Christine Matthews: How Mourdock can lose in a red state
Friday, September 28, 2012 5:47 AM
WASHINGTON - Republicans Mitt Romney and Mike Pence lead their opponents by 12 and 13 points in our September Howey-DePauw statewide poll. However, Republican U.S. Senate candidate Richard Mourdock trails his Democratic opponent by two points, which is within the 3.5% margin of error. What pundits and prognosticators say is: How could Richard Mourdock possibly lose when Indiana will be so strongly Republican in 2012?
It is possible and here’s why:
Actually, ticket-splitting is more the norm than the exception for Hoosiers. While it is unusual for Indiana to vote for a Democrat for president (2008 was the first time since 1964), it is not all that unusual in other state contests. In 2004, for example, George W. Bush defeated John Kerry by more than 20 points, Democrat Evan Bayh won by a similar margin, and Mitch Daniels was elected governor. In 2000, George Bush beat Al Gore by double digits, Richard Lugar swamped his opponent, and Democrat Frank O’Bannon was elected governor by the same margin Bush beat Gore.
Considering how contentious the Republican primary was, the Lugar voters are not playing an outsized role in Mourdock’s deficit. Although it’s not all one big happy family, only 15% of Lugar supporters are voting for Donnelly. While they haven’t fallen in love with Richard Mourdock, 60% are supporting him (23% are undecided and 8% are voting for Libertarian Andy Horning). More Lugar voters are concerned that Joe Donnelly is a Democrat who toes the party line than Mourdock is an extremist who rejects compromise. In a close race like this, you’d ideally want all Republicans behind you, but it wasn’t going to happen and it could be worse.
A much more worrisome group of voters for Richard Mourdock are the suburbanites who live in the counties surrounding Indianapolis. A significant chunk of the state’s Republican base comes from cities like Carmel, Noblesville, Fishers, Zionsville, and Brownsburg which surround Indianapolis. Voters here are 20 points more Republican (49%) than Democratic (28%). Richard Mourdock beat Richard Lugar in all these counties except Boone, but on this survey, attitudes have changed: Richard Mourdock has an 18% favorable - 43% unfavorable rating with these voters. It’s not about Joe Donnelly, who has a 23% favorable – 19% unfavorable rating, and that’s why Libertarian Andy Horning is benefitting from what they perceive as lack of a good option in the Senate race.
Here’s how the doughnut counties are voting:
President: Romney Obama
Governor: Pence Gregg
U.S. Senate: Mourdock Donnelly Horning
36% 32% 13%
One in five are voting for Romney and not Mourdock – the highest dropoff rate in the state.
There is no gender gap in the gubernatorial race: Women support Mike Pence at the same level as men, and while they are less supportive of Mitt Romney than men, they are also supporting him over Obama. However, there is a gender gap in the Senate race, with women supporting Joe Donnelly by a 41%-35% margin and men favoring Mourdock 42%-38%. The gender gap is evident among Republicans (75% for Mourdock among men, 68% among women) and independents (35% for Mourdock among men, 25% among women).
It’s not entirely clear what is driving the gap. Women are less likely than men, in fact, to say the word “extreme” applies to Richard Mourdock. Women rate him less favorably, but no more unfavorably than men. In the social media analysis we conduct weekly (through Bellwether Barometer sponsored by Eli Lilly & LillyPad), a consistently recurring theme is that Richard Mourdock thinks Social Security and Medicare are unconstitutional. I think this, and tone, may have something to do with the gender gap.
By a 55%-37% margin, voters say they are more likely to support the candidate who would repeal and replace Obamacare, and by a 47%-40% margin for the candidate who opposed the Chrysler and GM loans. Despite being on the “wrong” side of issues like Obamacare and the auto rescue, Donnelly is not being swamped by them. However, with a million dollars in Crossroads GPS money being spent to make Obamacare Joe Donnelly’s middle name, this could change.
By a 41%-35% margin, voters are more concerned that Richard Mourdock is a Republican who rejects compromise than about Joe Donnelly voting the Democratic party line on key issues. This is even the case in the suburban Indy counties which are 20 points Republican leaning; it’s true among independents, and among those who have not made up their minds in the Senate race.
All signs point to a strong Mike Pence victory in November. Voters in Indiana are happy with the state’s direction and with the incumbent Republican governor. There is not a grassroots movement for change and John Gregg has not made a strong enough case for it. And while the national numbers are starting to shift toward Obama, Indiana is poised to return to form with strong support for Mitt Romney in November.
The only question mark for the Hoosier state, it seems, is what voters will do in the U.S. Senate race.
Can Richard Mourdock win? Of course. Could he lose? Yes.
Matthews is president and CEO of Bellwether Research and Consulting.