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Biden and Democrats Face Tough Battle in Florida, Polling Indicates

Hours after the Florida Supreme Court cleared the way for an abortion access referendum to be on the November ballot, President Joe Biden’s reelection campaign touted the state as being “in play” in 2024.

Shifting from their once cautious stance on the state, Democrats argued the measure would drive turnout, particularly among progressive and younger voters, boosting Biden’s prospects there.

But a new USA TODAY/Ipsos poll finds that Democrats continue to face significant headwinds in the Sunshine State. Passage of the ballot initiative that would expand access to abortion also faces an uphill battle.

The court thrust abortion – a winning issue for Democrats – back into the spotlight with the ballot measure ruling, along with another decision that allows for a six-week ban to go into effect May 1. The competing measure, if passed, would guarantee abortion access up to viability, often 24 weeks.

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The USA TODAY/Ipsos poll shows that 50% of Florida voters said they would be in favor of such an amendment – below the 60% majority required to pass it in November. Still, 16% said they were either unsure or not registered to vote, a potential cache that Democrats and abortion advocates will need to tap into before election day. The poll shows Democrats face a substantial enthusiasm gap about the 2024 election compared to Republicans and former President Donald Trump, who calls Florida home, holds an eight-point lead over Biden.

In an election where everything may hinge on turnout, 67% of Democrats said they were certain to vote in November, compared to 80% of Republicans. Abortion could increase that number for Democrats, except only around two-thirds of Floridians said they were familiar with the court allowing a six-week ban to go into effect. Less than that, just half, said they knew about the opposing amendment making the ballot.

Concern for abortion or contraception fell generally along party lines. Reproductive rights were among the top issues for Democratic voters, behind inflation or cost of living, and housing. For Republicans, the issue dropped far down the list, below things like crime and immigration.

While enthusiasm appears an uphill battle, with about seven months until the election, Shana Gadarian, a political science professor at Syracuse University, said there is still plenty of time to get voters’ attention. “Maybe people aren’t enthusiastic about Joe Biden or Donald Trump,” she said, referring to the major parties’ presumptive presidential nominees. “But they are going to care about other issues that are going to get them out to the polls, and the candidates and the parties are going to do a lot of work to get them to understand what is at stake in this election.”

Republicans still lead in Florida

Biden’s campaign has eyes on Florida, a state waffling between red and purple. “We definitely see (Florida) in play and are looking forward to running a strong effort there,” Julie Chávez Rodriguez, Biden’s campaign manager, earlier this month.

But Republican competitor and former President Trump leads Biden by eight points in this latest Florida poll, with 39% of voters saying they would vote for Trump if the election were today compared 31% for Biden.

Also ahead of the president is Florida’s Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis, who ran his own 2024 presidential campaign before dropping out in January. Trump and DeSantis top Biden in favorability among Floridians, as well as Democratic Senate candidate Debbie Mucarsel-Powell – who almost 75% of voters said they had never heard of.

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A former state representative, Mucarsel-Powell is challenging Republican Sen. Rick Scott for his seat in November but trails him by ten percentage points. Florida has been trending Republican, the last three election cycles, and the GOP registration advantage versus Democrats has gone from a 200,000 deficit to outpacing their opponents by nearly a million voters. Trump defeated Hillary Clinton in the state by just over a point in 2016, and he expanded that margin four years later, beating Biden by over three points. The Democrats were also handicapped by low voter turnout two years ago when DeSantis won reelection by 19 points.

Democrats have recent abortion wins

Despite potential headwinds, Democrats have reason to be optimistic in the Sunshine State. Since the overturning of Roe v. Wade, the landmark 1973 case that provided a constitutional right to an abortion, two years ago, constitutional amendments for abortion access have a perfect win record. Democratic candidates also saw electoral boosts from talking about reproductive rights in the 2022 midterms and 2023 special elections. Meanwhile, abortion has been a weak spot for Republicans across the country and may prove just as tough for the Florida GOP.

Rating the governor on various issues, just 34% of voters said they approved of DeSantis’ handling of abortion and contraception. DeSantis signed off on the six-week ban last April and has been a vocal opponent of the pro-abortion access ballot measure. University of Central Florida political science professor Aubrey Jewett agrees Democrats face an uphill struggle in Florida for the 2024 election, but adds two proposed constitutional amendments may be their ace in the hole. “People who believe in a woman’s right to choose people who are already leaning democratic, even independents and some Republicans do feel that six-week ban is just too strict,” said Jewett. Less than a quarter of Florida voters said they would support a national version of Florida’s six-week limit. Among Republican voters, this support was just above 40%.

“Statewide Floridians are for some pretty centrist and progressive stuff,” Anna Hochkammer, executive director of Florida Women’s Freedom Coalition, told USA TODAY ahead of the court’s April 1 decision. “I would say that the only rational conclusion to draw from that is that this is a purple state that’s in play for anybody with good ideas that speak to Floridians.”

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