| Ksanawo, Shutterstock

Trump leads, Rubio gains in new Florida poll

Republican presidential frontrunner Donald Trump has a 21-percent lead over GOP opponents Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio in a new Florida Atlantic University poll released Saturday ahead of the Sunshine State's Tuesday winner-take-all primary.

Trump, who would pick up 99 delegates with a win, is ahead with 44 percent while Cruz and Rubio trail at 21 percent and John Kasich at 9 percent.

Trump, however, is down 4 percent since the university's previous statewide poll in January, while Rubio has gained 10 points and Cruz has picked up 5 points.

After several pointed debates and recent campaign trail violence, it is clear that Florida voters, at least, are growing weary, the pollsters found, noting that Trump's favorability rating is down from 70 percent in January to 56 percent in the latest poll, taken from March 8-11. Still, Trump is outpacing native son Rubio among Hispanics by 2 percent.

Only Kasich, the Ohio governor and former congressman who has earned praise for his authenticity and honesty during recent debates, is outpolling Trump in favorability with a "surprising" 60 percent, the FAU pollsters noted.

“There is some evidence that this campaign is taking a toll on the candidates,” said Kevin Wagner, an associate professor of political science at FAU and a research fellow at the Boca Raton, Florida, school's Business and Economics Polling Initiative (BEPI), which conducted the survey.

“The favorability ratings for Trump, Rubio and Cruz are all down sharply in Florida. While Sen. Rubio has rebounded some in our polling, he is still far behind Mr. Trump and running out of time," Wagner said.

For Democrats, Hillary Clinton is ahead of opponent Bernie Sanders by 28 points, according to the poll, where she leads the Vermont senator 59 percent to 31 percent.

Sanders, however, has gained significant ground, jumping 15 points from November 2015, when Clinton was ahead of him by 43 points. Sanders' favorability rating in Florida sits at 55 percent while Clinton is at 84 percent among Democratic voters.

Among Hispanic and black voters, Clinton is also leading Sanders in Florida. "So far, the strategy of Hillary Clinton of targeting minorities seems to be working in Florida,” observes Monica Escaleras, who directs the BEPI.

Escaleras adding of the newest poll that Florida voters are looking at the candidates for decidedly different reasons.

“In the case of Republicans, they are looking for a political outsider and strong commander-in-chief, while the majority of Democrats are looking for experience or a proven leader and strong commander-in-chief, which is helping Clinton," she said.

For the Republican candidates, 43 percent of white voters choose Trump while he earns the support of 37 percent of Hispanics. The poll showed Sanders' appeal with younger voters, earning 63 percent of those age 18-34. Clinton, however, beats Sanders by 20 points with white voters and holds a hefty 75 percent support from both blacks and Hispanics, the poll found.

The FAU BEPI poll surveyed 414 likely Democratic primary voters and 852 likely Republican primary voters, with a margin of error at +/- 4.8 percent and +/- 3.3 percent respectively.