RunSwitch Public Relations, in conjunction with Harper Polling, conducted a survey on February 11-12 that tested several political and policy issues recently in the news and important to Kentucky voters. The survey asked questions of 850 likely Kentucky voters and had a margin of error of +/- 3.36%. The poll found Mitch McConnell leading Ashley Judd in a Senate matchup 49% to 40%.
“My takeaways from the survey are that Senator McConnell is in solid-shape among Republicans and general election voters, and that Ashley Judd, for someone who has never run for office, already has a tough hole out of which to climb regarding her own image,” said Scott Jennings, RunSwitch founding partner and former Deputy White House Political Director under President George W. Bush.
The survey found that 60% of Republican likely voters say McConnell deserves re-election, versus just 23% who say it is time to “give someone else a chance.” Inside the Republican voter sample, McConnell was in strong position among Seniors (70%), Very Conservative voters (65%), Somewhat Conservative voters (67%).
“They’ve covered their flank against those most likely to turnout in a GOP primary. It’s hard to imagine anyone popping up in a primary who could give McConnell trouble, particularly when you consider he has been endorsed by Senator Rand Paul,” Jennings said.
Speaking of Kentucky’s junior Senator and potential 2016 presidential candidate, he was viewed favorably by 46% of voters and unfavorably by 42%.
“In this political climate if you are a congressional incumbent and your image isn’t underwater you have reason to be happy,” Jennings said.
In a general election matchup, any Democrat has a significant headwind on the generic ballot. Just 37% of voters prefer a generic Democrat to 47% who prefer a generic Republican.
“This is the trend in Kentucky, where Republicans are gaining more and more ground in federal races,” Jennings said, noting that the state lost one of its two Democrat members of Congress in November and that President Obama received just 38% of the vote in November.
In the hypothetical head-to-head test, Senator McConnell led Judd 49% to 40%. Judd’s image in the survey (35% favorable to 45% unfavorable) presents a tough problem for the actress.
“This tells me that people know more about Ashley Judd’s politics than they would of your typical first timer,” Jennings said. “And in this case her politics are so closely aligned with President Obama’s that it is causing her problems,” Jennings said.
Inside the numbers, Judd actually ties McConnell among women (44% to 44%) but loses handily among men (54% to 36%). Additionally, 28% of Democrats said they plan to vote for McConnell.
“This is problematic for Judd but not surprising since so many Democrats did not vote for Obama in the primary and general elections in 2012 and 2008,” Jennings said. “Simply put, being aligned with Obama in Kentucky is just a millstone around a candidate’s neck.”
Also in the news recently was a much publicized web video promoted by the conservative Super PAC American Crossroads. The web video primarily attacked Judd for calling Tennessee home and for supporting President Obama’s agenda.
“We found that both attacks Crossroads leveled against Judd were effective,” Jennings said, “particularly the alignment with Obama and Judd calling herself a ‘radical.’”
On the issue of not living in the state, 40% of voters said they would be less likely to vote for Judd because of it, including 28% who said “much less likely.” As for Judd’s description of herself as “radical” and her support for President Obama, 48% said they would be less likely to vote for her including 40% who said much less likely.
“These message tests are important because they aren’t one candidate alleging something of another, but rather messages derived directly from actual video of a prospective candidate,” Jennings said. “Attacks are much more potent if they flow from a candidate’s own words.”
The survey tested two federal issues that have been in the news lately – the recent fiscal cliff deal and gun control.
“A slight plurality of Kentuckians did not approve of the fiscal cliff vote, and an overwhelming majority of Kentuckians want Congress to focus on the mental health aspect of the gun debate versus simply banning semi-automatic rifles,” Jennings said.
On the fiscal cliff, 48% said the deal was bad because it did not contain spending cuts, with Republicans much more likely to disapprove of the deal. On gun control, 69% said keeping guns out of the hands of people with mental illness would be more effective at stopping shootings like the Newtown, Connecticut incident versus 24% who said banning semi-automatic weapons would be more effective.
Jennings said RunSwitch and Harper will release more results tomorrow that deal with some Kentucky government issues that have been in the news lately.
“We enjoy the chance to illuminate the political and public policy debates occurring in Kentucky and hope to continue to release polling on a semi-regular basis that sheds light on how issues are playing out in the public realm,” Jennings said.
The survey was not conducted for or in conjunction with any candidate or political organization engaged in the Kentucky U.S. Senate race.