Republican pollster of Christine Matthew discusses the Howey/DePauw Indiana Battleground Polling program at DePauw University on March 5. (DePauw University Photo by Marilyn Culler)
Republican pollster of Christine Matthew discusses the Howey/DePauw Indiana Battleground Polling program at DePauw University on March 5. (DePauw University Photo by Marilyn Culler)
Bellwether Research
WASHINGTON – Our March 26-28 poll shows what everyone knows:  Richard Lugar is in a tough battle to win the May 8 Republican primary.  He leads Tea Party challenger Richard Mourdock by 7 points, but at 42%, his ballot support is far enough below the 50% mark to be of significant concern.  The make-or-break proposition for Senator Lugar is going to be the composition of the primary electorate.  
The fact that Indiana has an open primary makes this narrative different from Delaware, where in 2010 U.S. Sen. Mike Castle lost to Tea Party candidate Christine O’Donnell in a closed Republican primary, or in Utah, where U.S. Sen. Bob Bennett’s fate was decided by fewer than 4,000 GOP convention delegates.
The Republican Senate candidates are tied among self-identified Republicans and among primary faithful – those who voted in both the May 2008 and 2010 Republican primaries.  However, among the 28% of the sample who identified as independent or as leaning Republican, Richard Lugar has a 26 point advantage (52%-26%).
We were cautious in this survey and did not ask self-identified Democrats the primary intention screen and thus included none in this sample. However, it is reasonable to believe that with nothing going on for them, some Democrats will vote in the Republican primary.  In Wisconsin this week, 11% of GOP primary voters were Democrats and 30% independents; Illinois had 6% who identified as Democrats and 26% as independents, and in Ohio, 5% were Democrats and 26% independents.
Make no mistake though, our poll shows that Indiana Republican primary voters are a conservative bunch. Compared with other states that have held Republican primaries this year, Indiana is more conservative than any other non-Southern state with 36% saying they are “very conservative.” And, outside of Iowa, Indiana has more evangelical Christians than any other non-Southern state.
As to which candidate “shares my values,” Lugar leads Mourdock by 8 points and has a 10-point advantage on “will get things done.”  Mourdock is seen as running the more negative campaign by a nine-point margin. We will track these attributes again on our pre-primary poll.
The fact that Richard Mourdock is not well known (40% have no opinion of him and 17% have never heard of him) can play out two ways.  One is that he has room to grow as voters get to know him and that his poll numbers will get better as he becomes better known.  The other scenario is that Mourdock’s lack of identity is useful in serving as the “anti-Lugar” in that he can generically represent change or people can project onto him ideal qualities. The April 11 debate is an opportunity for Mourdock to show himself as more than the “anti-Lugar” candidate and voters can judge him in a side-by-side comparison with the incumbent.    
Another factor to consider is how active a role popular Gov. Mitch Daniels will yet play in the primary.  He has endorsed Senator Lugar, but there has been no TV ad. Usually endorsements are not that interesting; however, the governor is a rock star among Republicans.
General Election Survey
With a 63% job approval rating among all voters, Mitch Daniels is among the most popular governors in the country (along with New Mexico’s Susana Martinez and New York Governor Andrew Cuomo).  The majority (53%) of all voters think the state is heading in the right direction, compared with 26% who think the country is. Just 39% approve of the job Barack Obama is doing as President, which is worse than in private polling we conducted last summer.  Independents give Obama a 41% approval rating, compared with 62% for Governor Daniels.
If Mitt Romney is the Republican nominee, he would lead the president by nine points (49%-40%) among Hoosier voters, whereas it’s a closer race with Santorum (46%-41%).  Independent men lean toward Romney 46%-42%, but independent women back Obama 51%-34%.
In the gubernatorial race, Democratic candidate John Gregg and his moustache have yet to make an imprint on voters:  71% have never heard of him, which is little changed from where he was a year ago.  Mike Pence is better known and leads Gregg by a 44%-31% margin.  This early, our poll simply lays the marker for this race as the candidates begin to campaign in earnest following the May primary.  However, Pence starts out with a solid advantage.     
In the U.S. Senate general election contest, former Democratic congressman Joe Donnelly also begins as a relative unknown:  53% have never heard of him and another 24% have no opinion.  He trails Richard Lugar by a 29%-50% margin (perennial Libertarian candidate Andy Horning nets 7%).  Lugar wins independent voters by a 20-point margin and soundly beats Donnelly in Indianapolis, an area Democrats must carry.  Donnelly only performs well in the northwest quadrant of the state which includes Lake, St. Joseph and Porter counties.
Against Richard Mourdock, however, Donnelly ties with 35% of the vote (7% for Horning).  Donnelly has a 20-point advantage in Indianapolis and increases his margin in northern Indiana substantially.  Indiana Democratic insiders know these numbers, of course, and that is why they will do everything in their power to help ensure Richard Mourdock comes out of the GOP primary.   The general electability argument, however, will not help Richard Lugar in the primary.  It’s been working for Romney, but in general, Republican primary voters aren’t responsive to this message.

Presidential GOP Primary
At the time we were in the field (March 26-28) with our Republican primary poll, the narrative was beginning to shift from Santorum-Romney to Romney as nominee.  It’s not surprising that during this consolidation period, more than one-third of primary voters said they were unsure whom they plan to support for president in Indiana’s May primary contest.  Santorum supporters slightly edge Romney supporters (27%-26%) and more might be unsure if their guy would still be alive and kicking by the time May 8 rolls around.  The Gingrich (6%) and Paul (6%) support has already dropped.  What is most interesting is that Romney is the candidate of choice for Indianapolis and its suburbs, while Santorum holds his own in the rest of the state.  All the traditional constituency patterns are in place:  Santorum wins evangelicals (but not overwhelmingly) and Romney wins college grads while Santorum leads among the less educated.
More interesting is how an active presidential contest would play in the U.S. Senate primary.  Romney supporters line up with Lugar, while Santorum’s are in sync with Mourdock.  NBC’s Chuck Todd said a competitive GOP presidential primary would be a nightmare for Senator Lugar, but I disagree.  The Santorum/Mourdock voters are going to turn out anyway – because they are the base and because the NRA, FreedomWorks, and Club for Growth will make sure of it. What benefits Lugar is for the Romney micro-targeting and turn-out machine to be in full force.  If Romney is cruising, they may take a less active role in turning out their supporters and these people are more likely to stay home if they think Romney has the nomination wrapped up.

Matthews is president and CEO of Bellwether Research based in Washington.