A potential race for governor between Republican Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves and Democrat Attorney General Jim Hood has no clear winner and nearly 20 percent of voters are undecided, according to a new poll from Millsaps College.
Millsaps College partnered with Chism Strategies for its second annual state of the state survey, which was released on the day Gov. Phil Bryant will give the State of the State address to the Legislature. Chism Strategies is a Democratic polling firm that also works with non-partisan groups and businesses.
The poll also shows voters’ views on the direction of the state falls along partisan lines, while only half of independents believe Mississippi is on the right track. In fact, about the only thing a large majority of Mississippians seem to agree on is a shared lack of support for lawmakers.
In the hypothetical governor’s race, Reeves is leading with 44.7 percent compared to Hood with 37.5 percent. The poll shows 17.8 percent are undecided.
While the race is nearly two years out, Reeves’ lead is much narrower than would be expected for the presumptive GOP frontrunner against a possible Democratic opponent. The reason is as much reflective of Hood’s political strength — rare for a Democrat in Mississippi — as it is of any dissatisfaction with Reeves.
That said, Reeves’ support among Republicans (77 percent) is not a strong as Hood’s is among Democrats (84.5 percent), nor does Reeves enjoy the same amount of crossover. Hood enjoys support from 10.5 percent of Republicans surveyed, compared to only 5.5 percent of Democrats who support Reeves. Too, 12.5 percent of Republicans say they are unsure, compared to just 7.4 percent of Democrats.
State of the state
Overall, 41.7 percent of respondents said the state was headed in the right direction, compared to 36.3 percent who said it was headed in the wrong direction. The other 22 percent said they were unsure in which direction Mississippi was headed.
The ideological split over the direction of the state was pretty stark. Republicans largely see Mississippi headed in the right direction, 64-16 percent. In almost a mirror image, Democrats view the state as headed in the wrong direction, 63-14 percent.
Independents, however, are split, with 50 percent having a positive outlook and 25 percent seeing it heading in the wrong direction. Another 25 percent were unsure.
The Legislature seems to be the biggest loser in the poll, with only a 26.3 percent approval rating and 38.2 percent disapproving. Another 35.5 percent of those polled were unsure what to think of the Legislature. Republicans had only a slightly higher opinion of lawmakers than did Democrats. Of GOP respondents, 33.2 percent approved of the Legislature’s job performance, 27.6 percent disapproved and 39.2 percent were unsure. For Democrats, only 15.7 percent approved while 49.2 percent disapproved and 35.1 percent were unsure.
Fixing roads and bridges (23.4 percent) was the top priority out of a list of eight possible responses. Making health care more affordable (20.8) and more funding for public schools (19.3) were a close second and third.
Other issues polled showed:
- State lottery: 68.8 percent support, 22.8 percent oppose, 8.4 percent unsure. Asked how they would prioritize using funds generated from a state lottery, 50.6 percent said public education would be the top choice. Fixing roads and bridges was second at 28.6 percent. Nothing else polled in double digits.
- Raising gasoline tax to pay for infrastructure repairs: 38 percent support, 50 percent oppose, 12 percent unsure.
- How to choose school boards: 68.5 percent elected, 10.4 percent appointed, 13.5 percent would let it vary district to district, 7.6 percent unsure
The poll did not seek approval ratings for Bryant, Reeves or Hood. Nathan Schrader, director of communications for Millsaps, said they chose not to include these three because their approval ratings were polled in September.
Here’s a quick rundown of the approval ratings of those the poll did test:
- Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann: 53.4 percent approve, 18.7 percent disapprove, 27.9 percent unsure. Hosemann is expected to run for lieutenant governor, with his name also being mentioned for a possible gubernatorial run.
- Treasurer Lynn Fitch: 42.4 percent approve, 23.1 percent disapprove, 34.5 percent unsure. Fitch’s name has been mentioned as a possible candidate for the third congressional district seat being vacated by U.S. Rep. Gregg Harper. She’s also been mentioned as a possible candidate for attorney general in 2019.
- Public Service Commissioner Brandon Presley: 31.2 percent approve, 21.3 percent disapprove, 47.5 percent unsure. Presley is the only Democrat polled. He represents only the northern third of the state. Some have mentioned him as a possible candidate for governor or lieutenant governor in 2019, though it’s hard to see him run against Hood in a gubernatorial primary.
The poll was conducted Dec. 15-19, surveyed 578 voters and has a margin of error of 4.08 percent. It was weighted to reflect 2015 general election turnout for age, race, gender and party affiliation.