans – whose ire at Crist’s departure from the party and his run against conservative Marco Rubio was immense – appear to have eased a bit on their Crist enmity.

“He's still mostly unpopular with (Republicans) now at 36 percent approval to 54 percent disapproval, but that's well up from a 23/64 spread in late October,” Jensen said. “He's actually seen some slippage with Democrats though, from 59 percent approval right before the election to now 54 percent.”

The poll by PPP, widely seen as a Democratic-leaning pollster, also found that more Florida voters still have a negative opinion of incoming Gov. Rick Scott than have a favorable view, with 33 percent favorability rating to 43 percent unfavorable. Still, Jensen noted that’s better than just before the election when his unfavorable rating was 54 percent, and favorability about the same.

Scott takes office Tuesday.


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