Rising partisanship and a sinking state economy are taking a toll on Gov. Charlie Crist's once-stratospheric popularity, but Crist's support for offshore oil-drilling is striking a chord with voters, according to a new survey. The Miami Herald-St. Pete Times poll of Floridians' attitudes on state issues also shows that a proposal to ban gay marriages -- which Crist supports but won't campaign for -- is falling shy of the 60 percent needed for approval.
Crist's fortunes seem to be falling in tandem with the state's job losses, which lead the nation. A majority of Floridians polled -- 51 percent -- said the state is ``headed in the wrong direction.'
That number, however, reflects a partisan divide: Fifty-eight percent of Republicans say the outlook for the state is either 'mixed' or 'headed in the right direction.' Just 27 percent of Democrats agreed.
Overall, Crist still remains popular, with 53 percent of Florida voters saying they're satisfied with his performance, compared with 45 percent who say he's doing a poor job.
But Crist's negatives have climbed as his popularity has dropped. For the first time, the difference between the two views is less than double digits, said pollster Tom Eldon of Schroth, Eldon & Associates.
The biggest factor: Democratic support for the Republican governor is fading, Eldon said.
'It could be the direction of the state, coming up short on property taxes and insurance reform, or just the increased partisanship during his courtship of the vice-presidency,' Eldon said. Crist's favorability rating among Republicans is 68 percent. Among Democrats, it's 38 percent.
The disenchanted include Republican José Nuñez, 69, a retired computer programmer in Kendall.
'The guy was a lot of smoke and no fire in terms of the home taxes,' Nuñez said of Crist. ``He promised, and he didn't deliver. I'm paying $4,000 a year on taxes, and that'll be reduced to $3,940. I saved $60. I guess I can buy two gallons of gas.'
The poll shows voters siding with Crist when it comes to offshore oil and gas exploration -- once considered the kiss of death for Florida politicians to embrace. But with gas hitting $4 a gallon, Republicans last spring began seizing on drilling as a way to address rising gas prices, and the poll suggests that as Crist softened his opposition, so did voters.
Fifty-nine percent of respondents either 'strongly' or 'somewhat' support allowing oil drilling closer than 125 miles from the Florida coast. The survey shows a partisan divide: 80 percent of Republicans backed drilling, compared to 40 percent of Democrats.
Supporters include Pinecrest attorney Nick Bohn, a Pinecrest lawyer, who said he believes drilling off the coast could relieve U.S. dependence on foreign oil. He said he's not worried about seeing oil rigs off the shoreline.
'If it's because it's an eyesore, then put it out someplace they can't be seen,' the Republican said. ``You probably couldn't see them 10 miles off.'
Just 33 percent of voters in the survey said they were either 'strongly' or 'somewhat' opposed to drilling. The strongest opposition was in the Tampa Bay area.
Staunch opponents like Violeta Morejon of Miami said the push to drill will do nothing to ease gas prices.
'We need a long-term solution. That's very short-sighted,' the registered independent said. ``We shouldn't buy so many Hummers and SUV's as big as houses, and be conservative with our oil. People should recycle and be conscious of the fact that we need to take care of our country and the Earth.'
The survey of 800 voters was conducted Sept. 14 to Sept. 17 and has a margin of error of 3.5 percentage points.
Support for the proposed constitutional amendment that would define marriage as between a man and a woman falls short of the 60 percent approval threshold. Voters in the poll support the ballot Amendment 2 by 58-37 percent, with 5 percent undecided. Republicans favor the amendment 74-21 percent, while Democrats oppose it 50-44 percent.
Eldon suggested support for the amendment may have reached a plateau: 'The yes side should have the momentum,' he said. ``You would think at this point they'd have the base mobilized. Picking up swing voters is going to be a challenge if they haven't done it yet.'
Republican pollster Kellyanne Conway disagreed, saying she expects 'plenty of mobilization' by pro-amendment forces. She suggested the numbers may be lower because the proposed constitutional amendment goes farther than similar efforts by also banning both civil unions and publicly recognized domestic partnerships.