Florida’s newly-drawn 2nd Congressional District has received a lot of attention throughout the redistricting process and subsequent litigation. The Florida Supreme Court recently declined to hear arguments about the state’s new map, and two Congressmen – Reps. Neal Dunn (R) and Al Lawson (D) – declared they would run against each other for the seat.
With these factors in mind, we wanted to see how this battle of incumbents may play out in the upcoming November faceoff. To find out, we surveyed 400 voters within this new district.
The new district has a somewhat split personality. Dunn’s home base in Bay County is part of a long stretch of conservative, mostly rural counties making up the western portions of the district. By contrast, Leon and Gadsden counties – which Lawson represented for years in the Florida Legislature – are among the state’s most consistently Democrat-rich areas. That split shows in the numbers: Within the new CD2, about 4 in 10 registered voters are Republicans, about 4 in 10 are Democrats, and the remaining 2 in 10 are unaffiliated.
In terms of expected vote shares, we have to consider a few nuances – which in this case, work in opposite directions. First, Republicans historically have a higher turnout than Democrats in midterm elections. On the other hand, nonpartisan voters within CD2 tend to act somewhat more like Democrats – at least in the data we’re seeing currently.
For example, when asked who they’d vote for if the election for governor were held today, 94% of Republicans and 16% of Democrats within the district say they would pick Gov. Ron DeSantis. Nonpartisan voters land much closer to Democrats – just 29% say they’d vote for DeSantis, while 42% say they’d vote for Charlie Crist, and 29% remain undecided.
In other words, among those who have already made up their minds, just 41% of nonpartisans would vote for DeSantis. Still, the overall trend is good news for the governor: When you include all voters, our survey suggests that DeSantis would capture 56% of the votes within CD2 if the election were held today.
However, things are a bit closer when it comes to the duel between the two Congressmen.
Currently, Republican Dunn has the support of 43% of voters, but Democrat Lawson is within the margin of error at 40%; the other 17% remain undecided. Among those who have already made up their minds, 52% say they would vote for Dunn and 48% would vote for Lawson – again within the +/-5% margin of error.
Name recognition of the two Congressmen is close to equal: Two-thirds of voters (67%) are familiar with Dunn, while 62% know of Lawson. Predictably, Dunn’s name recognition is greater in Bay County, while Lawson’s is greater in Leon County. They’re about equally known to voters in the district’s more rural counties.
Having your name recognized doesn’t necessarily mean people like you – but here, favorability ratings among those who recognize each candidate’s name are also closely matched, with Lawson having a slight lead at 61% over Dunn at 59%.
CD2 candidates are undoubtedly interested in knowing more about what the district’s constituents think about and feel. A potentially significant factor is that satisfaction with President Joe Biden is low: Just 4 in 10 are “very” (23%) or “somewhat” (18%) satisfied with his job performance, with more than half saying they’re “very” dissatisfied. Even among Democrats in the district, fewer than half (46%) say they’re “very” satisfied with the president’s performance, and just 2 in 10 non-partisans feel that way.
Finally, when it comes to the issues, the biggest share of district voters want their representative in Congress to focus on inflation (53%). This is followed by poverty / affordable housing (33%), immigration (30%), gun reform (26%), health care (23%), racial justice / equality in the justice system (22%), national security (18%), and education (16%).
And what about voters who are still undecided in the matchup between Dunn and Lawson? Inflation is by far their greatest concern, too.
Between the relative unpopularity of his party’s leader, lower historic Democratic turnout in midterm elections, and voters’ concerns over inflation, Lawson could be sailing into strong headwinds, with just 19 weeks until Election Day.
That said, Dunn’s lead over Lawson among CD2 voters is significantly smaller than the lead held by Gov. DeSantis in his race, nonpartisans seem less certain of Dunn than they do of DeSantis, and Lawson’s favorability rating among these constituents is a full 20 points greater than President Biden’s.
This district, hailed as competitive, could very well prove to be so.