04 August 2015

"Canary in the coal mine?" Kentucky shaping up to be a 2015/2016 battleground

SUSA (Survey USA) just released it's latest poll from Kentucky and the numbers are very illuminating.

Kentucky has a major Gubernatorial election going on this November. Steve Beshear, who is a very popular Governor in his state, is term-limited and therefore, it's an open-race. In this poll are a number of names we have seen before, so Kentucky is shaping up to be a pretty epic battle and will be interesting to watch.

SurveyUSA Election Poll 22461
Overall, 863 Kentucky RV, MoE overall = +/-3.4

KY-GUB - 685 Kentucky LV, MoE = +/-3.8

Jack Conway (D) 45 / Matt Bevin (R-Tea) 42, Margin = Conway +3

Jack Conway (D) 43 / Matt Bevin (R-Tea) 38 / Drew Curtis (I) 8, Margin = Conway +5

Jack Conway (D) is the former AG of Kentucky who won the D-primary for the Senate in 2010, ran against Rand Paul (who is now serving), and lost by a landslide. It was a nasty marquee race that year.

Matt Bevin (R) is a self-identified Tea Partier who primaried Sen. Mitch McConnell from the Right in 2014 and who lost in the primary. I one wrote a glowing report about Matt Bevin, because he is not your typical Republican and he has a compelling personal history.

The two-way race is within the MoE, so it is a statistical tie. The three-way race is not.

SUSA also does a write-up of the two-man race by geography and ideological breakdown, which plays a big role in KY politics:

KY-AG - 685 Kentucky LV, MoE = +/-3.8

Andy Beshear (D) 40 / Whitney Westerfield (R) 33, Margin = Beshear +7

Andy Beshear is Gov. Steve Beshear's son, so, as we see in many states (remember the Taft's from Ohio?), family dynasties also play a role here.

This race is well outside of the MoE.

KY-SOS - 685 Kentucky LV, MoE = +/-3.8

Allison Lundergan-Grimes (D) 46 / Steve Knipper (R) 40, Margin = Grimes +6

Grimes was the D-primary winner for Senate against McConnell (R) in 2014, after he was forced to fight through a primary as a long-time incumbent. The polling looked tight for a while, but at the end of the day, McConnell was re-elected in a landslide.

This race is well outside of the MoE.

KY-Pres 2016 - 863 Kentucky RV, MoE = +/-3.4

Rand Paul (R) 44 (45)* / Hillary Clinton (D) 42 (45)*, Margin = Paul +2 (tie)
These are two people who now have virtually 100% name recognition. This race is well within the MoE and is technically a tie. That leaves 14% either undecided or refused to answer (this happens now and then as well). This means we have gone from a mathematical tie from May 12th to a statistical tie on August 4th and both candidates' numbers notched down a bit.

the previous SUSA poll.

What is interesting is that this is Rand Paul's home state, he should be tromping here. In the PPP (D) poll from last month, he was, relatively speaking, by +10. But SUSA has a reputation for accuracy in margins. That being said, SUSA did not do well in KY in the 2014 elections. It, like many other pollsters, understated McConnell's winning margin.

That being said, Hillary has room to grow in the womens' vote in KY and look how well she is doing with seniors, how close it is in the White vote, but also how well Rand Paul is doing with registered D's in Kentucky:

SUSA Clinton vs Paul breakdown.png

For fun, let's look at all of the Paul vs. Clinton polling to date:

Clinton vs Paul polling - KY August 2015.png

There have now been 9 polls of the Bluegrass state and in all 9, Paul was pitted against Clinton. There have been two mathematical absolute ties, two statistical ties, and the rest is outside the MoE.

Especially telling was the Gravis (R) poll from right before the 2014 mid-terms, that showed Paul only 3 ahead of Hillary in his home state, at a time when the Republican party started running away with the elections in that state.

To give this a historical background, here are the margins in KY in the last 10 presidential elections, in reverse chronological order:

Romney +22.68%
2008: McCain +16.22%
2004: Bush (43) +19.86%
2000: Bush (43) +15.13%
1996: Clinton +0.96%
1992: Clinton +3.21%
1988: Bush (41) +11.64%
1984: Reagan +20.66%
1980: Reagan +1.46%
1976: Carter +7.19%

Since 2000, the last almost 16 years, a Republican has won this state by no less than 15 points. It has been non-competitive since 2000.

However, in 1996, with "Bill" Clinton on the ballot, he won the state for the second time in a row. The only time that a Republican won this state with less than a double digit-margin (in this time-frame) was Ronald Reagan, who snatched Kentucky away from the incumbent, southerner Jimmy Carter, in a three-man race. In fact, in all true 3-many races (1980, 1992 and 1996), this was a single-digit state.

Again, looking at 2016, in KY, with those 9 polls, we have now seen 26 matchups in total, With the GOP winning 17, Hillary winning 7 (including 1 against Trump) and 2 mathematical ties.


Look at it this way: even with crushing margins in KY (
+23), AR (+24), WV (+27), TN (+20), LA (+17) and MO (+10) - six states that Bill Clinton (D) won TWICE, in 1992 and 1996, Mitt Romney was not able to get above 47.15%
nationally. I call these six southern states the "Clinton 6" - six states that Clinton won twice, that Obama never won at all and still racked up a huge majority in the EC both times. In fact, I did a big write-up over this phenomenon in December of 2012:

Statistikhengst s ELECTORAL POLITICS - 2015 and beyond The Clinton 6 vs. The Obama 3

Let's look at 2012 Kentucky polling, Obama vs. Romney:

Obama vs Romney polling - KY 2012.png

Source for the above screenshot.

There was only one poll take of Kentucky in 2012, also from SUSA, about 7 weeks before the election. It showed Romney at an easy 
+14 in the Bluegrass State. Now, that appears to be way off the actual margin, but this is not an end-poll; I made the comparison just for the purposes of electoral history.

There was also one poll of Kentucky in 2011:

Obama vs Romney polling - KY 2011.png 

Source for this screenshot.

In February, 2011, Obama was 8 points behind Romney and 7 points behind Perry. He beat Palin by 4 and there is no real reason to even care about Bachmann. BTW, "other" was Newt Gingrich.

So, in the 2012 Presidential cycle, we saw all of 2 polls for Kentucky. It was not even remotely competitive, and both Obama and Romney knew it.

In 2008, it was a different story:

Statistikhengst s ELECTORAL POLITICS - 2015 and beyond POLL CONVERGENCE 11

(too many polls to screenshot, go to the link)

In 2007-2008, there were 23 polls from Kentucky and only one of them was from 2007, and that one was a SUSA poll, showing McCain at 
+18 over Obama.

So, looking at electoral history and polling history from the last 2 cycles, a 
 for a Republican in KY-Pres polling is not a good place to be.

The evidence is mounting that Kentucky can very well become a hotly contested battleground state in 2016.

Wait and see.

In the meantime, it will be interesting to see how both Democrats and Republicans in KY, both running with "they also ran" teams, will do.

Whether or not this means that Kentucky will be the "canary in the coal-mine" or not, I will leave for you all to debate and decide.

But it's this kind of stuff that makes me very pleased to have recorded and preserved all of this pollling data from the last two years.
There is really no way a Republican can be winning nationally if he is in single digits or losing in Kentucky. It's all part of the "a rising tide lifts all boats" principle, which has proven to be true time and time again. As proof, see: 1992, 1996.

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