Poll: Is Mark Pryor Pulling Away in AR?

Daniel Doherty

5/12/2014 2:35:00 PM - Daniel Doherty

That is to say, is this race now Sen. Pryor’s (D-AR) to lose? A new Marist/NBC News poll shows the Republican challenger, Rep. Tom Cotton (R-AR), ostensibly on the ropes -- a curious and unexpected development given the unpopularity of the incumbent president and his signature health care law; a law, incidentally, Sen. Mark Pryor (D-AR) voted for.

But polls appraising the Arkansas U.S. Senate race have been all over the place lately. And indeed, depending on which survey you look at, Rep. Cotton has at certain times been the frontrunner. (The last two surveys conducted in the state showed the race very much up for grabs). So how much, then, should we read into this survey?

In the race for U.S. Senate in Arkansas, Democratic incumbent Mark Pryor is ahead of Republican Tom Cotton, 51% to 40%, among registered voters statewide including those who are undecided yet leaning toward a candidate. Two percent support another candidate, and 7% are undecided.

“These results give us a sense of who is ahead among all potential voters,” says Dr. Lee M. Miringoff, Director of The Marist College Institute for Public Opinion. “As we get closer to November, polling will be able to identify the character of the electorate for this election cycle.”

Let’s examine some of the internals:

There are three demographics that are seemingly tipping the scales in favor of Sen. Pryor: They are independents (48/41), women (55/35), and African-Americans (85/6). At the same time, the candidates both garner the same amount of support (46 percent) from white and male voters (although Cotton is winning White Evangelical Christians by more than 20 percentage points). But maybe one reason why the incumbent senator is so far ahead is because many voters who disapprove of President Obama nevertheless back the Democrat in the race. The pollsters explain: “Pryor overwhelmingly carries voters who approve of the job Barack Obama is doing as president, 86 [percent] to 9 [percent] for Cotton. Among voters who disapprove of the president’s performance in office, Cotton leads 61 [percent] to 32 [percent] for Pryor.”

In other words, nearly one-third of registered voters would support Pryor even if they disapprove of President Obama. Why? Pryor, whose family is a political institution in Arkansas, has a habit of distancing himself from the Democratic Party on the campaign trail and running ads implicitly asking for forgiveness for some of the tough votes he’s made. These are two reasons, perhaps, why in a tough election cycle a vulnerable Senate Democrat from a crimson state is not only treading water, but currently positioned to win re-election.

Parting thought on the sample itself via TWS: “A Republican source in Arkansas points out the NBC News poll appears to undersample self-identified Republicans (23 percent of the sample) and also oversamples those called on cell phones as opposed to landlines (55 percent to 45 percent).” Indeed, the D/R/I sample breakdown is 30/23/46. Thus, the sample itself seems to skew the survey in favor of the incumbent once again. This is the second time we’ve seen this happen in the past month alone.