Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Hillary Clinton (and Ashley Judd!) shockingly strong in DEEP red Ky., per PPP

Public Policy Polling is out with a new poll in Kentucky that has some pretty interesting findings. You know a poll is good when the biggest news IS NOT that Hollywood actress Ashley Judd (D) trails Libertarian/Tea-Party darling incumbent Sen. Rand Paul (R) by just 1 point (in a state Obama lost last month 61-38%, no less)! No, the biggest news out of this poll is the fact that Sec. of State Hillary Clinton would lead BOTH home-state Sen. Paul and national rising star Marco Rubio, 47-42% and 48-40%, respectively.

The result, according to PPP President Dean Debnam, shows just how competitive Democrats could be for the third presidential election cycle in a row:

“The fact that Hillary Clinton would be in a position to win Kentucky, perhaps more than any other data we’ve seen over the last month, shows what a formidable candidate she would be for President in 2016.”
What makes Hillary's numbers in Kentucky so miraculous is their deep red-hue. Obama's 2012 performance in the Bluegrass State is the worst performance for any Democrat there since George McGovern's weak showing of 35% in 1972. Mondale, Dukakis, and Kerry managed higher percentages of the Ky. vote than Obama's 38% last month. This makes PPP's finding that Hillary would defeat two big-name Republicans by 5-8 points very significant because it would indicate a near-unheard of shift in the electorate (35 points, comparing Hillary's 48-40% edge over Rubio vs. Romney's 61-38% edge over Obama).

 Democratic percentage of vote in Kentucky Presidential election, 1960-2012
* = election year involving significant 3rd party vote (greater than 5%).

Obama's 38% of the popular vote in Kentucky matches Humphrey in '68 (who's margin was held down due to a 3rd party candidacy) and McGovern in '72. Clinton's 47% and 48% against Paul and Rubio beats both of her husband's performances in the state (which he won twice, keep in mind). Hillary's 48/42% favorability rating, while down significantly from her national rating of 57/36%, is still strong for a national Democrat in a conservative state.

Beyond Hillary's and Judd's poll numbers, PPP also finds their poll sample self-identifying as Democrats by larger margins than in 2008 and 2010. Their sample of "Kentucky voters" was 52% Democrat,  37% Republican, and 11% Independent, or D+15. In 2008, when Obama lost the state by just 16 points, Democrats outnumbered Republicans by 9 points (Obama lost by 23 last Nov.). Unfortunately, exit pollsters limited their polling this election cycle to a limited number of states, and Kentucky did not make the final cut, thus no 2012 numbers. Furthermore, in 2010, Republicans actually outnumbered Democrats by 2 points (40R / 38D/ 22I). PPP's party ID finding is 6 points more Democratic than it was in 2008, and 17 points more Democratic than in 2010.

Because of these disparities, how would Hillary Clinton be performing against home-town boy Rand Paul, under either a 2008 OR 2010 turnout scenario?

PPP poll weighted to 2008 CNN Kentucky exit poll:

PPP poll weighted to 2010 CNN Kentucky exit poll:

IF the 2016 Kentucky electorate happens to resemble the 2008 electorate, AND IF PPP's other findings resemble the actual result, Clinton's 5 point lead over Sen. Rand Paul evaporates to a TIE, 44-44%. In the event the electorate resembles 2010, Paul actually takes a 7 point, 47-40% lead.

Don't get me wrong. The fact that any Democrat is even close in Kentucky after the pummeling Obama just received is a terrible situation for Republicans. And if PPP's party I.D. finding winds up being reflective of the 2016 electorate, Democrats will be in much better shape than they were in  November. But if the electorate looks more like 2010, not even the nation's most popular Democrat could win in Kentucky. Democrats will be much better served praying Hillary doesn't run rather than praying for a 2010-style electorate.

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