TALLAHASSEE, Florida -- Undecided voters and those casting ballots in Central Florida will decide the race for governor, a statistically tied contest between Democrat Alex Sink and Republican Rick Scott.
A Mason-Dixon poll released today shows Sink leading 46 percent to Scott's 43 percent, within the poll's four-point margin of error. Of those surveyed, 7 percent remain undecided and 4 percent supported another candidate.
Qunnipiac University, in a separate poll also released today, has Sink in the lead, 45 percent to 41 percent for Scott.
The result is a further narrowing of the race from a Mason-Dixon poll earlier in the month that showed Sink with a four-point lead.
In many ways, the Scott vs. Sink race is a contest to decide who is viewed least unfavorably. The Mason-Dixon poll showed both candidates' unfavorable ratings increasing in the hard-hitting negative campaign. Sink was viewed unfavorably by 39 percent, up six points from a few weeks ago. The Democratic candidate had a 44 percent favorability rating.
More than half -- 52 percent, viewed Scott unfavorably, a jump of seven points from the previous poll. Scott is viewed favorably by 30 percent.
"Without a doubt, the major reason that Scott is running behind other strong GOP candidates this cycle is that a majority of Florida voters have a negative opinion of him," said Brad Coker, managing director of Mason-Dixon Polling & Research. "If Scott wins, it will be one of the very, very rare instances where a candidate with a negative rating above 50 percent was able to prevail."
Peter Brown, assistant director of the Quinnipiac poll, said Scott supporters are behind him for partisan reasons, overcoming personal distaste.
"The relatively wide gap between Scott's unfavorable rating and his support in the horse race against Ms. Sink is unusual and probably reflects the Republican leaning of the electorate," Brown said in a statement.
Most of the regional results of the Mason-Dixon poll are as expected.
Sink leads with a solid majority in populous Southeast Florida, 56-33. She also has a majority of support, 51 to 40 percent, in Tampa Bay.
"Tampa Bay, the state's bellwether region, is Sink's home base and she is maintaining a double-digit lead there," Coker said.
Scott leads with majorities in North and Southwest Florida -- 53-33 in North Florida and 51-38 in his home territory of Southwest Florida. Scott also leads 46-to-44 percent in Central Florida. That narrow margin in Republican-heavy areas will be crucial.
"Central Florida may hold the key," Coker said. "Scott leads there by only 46 percent-44 percent, below the margin that successful Republicans have generated in recent elections."
The Mason-Dixon poll was conducted Monday through Wednesday. There were 625 likely voters polled. The Quinnipiac poll was taken earlier, Oct. 18-24, and included 784 likely voters. Its error margin is 3.5 percentage points.
Paul Flemming, Florida Capital Bureau