U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell is coasting to victory in next week's Republican primary over Matt Bevin, but he remains locked in a tight race with Democrat Alison Lundergan Grimes, says a poll taken for NBC News.
McConnell led challenger Matt Bevin 57 percent to 25 percent in the poll taken by the Marist College Institute for Public Opinion in Poughkeepsie, N.Y., April 30 through May 6. It showed McConnell leading Grimes 46 percent to 45 percent, with 1 percent saying they would vote for someone else and 8 percent saying they are undecided.
Pollsters said they surveyed 2,353 registered voters, for a margin of error of plus or minus 1.9 percentage points in the general-election poll, including 760 registered Republicans, for an error margin of 3.6 points in the primary. A turnout probability model selected the 408 Republicans most likely to vote, and those were used for the reported result, 57-25. Its error margin is plus or minus 4.9 percentage points.
The percentage of Republicans among registered voters in the poll, 32 percent, is an under-sampling of Republican strength in Kentucky, which has grown to 38.5 percent of voter registration. Also, 40 percent in the poll said they identified as Democrats, while only 30 percent identified as Republicans. Thus, the poll could understate McConnell's support in the general election. Why were there fewer Republicans? Perhaps GOP voters, tired of political phone calls from the McConnell and Bevin campaigns, were less likely to agree to questioning.
It should be noted that the poll results showed that 34 percent of the registered voters in the sample were Republicans, indicating that the results were weighted to reflect demographics of the electorate. The results say the sample was 52 percent Democratic and 14 percent independent; only 7.6 percent of Kentucky voters are registered independent, and 54 percent are registered Democratic.
The poll shows that Grimes, who was elected secretary of state in 2011 and started Senate television advertising after the poll was completed, had yet to fully introduce herself to Kentucky voters. One in 10 had never heard of her, and 27 percent said they couldn't rate her; 39 percent said they had a favorable opinion of her and 24 percent said they had an unfavorable opinion.
But McConnell, in his 30th year in the Senate, fared more poorly: 46 percent of registered voters said they had an unfavorable opinion of him, while 42 percent said they had a positive opinion, and 11 percent said they weren't sure. (Percentages may not add to 100 because of rounding.)
Still, in the Republican primary, McConnell led Bevin 57 to 25, with 3 percent choosing Chris Payne and 1 percent each going for Shawna Sterling and Brad Copas.
"What McConnell has done in his primary has worked," said Chuck Todd of NBC. "He’s put the spotlight on Bevin a bit -- doing his best to make the primary a choice rather than a pure referendum on him. The question for McConnell, however, is if he can make the full transition to the general election in what looks like to be a very competitive race. . . . The entire general-election game will hinge on whether McConnell can keep the GOP voters in his column."
Just over 50 percent of McConnell and Bevin supporters said they were strongly committed to their candidate. McConnell's job will be to get back in his tent the 26 percent of Republican primary voters who said they had an unfavorable opinion of him.
The senator hopes to do that by associating the still somewhat unknown Grimes with President Obama, who remains unpopular in Kentucky. The poll found that 56 percent of registered voters disapprove of Obama's job performance while only 32 percent approved and 12 percent said they were not sure.
For the Marist news release and poll results, click here. Here are the top lines of the results: