TALLAHASSEE (CBSMiami/NSF) – There’s good news and bad news for Gov. Rick Scott in the latest round of poll numbers from Quinnipiac University.

The good news is approval rating is up. In the new poll released Tuesday he is viewed favorably by 40 percent of voters and unfavorably by 42 percent. While he is still underwater, Scott’s numbers have improved since March, when he was viewed favorably by only 33 percent of voters and unfavorably by 46 percent.

The bad news is he still trails former Gov. Charlie Crist by double digits in a potential 2014 election battle. In the poll, Republican-turned-Democrat Crist led Scott by a margin of 47 percent to 37 percent. While that is a significant edge for Crist, it is down from a 16-point margin in a March poll.

Peter A. Brown, assistant director of the Quinnipiac University Polling Institute, said it is an indication of how low Scott’s poll numbers have been that he can “take some solace” from only trailing Crist by 10 points. Also, Brown pointed to improvements for Scott in other parts of the poll, though he described the governor’s job approval and favorability numbers as “tepid.”

“Now that doesn’t mean that happy days are here again for the governor, but if he is going to make a comeback these are the kind of steps that would be required,” Brown said in a news release announcing the poll results. “Whether it is the start of something larger, we’ll see in the coming months.”

Crist, who served as the Republican governor from 2006 to 2010 before losing an independent bid for the U.S. Senate and then becoming a Democrat, has not announced whether he will run against Scott next year. Similarly, former state Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink, who narrowly lost to Scott in 2010, has remained coy about whether she will run again.

The only prominent Democrat who has announced a bid is former Senate Minority Leader Nan Rich of Weston. The new poll shows Scott leading Rich by a margin of 42 percent to 36 percent. It also shows that voters know little about Rich, with 84 percent saying they hadn’t heard enough about her to offer an opinion.

Though U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla., has repeatedly said he does not plan to run for governor, the poll shows he would lead Scott in a hypothetical match-up by a margin of 48 percent to 38 percent.

Scott during this spring’s legislative session focused on a narrow agenda that included popular ideas such as raising pay for public-school teachers and cutting taxes for manufacturers. He also has been traveling the state to appear at choreographed bill-signing ceremonies and to talk about job creation, the issue that he rode into office in 2010.

“The governor needs to make voters believe he is responsible for a better economy. That’s the key to his electoral future,” Brown said. “He isn’t going to get re-elected because he is Mr. Personality. He needs to essentially convince voters, ‘You may not like me, but I’m the guy who is making things better,’ ”

In some ways, Scott has had the early campaign to himself as Democrats continue to sort out who will run in 2014. But if Crist jumps into the race, he will start out more popular than Scott.

The Quinnipiac poll shows that 48 percent of voters have a favorable view of Crist, while 31 percent have an unfavorable view. Independent and women voters particularly have a better opinion of Crist than they do Scott.

The state Republican Party has already started a daily barrage of criticism of Crist, including attempts to highlight changes in his positions since he left the GOP. In the Quinnipiac poll, 47 percent of voters viewed the party-switching as a positive, while 44 percent saw it as a negative.

The Connecticut-based Quinnipiac regularly conducts polls in Florida and other states. The poll released Tuesday was conducted from June 11 to June 16 and included 1,176 registered voters. It had a margin of error of 2.9 percentage points.

The News Service of Florida contributed to this report


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