The conventional wisdom in Washington holds that Sen. Mark Pryor, a Democrat from Arkansas, is perhaps the most vulnerable incumbent senator in the country. He is relatively unpopular in his state, he supports the Affordable Care Act, and he’s facing a rising star of a Republican challenger in Rep. Tom Cotton.
However, a new poll turns that conventional wisdom on its head. The survey, conducted by the Kaiser Family Foundation for The New York Times’ new site, The Upshot, finds Pryor with a 10-point lead on Cotton.
Conservatives are already crying foul at the poll, and the debate is starting to take the tone of Republicans’ constant claims in 2012 that the presidential election polls were “skewed.” Weekly Standard editor Bill Kristol declared the Arkansas poll to be “bogus,” and the Republican National Committee and National Republican Senatorial Committee also blasted out emails noting what it said were flaws in the general survey.
Kristol’s main problem with the poll comes in a subset of the data showing 32% of the survey’s respondents did not vote in 2012. Of those who voted in 2012 and responded to the poll, 27% said they voted for Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney, and 26% said they voted for President Barack Obama. The actual 2012 vote split in Arkansas was 61-37 in favour of Romney.
He wasn’t alone in his scepticism. Others noted their suspicions with the poll’s data — but Huffington Post polling editor Mark Blumenthal points out Kristol is wrong when he asserts the “whole point” of the data subsection in question is to “provide a reality test for the sample.” And the sample that reported not voting so heavily for Romney (general adults) is not the same as the sample who reported their Senate preferences (registered voters).
The poll does contain a couple of warning signs for Pryor, however. Though his approval rating split sits at a positive 47-38, it’s below the traditional comfort-level threshold of 50 per cent for incumbents. And 52 per cent of Arkansans say they will not vote for a candidate who doesn’t share their views on Obamacare — a question, though, that is more ambiguous than it sounds.
In addition to Arkansas, the poll surveys close Senate races in North Carolina, Kentucky, and Louisiana. However, overall, the poll shows a favourable political climate for Republicans. In spite of these encouraging signs for conservatives, the GOP needs a net gain of six seats to take back control of the Senate, and flipping Arkansas is key on the path to takeover.
Some of the other highlights from the polls:
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