TALLAHASSEE - Florida Gov. Rick Scott's approval rating is improving, a poll released Tuesday shows, though not to the point that it's likely to deter any potential challengers in 2014.
The Quinnipiac University poll shows 43 percent of voters approve of the job Scott is doing, compared to 44 percent who disapprove. Meanwhile, 40 percent of voters have a favorable opinion of him compared to 42 percent who have an unfavorable view.
While those numbers aren't sizzling, they are better than the 36 percent job approval and 33 percent favorable rating that voters gave Scott just three months ago.
The numbers suggest that Scott's "It's Working" message, which he's using to tout Florida's improving economy, is starting to work.
"They're not great numbers, but they're better than what they have been," said Peter Brown, assistant director of the Quinnipiac University Polling Institute. "One of two things is true - this is an insignificant aberration or it's the start of something."
He noted the poll showed that more people think the economy is improving than getting worse, and that can help Scott.
"History is not replete with examples of governors with improving economies that suffer from that. It's generally a good thing," Brown said.
Still, the Republican governor will have to improve those numbers if he wants to win re-election.
Scott trails former Republican Gov. Charlie Crist in a head-to-head matchup. Crist is widely expected to seek his old job as a Democrat. The poll shows Crist receiving 47 percent to 37 percent support for Scott. The margin of error is plus/minus 2.9 percentage points.
Even former state Sen. Nan Rich is competitive with Scott in a head-to-head matchup, even though 84 percent of voters polled said they don't know her. Scott leads Rich 42 percent to 36 percent.
Thirty-five percent of voters said Scott, a former health care company CEO, deserves to be re-elected.
Scott's approval in the Quinnipiac poll has never been as high and is a far cry from the 29 percent approval he had two years ago. The improvement comes as the economy rebounds and as Scott has moved toward the political middle. He's also tried to create a more caring image. Unlike in January 2011 when he announced his first budget proposal at a tea party rally held in a Central Florida church, Scott this year has held events around the state with teachers and students, disabled Floridians and with workers where jobs are being expanded.
The governor, who spends hundreds of thousands of dollars on polling, has also pushed for the federally funded Medicaid expansion he previously opposed, restored early voting two years after cutting it back and brought together environmentalists and sugar farmers in an unusual alliance in support of an Everglades cleanup.
Florida Democrat leader Steve Schale discounted the improvement in Scott's approval number, calling it a post-session bump like the one the governor got in 2012. He also noted that Crist and Nelson received more support from Republicans in the poll than Scott got from Democrats, particularly in the Tampa Bay area.
"The more moderate parts of the state in the Bay area still aren't there on Scott," Schale said in an email. "Quite frankly, if he can't change those Bay area numbers, he isn't going to win."
Schale said Scott also faces a "huge" gender gap: a 19-point deficit among women compared with Crist, and a 29 percent to 54 percent deficit among women on whether they would vote to re-elect him.
Tribune staff writer William March contributed to this report.