Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Palin STRONG In Alaska GOP Primary, WEAK In The General (Unless Republicans Come Home)

Palin only wins 69% of Republicans in a head-to-head against incumbent Sen. Mark Begich (D). Photo courtesy of Corbis.

Former Governor and Republican Vice Presidential nominee Sarah Palin continues to struggle with poor public perception, not just nationwide, but in her home-state as well, according to the latest survey from Democratic pollster PPP.

39% of Alaskan registered voters view Palin favorably, 58% view her unfavorably. And while 40% say they would vote to put Palin, who resigned her Governorship in 2009, back in office, 52% say they would support the current incumbent, Democratic Senator Mark Begich.

On the surface, the numbers are pretty dim for the woman that once attracted a crowd of 60,000 to Florida in 2008, or who once caused reporters to stop mid-assignment due to multiple public flirtations with a 2012 presidential bid

But it's not all dreadful news for Palin-land, especially once you look beyond the 2014 general Senate election.

So what exactly is NOT dreadful about a -19 home-state favorability rating? The fact that you were at -25 in the previous survey, which is exactly where Palin stood with Alaska voters in February (34/59%). In fact, her current 39/58% rating is the best shape she's been in since January 2010, PPP's first ever poll of Alaska. See the table below:

What about that double-digit deficit against Mark Begich, you might ask? Again, it's all a matter of perspective, and when you consider that Palin trailed Begich 54-38% in February, 52-40% doesn't seem like as steep a hill to climb as it may otherwise have.

So while Palin is still unpopular, and still trails the incumbent by double-digits, at least the trend lines look positive. Though that's not the best news PPP has for Palin.

In their first 2014 Alaska Senate GOP primary survey to include Palin, PPP finds her in the lead by 10 points, outpacing the current sitting Lt. Governor and announced candidate Mead Treadwell, former Attorney General Dan Sullivan, and 2010 GOP Senate nominee and 2014 candidate Joe Miller, 36-26-15-12%. This puts the Democratic pollster in line with Republican firm Harper Polling, which found Palin leading the same crew of GOP candidates (except Dan Sullivan) in May, 32-30-14%.

PPP also polled a variety of 3-way GOP primary matches, sadly none of which pitted Palin alone against the more Alaska Establishment friendly candidates Mead Treadwell and Dan Sullivan. I say 'sadly' because long-time Alaska political observer, unofficial Palin spokesman, and C4P contributor Ian Lazaran, seems rather convinced that in the unlikely event she enters the 2014 Senate race, Miller would bow out.

Lazaran's assertions regarding Miller's status in the race in the event of a Palin bid are obviously mere assumptions, but assume he's right. Assume the Palin protege, whether out of a sense of obligation or necessity, did withdraw under such a scenario. What would a Palin vs. Treadwell vs. Sullivan primary look like?

Beyond the obvious, there's empirical evidence to suggest that Palin would be the benefactor of a Miller-less GOP primary.  Consider the 4 candidate's favorability ratings across the ideological spectrum of GOP primary voters below, as found by PPP:

Miller performs pitifully across the board, but ekes out a net positive rating with just one group: very conservative GOP primary voters. In other words, that's his base (if you can call +9 a "base"). Palin's impressive +56 with this group of voters makes it more likely Miller supporters would turn to her over Sullivan or Treadwell, both of whom are popular with very conservative voters, but not as much so as Palin.

One other bit of empirical evidence makes it likely that Miller supporters would turnout to support Palin over Treadwell and Sullivan, if they turned out at all: a 2010 Alaska GOP Senate Primary Contest Exit Poll, conducted by PPP, asked Alaska primary voters:

"Are you more or less likely to vote for a candidate endorsed by Sarah Palin, or does it not make a difference?"

Among primary voters who said they were MORE likely to vote for a candidate endorsed by Palin (26%), protege Joe Miller defeated Murkowski 82-18%. Among voters who said they were LESS likely to vote for a candidate endorsed by Palin (35%), Murkowski won 81-19%.

Clearly, at least at a point in time, Alaska primary voters that liked Palin liked Miller, and vice versa. It's likely that a similar dynamic is still in place. So for the sake of speculation, how would the PPP Alaska GOP primary survey have looked had they not tested Joe Miller? First, assume Palin wins 1/2 of Miller's supporters in the poll, with both Sullivan & Treadwell splitting the remaining Miller respondents. Next, assume Palin wins the overwhelming bulk of Miller supporters (2/3), with the remaining 1/3 being split between Sullivan and Treadwell:

I'm clearly assuming an entire series of events that have not yet occurred, and may never. But if Miller sits the race out, and all his supporters head to the polls on primary day 2014 anyway, the race could wind up looking like the scenarios above.

One final word on an interesting finding from PPP. Incumbent Senator Mark Begich (D) is surprisingly strong with Alaska Republicans, peeling off  20% of them in a head-to-head against Sarah Palin, while limiting the former Governor to an unimpressive 69% of her own party. By comparison, Sen. Begich secures 93% of his own party, while only 6% of Democratic respondents said they'd support Palin.

If PPP's finding holds, it would represent a departure from past Republicans' performance statewide against Democrats, at least based on the limited exit poll data we have available out of Alaska. According to 2008 exits (none were taken in 2012), John McCain carried 93% of Republicans, to Barack Obama's 6%. Sen. Ted Stevens (R) won 77% of Republicans, to Mark Begich's 18%. And Congressman-At-Large Don Young (R) won 77% of Republicans, while Democrat Ethan Berkowitz carried 17%.

Suppose that as the 2014 campaign season heats up, Republicans rally, and return home to Palin, at least to the extent they did with Ted Stevens and Don Young in 2008. What would the PPP result have looked like in that event?

And in the event the Alaska Republican base becomes super-charged, and supports Palin to the extent they did McCain in 2008? Well, then finally, Palin inches into the lead (48-47%; see above).

I realize this post his highly speculative. But it's intended to be. Palin is not terribly well positioned for a return to elected office in her home-state, despite the probability of her winning a GOP primary.  But if you think about it, and really look at the numbers, it's possible to envision a series of not-so-improbable events that could propel Palin back into the public service she so often states she loves.

Finally, for what it's worth, Public Policy Polling found Alaska registered voters identifying as 20% Democrat, 32% Republican, and 48% Independent. 2008 CNN Exit polls measured it at 21% Democrat, 37% Republican, and 42% Independent. Had PPP found an identical electorate, Palin would still trail Begich 50-41%, down slightly from 52-40%.

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