Editor’s note: This is the first of two stories analyzing recent poll data from Impact Management Group. The second story, along with complete poll results, will be posted Wednesday.
With almost a year away from election day, one of the few surprises in the close and hotly-contested race between U.S. Sen. Mark Pryor, D-Ark., and U.S. Rep. Tom Cotton, R-Dardanelle, is the potential advantage Cotton may hold with the ever-growing group of political Independents.
According to poll results released Monday by Little Rock-based Impact Management Group to The City Wire, 40.6% of survey respondents favored Pryor, 41.7% favored Cotton and 17.6% remain undecided.
The poll, conducted Oct. 24, reached 911 registered Arkansas voters and has a margin of error of +/- 3.2%.
Clint Reed, a partner with Impact Management Group, said a potential issue for the Pryor campaign is with political preference among Arkansas’ self-identified Independents.
The Impact poll showed that 40.28% of Independent voters favored the generic Republican ballot, compared to just 12.96% favoring the Democratic ballot.
“The generic ballot gives the GOP a marginal advantage as we head into the 2014 election cycle. Most important within this, self identified independent voters support the generic Republican candidate for Congress over the generic Democratic candidate for Congress by a four-to-one margin,” Reed explained. “Tom Cotton leads Mark Pryor by a 20-point margin – 47.22% for Cotton to 27.78% for Pryor – among those same independent voters.”
There is also a noticeable gender gap in the Pryor-Cotton poll results. Men favor Cotton by 51.84% over 35.69% for Pryor. Women favor Pryor by 43.73% compared to 35.3% for Cotton. Reed said the results show a “commanding lead” by Cotton with respect to male voters.
The Impact Management Group survey also sought to learn if Arkansas voters make a distinction between how the new federal health care is labeled. The poll asked two questions related to the issue:
• Do you have a favorable or unfavorable opinion of the Affordable Care Act?
• Now, can you tell me whether you have a favorable or unfavorable opinion of Obamacare?
To the first question, 60% said unfavorable, with the number rising slightly to 64% when asked about Obamacare. The favorable was 24% to the first question, rising slightly to 28% approval when asked about Obamacare.
“Voters do not make a distinction between the Affordable Care Act and Obamacare – both phrases receive at least a 60% unfavorable rating,” Reed said.
What is clear is that Arkansas voters overwhelmingly don’t like the law.
“These results show that the issue of Obamacare or the Affordable Care Act, or whatever you want to call it, will be a tough issue for Sen. Pryor to balance during the contest with Cotton. If problems continue with implementation of the law, and frustration grows from real problems or from politically-induced perceptions of problems, the issue could be trouble for the Pryor campaign,” said Michael Tilley, editor and co-owner of The City Wire.
Reed said a key to Pryor returning for a third-term in the U.S. Senate will be how effectively Pryor can use his campaign cash to reach Independents and boost turn out among the Democratic base.
Cotton raised $1.073 million during the third quarter of 2013, just slightly ahead of Pryor’s $1.068 million. However, Pryor has more than $4.4 million in his campaign account, with Cotton reporting just over $1.8 million.
“Almost 12 months from election day, it is striking to see how the political fault lines have already emerged. Democrats will spend millions of dollars to increase the turnout of their base coalition groups and build upon their margins among female voters. On the other hand, Republicans will spend equally to turnout white male voters,” Reed explained.
And possibly the biggest prize? Independents.
“Almost half of all independents are still undecided. These independent voters will be the key to persuading over the next 12 months,” Reed said.
The poll also produced a breakdown on how Pryor and Cotton were viewed within Arkansas’ four Congressional districts. While the sampling of between 217 and 232 respondents per district is a small sub-sample and doesn’t meet statistical confidence, “it may be noteworthy,” Reed said.
A surprise within the small sample was Pryor’s slight statistical lead over Cotton in the conservative 3rd Congressional District. In the 3rd Congressional District – primarily Northwest Arkansas and parts of the Fort Smith metro area – Pryor was favored 44.7% compared to Cotton at 36.41%, with 18.89% undecided. In the other three Congressional Districts, Cotton leads in the polling or is statistically tied with Pryor.
• 1st Congressional District (north and east Arkansas)
• 2nd Congressional District (central Arkansas)
• 4th Congressional District (south Arkansas; and Cotton’s district)
Impact Management Group conducted the automated phone survey on Oct. 24. There were 911 participants, and the margin of error is +/- 3.2%. Of the participants, 100% said they are registered voters, with 83% being likely voters.
A report of the complete results will be posted Wednesday with the second story in this report.