Analysis: What we learned from the latest Daily News poll

Analysis: What we learned from the latest Daily News poll

By TODD STACY, Alabama Daily News

MONTGOMERY, Ala. – All political junkies love polling. It’s second only to election results in terms of our craving for it. And yet, election results are so final. Polling comes with a world of possibilities and predictions!

Since our Alabama Daily News audience is filled with politicians and politicos, we try to offer quality polling every so often to find a glimpse into the mind of the Alabama voter. The timing of this most recent survey with Cygnal was based on the GOP Senate primary finally appearing to be settled, the campaigns for state lawmakers just getting underway and a potential special session on prisons in the coming weeks or months.

Allow me to stop here and compliment Cygnal on its work on this survey. We have always had a good experience working with Brent Buchanan, John Rogers and the Cygnal team for quality, reliable results.

Let’s walk through a few points of analysis on these numbers.

Governor

Do you approve or disapprove of the way Kay Ivey is handling her job as Governor?

Response%
Strongly approve24.2%
Somewhat approve36.2%
Total approve60.3%
Somewhat disapprove17.9%
Strongly disapprove10.4%
Total disapprove28.3%
Unsure1.3%
Neither approve or disapprove10.1%

 

If the Republican primary election for Governor were held today, and you had to make a choice, who would you vote for?

Candidate
Kay Ivey41.5%
Tim James3.5%
Jim Zeigler8.8%
Dean Odle3.1%
Someone else9.2%
Undecided33.9%

 

The good news for Gov. Kay Ivey is that her approval rating among Republicans remains high at above 60%. It actually corresponds with those who think Alabama is “on the right track” at 61.5%. That makes me believe if the state’s economy and relative wellbeing remain healthy, her approval will remain high.

The not-so-good news is that her ballot test number, 41.5%, is not where any incumbent wants to be going into reelection. The number of undecideds, 33.9%, is way too high for comfort and could invite candidates to test the waters. Factors working in Ivey’s favor are that it’s still very early in the race and there is no other serious, well-funded candidate emerging as an opponent. State Auditor Jim Zeigler comes the closest at 8.8%, which most agree is pretty impressive, yet it’s hard to take his candidacy seriously at the moment and he may ultimately run for something else. Should a self-funding candidate enter the race, like Tim James or Lynda Blanchard, they could definitely have an impact. But if I’m one of them, that high approval rating gives me pause.

 

Senate

If the Republican primary election for U.S. Senate were held today, and you had to make a choice, who would you vote for? 

Candidate%
Mo Brooks40.8%
Katie Britt17.7%
Jessica Taylor3.0%
Lynda Blanchard1.6%
Someone else5.1%
Undecided31.8%

 

What stands out looking at the Senate ballot test is that frontrunner Mo Brooks’ number of 40.8% is pretty close to that of Kay Ivey in the governor’s race. Yet, unlike Ivey, Brooks does have a serious and well-funded candidate running against him in Katie Britt. Britt’s 17.7% is still far behind Brooks, but relatively impressive considering she’s been in the race for two months and has yet to run any paid advertising. On the other hand, Brooks has been in since March and has run regular radio ads touting President Donald Trump’s endorsement.

The biggest takeaway is that this is a real race, not a runaway. In fact, if you believe the Club for Growth polling from April that showed Brooks at 59% and Britt at 9%, the race has tightened considerably.

Brooks still has the advantage because he literally has the Trump card. One key number from the cross tabs I pointed out in the original story was that among undecided voters, 60.7% say they are more likely to back a Trump-endorsed candidate. Brooks only needs 10% of the undecideds at this point, so that’s a big feather in his cap.

Lots of money will be spent on messaging from now until May. Introductory ads, attack ads, campaign-produced ads, super PAC ads, and all manner of other messaging. This one might turn into quite the slugfest.

Another takeaway is that Jessica Taylor and Lynda Blanchard are not viable candidates at the moment, at 3% and 1.5% respectively. That is perhaps why rumors persist that both are considering exiting the race to run for another office, Blanchard for Governor and Taylor for Secretary of State. We’ll see. Interestingly, should both candidates withdraw and no others enter, it becomes a two-man race with winner take all on May 24. That means no runoff backstop and no political calculus about who comes in second leading up to it.

 

Supreme Court

If the Republican primary election for the Alabama Supreme Court were held today, and you had to make a choice, who would you vote for?

Candidate
Greg Cook12.9%
Deborah Jones7.6%
Someone else8.7%
Undecided70.8%

 

There’s not much to say here except that it’s a wide open race between Greg Cook and Deborah Jones. We included this race because it is competitive, an important one, and because we wanted to see if any candidate had a leg up before campaigning begins in earnest.

 

Prison Infrastructure

 

Alabama’s state prisons are underfunded and overcrowded, creating a dangerous situation for prison guards and inmates. The state is facing a federal lawsuit over the poor condition of Alabama’s prisons. Do you support or oppose Governor Ivey and state lawmakers using federal funds and a long term state bond to build new prisons and renovate old ones?

Response%
Strongly support28.1%
Somewhat support34.7%
Total support62.8%
Somewhat oppose8.2%%
Strongly disapprove7.6%
Total disapprove15.8%
Unsure7.0%
Neither support of oppose14.5%

 

Starting with the most timely issue, support for prison infrastructure was strong. Gov. Kay Ivey and top lawmakers are right now negotiating the details of a plan to build new state prisons and renovate old ones using a combination of federal ARPA funds and a state bond. For that to poll with 62.8% has to be reassuring for proponents of the plan. The one thing we didn’t poll (because we couldn’t) is the price tag. What if it’s $2 billion? $3 billion? $4 billion? A price tag could have impacted these numbers and will certainly be a target for opponents of the plan if and when. By the way, we are still told a special session is likely, but could be on hold until October.

 

Gas Tax

A couple of years ago, the Alabama Legislature passed the first gas tax increase in decades to fund improvement and construction of roads and bridges. These additional funds are required to be used for road and bridge construction and cannot be diverted for any other purpose. Which of the following statements comes closest to your opinion?

Response%
The gas tax increase was necessary to pay for improvements to Alabama's roads and bridges.44.8%
The gas tax was already high enough and lawmakers should not have raised it.39.1%
Lawmakers didn't raise the gas tax enough to pay for all the needed improvements.4.4%
Unsure11.7%

It is interesting that just on its face the gas tax increase is supported by a plurality of Republican voters. Few would have told you any tax increase could see that level of support with GOP voters. We tried to ask this in a way that gave respondents choices rather than just a yes or no on taxes. That seems to have impacted the numbers and I think in a revealing way. It doesn’t mean lawmakers or the governor are out of the woods in terms of defending it from primary attacks. Yet, it does show that with some explanation of the alternatives, some voters can be won over. In any case, it does not appear to be the silver bullet issue primary opponents might want it to be.

 

Tolls

There has been discussion of implementing tolls to fund infrastructure improvements to Alabama’s interstate system such as the proposed I-10 Mobile River Bridge. Do you support or oppose tolling as a means to fund improvements to Alabama’s interstates?

Response%
Strongly support12.8
Somewhat support18.0%
Total support30.8%
Somewhat oppose14.5%
Strongly oppose34.7%
Total oppose49.2%
Unsure5.4%
Neither support of oppose14.7%

 

I’ll admit toll roads/bridges is a nebulous issue to poll statewide. Toll roads or bridges are almost always a hyper local issue. Look no further than Mobile and Baldwin Counties and the Bay Way fiasco. Still, the issue of tolls could be raised in this election for governor. Jim Zeigler was the chief opponent of the Bay Way toll bridge plan and just this week he promised to use the issue against Ivey on the campaign trail actually citing these numbers. That’s if he runs, of course. The poll confirms what most believe innately: tolls are unpopular. What it doesn’t show is how much people care from a statewide standpoint.

 

Literacy Act

The Alabama Literacy Act requires that students be able to read on grade level by the end of third grade. The law provides funds to train reading teachers, and intensive support for students who struggle. As a last resort, if a student cannot read, they are retained for a year to catch them up before moving on to fourth grade. Do you support or oppose this law?

Response%
Strongly support59.4%
Somewhat support21.3%
Total support80.7%
Somewhat oppose5.2%
Strongly oppose4.5%
Total oppose9.8%
Unsure3.6%
Neither support of oppose5.9%

 

If there was a big winner in this latest poll it was the Alabama Literacy Act and its supporters. An explanation of the law polled off the charts at 80.7% support among Alabama Republicans. What makes that so interesting is that many Republicans joined with Democrats to pass Sen. Rodger Smitherman’s bill delaying the hold back provision of the bill last legislative session. Of course, Ivey eventually vetoed that bill in what amounted to a pretty big political decision. Had she seen these numbers then I’m sure it would have been a lot easier. Hell, she might use it as a campaign issue now. These numbers on the Literacy Act not only reinforce the veto but could deter lawmakers from messing with the law again in the next legislative session.

Charter Schools

Charter schools are tuition-free public schools which are governed by an independent board rather than a local school board and serve students who choose to attend. While they are subject to the same academic requirements as traditional public schools, they are given the autonomy to develop their own curriculum, hire their own staff, and manage their own budgets. Based on this information, do you support or oppose charter schools?

Response%
Strongly support43.9%
Somewhat support20.6%
Total support64.5%
Somewhat oppose7.5%
Strongly oppose7.7%
Total oppose15.2%
Unsure7.4%
Neither support of oppose13.0%

 

There was also very healthy support among Republican voters for charter schools at 64.5%. Many in the school choice movement have been frustrated of late due to the Legislature’s lack of willingness to build upon the victories won in 2015. This, of course, has corresponded with the reemergence of the Alabama Education Association as a fundraising force and the ascension of the State Superintendents of Alabama as a lobbying force. The House went so far as to cloture Rep. Terri Collins when she brought her most recent charter school bill to the floor. These numbers show there is still strong support for charter schools among conservative voters and it will be interesting to see what the school choice movement does with it.

 

Health care

How important is it to you that all Alabamians have access to quality health care?

Response%
Very important53.2%
Somewhat important25.0%
Total important78.2%
Somewhat unimportant5.4%
Very unimportant9.9%
Total unimportant15.3%
Unsure6.6%

 

If it could be done without raising taxes, would you support or oppose expanding Medicaid coverage in Alabama so that low-income, uninsured people could obtain health coverage?

Response%
Strongly support21.8%
Somewhat support27.3%
Total support49.2%
Somewhat oppose12.0%
Strongly oppose18.0%
Total oppose30.1%
Unsure5.6%
Neither support of oppose15.2%

 

The survey showed some interesting results on the issue of health care. A full 78.2% of Republicans believe it is important for all Alabamians to have access to health care, which has to make advocates very happy. Still, that’s a relatively easy question to answer without getting into the “how.”

And yet, support for expanding Medicaid coverage in Alabama was relatively high, almost a majority. Medicaid expansion has been a complicated political issue since 2010 following the passage of the Affordable Care Act. A subsequent U.S. Supreme Court ruling allowed states to opt-out of the Medicaid expansion required by the law and, since then, Alabama is one of 12 states that has chosen not to expand its Medicaid program. Opposition to expansion among Republicans lies mostly on the grounds that it would be unaffordable over the long term despite federal incentives up front, with conservatives stringently opposing raising taxes to pay for it.

Those incentives have not only been renewed, they’ve been enhanced. In March, Alabama Daily News reported that the enactment of the American Rescue Plan Act could mean $940 million for the Alabama Medicaid Agency if it expands coverage, more than enough to fund the cost of expansion for at least four years. Still, for many conservatives, the question becomes how to pay for expanded services after that four years and $940 million runs out. During the last legislative session, there was talk of using part of the revenue from gambling legislation as a cash stream for Medicaid, but that bill died late in the session.

It stands to reason that any Medicaid expansion plan put forward by Republicans would have a pay-for that isn’t a tax increase. This poll shows that Republicans are at least open to the idea, and that’s significant.

 

Delta / Vaccines

How concerned are you about the Delta variant of COVID-19?

Response%
Very concerned36.1%
Somewhat concerned25.9%
Total concerned62.0%
Not too concerned20.0%
Not at all concerned16.4%
Total not concerned36.5%
Unsure1.5%

 

Which of the following best describes your opinion on the safety and effectiveness of the COVID-19 vaccines?

Response%
I fully trust the vaccines27.5%
I mostly trust the vaccines30.4%
Total trust vaccines57.9%
I do not trust the vaccines24.8%
I need more information13.0%
Unsure4.3%

 

There is so much noise from right-wing social media on distrust of vaccines and how COVID is a hoax that we thought it would be useful to have some real numbers on where voters stand. After all, sometimes those loud voices have an outsized representation on conventional wisdom.

Considering all the misinformation out there, 62% of Republicans saying they are concerned about the Delta variant of COVID-19 seems impressive. Perhaps a more significant number is the 16.4% saying they are not concerned at all. That answer probably says more than the others.

The same goes for vaccines. For 58% of Republicans to say they trust the vaccines is higher than I expected. I could see some “Bradley effect” going on here as people may not want a pollster to think they are an anti-vaxxer. After all, if 58% of all Alabama Republicans actually got vaccinated, our state would have a significantly higher vaccination rate.

 

Overall, a good poll and fun results to play with. And for those who really like to play, See below links to the full top lines and cross tabs from Cygnal.

 

ADN Cygnal August 2021 Toplines

ADN Cygnal August 2021 Crosstabs