TALLAHASSEE (NSF) – Real-estate tycoon Donald Trump could win the Republican presidential primary in Florida and beat former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in the general election if either vote were held today, according to a new poll of Florida voters.
The poll, released Wednesday by the Florida Atlantic University Business and Economics Polling Initiative, showed Trump drawing the support of almost 36 percent of GOP voters. U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida was second with 18 percent, followed by neurosurgeon Ben Carson, with 14.5 percent. U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas came in fourth with 10 percent, followed by former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush with almost 9 percent.
While the poll of GOP voters had a relatively high margin of error of 5.2 percentage points, Trump's lead was well outside of that.
"Despite conjecture that Donald Trump has plateaued, his support in Florida remains very strong and could be growing," Kevin Wagner, an associate professor of political science at Florida Atlantic, said in a prepared statement accompanying the results.
The poll numbers are also encouraging for Trump in a potential general-election contest. He leads Clinton, the likely Democratic nominee for president, by a margin of 49 percent to 40.5 percent among Florida registered voters. Carson, who has swapped the lead with Trump in some national surveys, does even better in a head-to-head match-up, picking up 50 percent of the vote. Clinton again gets 40.5 percent of the vote.
Both of those leads are outside of the 3.3-point margin of error for the broader pool of registered voters surveyed.
Rubio, Cruz and Bush would also beat Clinton, though the latter two hold leads within the margin of error.
Monica Escaleras, director of the university's Business and Economics Polling Initiative, said the numbers included some good news for Clinton.
"While Clinton is losing in all the trial heats, she is winning among females," Escaleras said. "Thus it appears that her strategy of targeting women is working."
Even so, the Republican Party of Florida jumped at the chance to needle the Democratic front-runner.
"Unfortunately for Hillary Clinton, this recent poll confirms the people of Florida are unhappy with her failed record as secretary of state, the negative headlines haunting her campaign, and the FBI investigation into her secret email server," GOP spokesman Wadi Gaitan said.
Clinton has been sharply criticized for setting up a private email server to handle her communications while she was secretary of state.
A lead in Florida is critical for the GOP because it is difficult for a Republican to win the White House without the state's 29 electoral votes.
The survey also found that Democratic Congressman Patrick Murphy would be favored against either Lt. Gov. Carlos Lopez-Cantera or Republican Congressman Ron DeSantis in a general election match-up for the state's open U.S. Senate seat. Murphy's lead against DeSantis, though, is within the margin of error.
Liberal firebrand Alan Grayson, a congressman who is fighting Murphy for the Democratic nomination, would lose to either Republican by 4 percentage points, according to the survey.
The initiative polled 297 likely voters for the Democratic primary and 355 for the Republican primary. For the general-election numbers, 829 registered Florida voters were surveyed. The poll was conducted Sunday and Monday.
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The News Service of Florida's Brandon Larrabee contributed to this report.
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