Poll: Mark Pryor leads GOP challenger for Senate in Arkansas -- by 11 points?

Question mark in the headline because … I can’t quite believe it. I can believe that a two-term Democratic incumbent, whose father served as governor and senator, would be ahead of a little-known congressman at this stage. I can also believe, a la the Standard, that Pryor’s lead is inflated because the sample’s tilted too heavily towards Democrats (30/23) in what’s become a reliably red state. But even a smaller margin in party ID would have him ahead fairly comfortably — in Arkansas, where Obama’s job approval stands at a rosy 33 percent and where John Boozman annihilated another Democratic incumbent four years ago.

What’s interesting about the subsamples isn’t how unusual they are but how unusual they aren’t. Despite Arkansas’s conservative bent, Cotton’s facing a lot of the same problems that Republicans are facing nationally.

Party ID. A partisan divide exists. Most Democrats — 89% — back Pryor while only 5% are for Cotton. Among Republicans, most — 85% — support Cotton compared with 10% for Pryor. Among independents, Pryor edges Cotton, 48% to 41%.

Gender. There is a gender gap. A majority of women voters — 55% — are for Pryor while 35% are behind Cotton. Men divide. 46% of male voters support Pryor while the same proportion — 46% — backs Cotton.

Race. While 85% of African American voters support Pryor, white voters divide. 46% of white voters support Pryor while the same proportion — 46% — are for Cotton.

Somehow there are more Republicans in Arkansas willing to vote for the Democrat this year, with some analysts predicting a GOP wave, than there are Democrats willing to vote for the Republican. Pryor’s also considerably more popular than Cotton is, with a favorable rating of 50/35 among registered voters compared to the challenger’s 38/39. And this isn’t the only poll lately to show Pryor with a double-digit lead; here’s how RCP’s tracker looks since February.


The polls showing a small Pryor lead seem more plausible but the average has him up nearly five points right now. What gives? One possibility raised by Fred Bauer is that Democratic populist tactics nationally (raising the minimum wage, equal-pay initiatives, etc) are helping in Arkansas. Pryor leads by more than 20 points among voters who earn less than $75,000, although I wonder if that’s partly a function of the fact that staunchly Democratic black voters are overrepresented among the lower-income demographic. Another possibility that’s hard to ignore from RCP’s table is that Obama’s victory lap after hitting eight million ObamaCare “sign-ups” in April has eased some of the pressure against Pryor locally. He was, after all, the 60th vote for O-Care in 2010; the less sting it has to remind people of that, the better his chances are. That’s a bad omen nationally — unless this poll’s an outlier, of course, in which case never mind.

Update: Harry Enten of FiveThirtyEight offers another reason for skepticism of the Marist poll, albeit not one that would eliminate Cotton’s deficit entirely.