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Poll shows Brownback in ‘dead heat’ with Democratic challenger Davis

  • The Wichita Eagle
  • Published Friday, Feb. 21, 2014, at 8:06 p.m.
  • Updated Wednesday, March 5, 2014, at 6:52 a.m.

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Incumbent Gov. Sam Brownback and House Minority Leader Paul Davis could be nearly tied in the race for governor, according to a national polling firm’s survey of Kansas voters released Friday.

The poll by Public Policy Polling shows Davis with a slight lead, 42 percent to 40 percent, with 18 percent of respondents unsure. The difference is within the poll’s margin of error of plus or minus 3.7 percentage points in statewide races.

“That’s a dead heat,” said Dustin Ingalls, assistant to the director of PPP.

Brownback has been hurt by a noticeable dip in his approval rating, with 33 percent approving of the governor’s performance and 51 percent disapproving, the pollsters said. In PPP’s poll a year ago, Brownback had a 37 percent approval rating and 52 percent disapproval rating.

The poll showed that President Obama actually had a point higher approval rating than Brownback at 34 percent, although 9 percent more Kansans said they disapproved of the president’s performance.

In other races, the poll shows Sen. Pat Roberts holds a strong lead over tea party challenger Milton Wolf, 49-23 percent, although Wolf’s campaign to paint Roberts as an outsider has apparently damaged the incumbent’s approval rating.

Overall, 29 percent approved of Roberts’ performance as a senator, while 38 disapprove and 32 percent are unsure.

Roberts still holds serve among Republicans with 38 percent of GOP poll respondents approving of his performance, compared with 32 percent disapproval.

Since Wolf is challenging Roberts in the Aug. 5 Republican primary, only Republicans’ votes will count in the head-to-head race.

Ingalls said Wolf apparently suffers from a serious name-recognition gap, with 8 percent giving him a favorable opinion rating, 13 percent unfavorable and 78 percent expressing no opinion of him at all.

The polling for the primary has a smaller sample size and higher margin of error, 5.1 percent plus or minus.

In a general election matchup, the poll showed Roberts with a 48-32 lead over Shawnee County District Attorney Chad Taylor, who’s considering a run at the seat.

The poll showed Taylor running in a dead heat with Wolf, with most Kansas voters largely unfamiliar with either candidate.

Former Kansas Gov. Kathleen Sebelius’ popularity has tumbled in the state since she joined the Obama administration as secretary of health and human services, a job that put her on the front lines in the bumpy rollout of the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare.

Incumbent Secretary of State Kris Kobach holds a fairly narrow lead over his Democratic challenger, former state Sen. Jean Schodorf, 41-34, which is barely within the poll’s margin of error.

Kobach and Schodorf are both upside-down by a slight margin in approval ratings.

Part of Brownback’s problem could be that Kansans, according to the poll, disagree with him on two of the biggest issues in the state, taxes and school finance.

The poll reported that 47 percent of Kansans think Brownback’s signature tax plan has not been successful, while 26 percent said it has been.

By a 59-29 margin, poll respondents said they think the state Supreme Court should order the governor and the Legislature to increase state funding for schools.

Brownback has proposed additional funding for all-day kindergarten but has been resistant to the court weighing in on what constitutes “suitable” school funding under the state constitution.

PPP polled 693 Kansas voters, including 375 Republican primary voters. Sampling was done Feb. 18-20 using automated equipment.

The poll was not commissioned by any party or interest group, Ingalls said.

The firm is considered a Democratic pollster because it conducts paid internal campaign polls only for Democratic candidates and progressive causes.

However, its results in the 2012 presidential campaign overestimated Republican Mitt Romney’s performance by about 1.6 percent, according to an analysis by statistical modeling guru Nate Silver. Silver has since criticized the firm for withholding a poll that it thought was flawed and has called its approach to polling “extremely ad-hoc.”

A Fordham University study deemed PPP the most accurate of the national pollsters in the 2012 presidential election.

The results of Friday’s PPP poll almost mirrored the findings of the only other independent poll so far, a Survey USA report in late October that had Davis leading Brownback 43-39 percent.

PPP, based in Raleigh, N.C., independently polls about one state a week, and the decision to poll Kansas was actually the result of a poll of the company’s social media and website followers, Ingalls said.

He said if the races appear to remain competitive, the company will probably poll the state again before the Nov. 4 general election.

Reach Dion Lefler at 316-268-6527 or dlefler@wichitaeagle.com.

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