McConnell had 47 percent and Grimes 45 percent in the digital telephone poll taken July 18-23 by Survey USA for The Courier-Journal, the Lexington Herald-Leader, Louisville's WHAS-TV and Lexington's WKYT-TV. The poll surveyed 800 self-defined likely voters and has an error margin of plus or minus 4.1 percentage points, which applies to each candidate's percentage.
One in four polled say they might change their mind before voting, and 8 percent said they were undecided. The undecided percentage rose to 13 when the questionnaire included David Patterson, a gun-toting Harrodsburg police officer who is collecting petition signatures to appear on the ballot as the candidate of the Libertarian Party. He has until Aug. 12 to file 5,000 qualified signatures. With three candidates in the mix, the results were McConnell 41, Grimes 39 and Patterson 7.
"While obviously a very tight race, it's a shift in McConnell's direction," WKYT's Bill Bryant said. WHAS's Joe Arnold noted, "It's McConnell's first lead this year" in the survey. "In the February poll, Grimes was up by four percentage points; in May, Grimes led by one. . . . McConnell appears to be drawing his strength from two key demographic groups, senior citizens and Eastern Kentuckians." (Lexington Herald-Leader chart)
McConnell has been emphasizing his support for the coal industry, in opposition to carbon-dioxide limits proposed by President Obama, who was already unpopular in Eastern Kentucky. In major eastern coal counties in the May 18 Democratic primary, token candidates got double-digit percentages, indicating unhappiness with the Democrats. The poll found McConnell leading in Eastern Kentucky, 54 percent to 39 percent.
"Among likely Kentucky voters 65 and older, McConnell holds a 14 point advantage over Grimes, 54 percent to 40 percent," Arnold reports. "That's the largest lead for either candidate within an age group. McConnell also leads (49 percent to 44 percent) among the youngest voters, 18 to 34."
Sam Youngman of the Herald-Leader writes, "Many Republicans . . . appear to be returning to McConnell's fold after a contentious GOP primary in which he defeated challenger Matt Bevin. In the February Bluegrass Poll, only 73 percent of Republicans said they would vote for McConnell. In May, with [Ed] Marksberry and Patterson included, that number dropped to 69 percent. But with the primary behind them, 82 percent of Republicans now support McConnell."
Another good sign for McConnell was that his favorability rose significantly from the previous poll, in mid-May, when 29 percent viewed him favorably and 49 percent were unfavorable. His latest numbers are 36 percent favorable and 43 percent unfavorable. Grimes, who has been the target of many television commercials from McConnell allies, lost her clearly favorable status. She was rated 36 percent favorable and 33 percent unfavorable; her May rating was 35-27.
One of McConnell's central arguments is that the way to change Washington is to change the Senate, by putting it in Republican hands and making him majority leader. Those in the poll seem sympathetic to that case; 48 percent said Republicans would do a better job running the Senate, while 40 percent said Democrats would. For the detailed results of the poll, click here.