Little has changed since February.

In the Arkansas Governor’s race, Republican Asa Hutchinson still maintains a slight lead over presumptive Democratic nominee Mike Ross.

In the latest Talk Business-Hendrix College poll of 603 likely Arkansas voters, Hutchinson holds a 41%-37% lead over Ross with 22% undecided.  The poll, which was conducted Tuesday, October 8, has a margin of error of +/-4%.  Those results are similar to a February poll that showed Hutchinson with a 43%-38% lead over Ross with 19% undecided.

“Neither Ross nor Hutchinson have made any significant media buys or engaged each other on a major level, so it’s no big surprise that there has been little movement in this race,” said Roby Brock, Talk Business executive editor.

“I think it is also significant that Hutchinson has maintained a 16-point lead among independent voters, 48%-32%. This is nearly identical to his lead among independents in February and will be a crucial voting bloc to win in 2014,” Brock said. “Republicans have won at a variety of different levels in the last two election cycles thanks to big margins among independent voters.”

Hutchinson faces two announced challengers in the GOP primary, Curtis Coleman and Rep. Debra Hobbs (R-Rogers), but he is considered the frontrunner for the nomination. Ross has no announced challenger since Bill Halter dropped out of the Governor’s race in late July.

The Talk Business-Hendrix College survey asked voters to consider Ross versus a generic Republican nominee. Under that scenario, Ross holds a one-point lead.

Finally, Gov. Mike Beebe (D), whom Hutchinson, Ross, Coleman and Hobbs are seeking to replace, remains immensely popular with a 63% job approval rating.

Earlier today, results were released in the U.S. Senate race that showed Sen. Mark Pryor (D) with a 42%-41% lead over Cong. Tom Cotton (R).

RESULTS
In the Governor’s poll release, Talk Business and Hendrix College unveiled three more questions that provide insight into state politics.

Q. Do you approve or disapprove of the job Gov. Mike Beebe is doing?

63% Approve
22.5% Disapprove
14.5% Don’t Know

Q. If the 2014 Governor’s race was a contest between Democrat Mike Ross and the Republican nominee and the election were today, for whom would you vote?

37% Mike Ross
36% Republican nominee
27% Don’t Know

Q. If the 2014 Governor’s Race was a contest between Republican Asa Hutchinson and Democrat Mike Ross and the election were today, for whom would you vote?

41% Asa Hutchinson
37% Mike Ross
22% Don’t Know

ANALYSIS
Dr. Jay Barth, professor of political science at Hendrix College, helped craft and analyze the latest poll. He offered this analysis of the poll results:

Governor’s race - At this stage, one’s natural instinct is to yawn at Governor Mike Beebe’s high approval numbers. Yet, considering the antipathy towards government at present and the manner in which Beebe overcomes a polarized electorate to gain the esteem of voters of all political stripes (including 56.0% of Republican Arkansans) remains truly astounding. Competent governance, the absence of governmental crises or scandals, and the governor’s avoidance of the most polarizing issues all add up to nearly two in three Arkansas voters approving of his performance in office.

The key question: Who will replace Beebe as governor? Former Congressman Mike Ross, already actively supported by the popular Beebe, is on his way to being the Democratic nominee to replace him. Former Congressman Asa Hutchinson is the clear favorite to be the Republican nominee, although he faces two primary opponents. Therefore, we asked questions regarding voters’ preferences in the 2014 governor’s race in two ways.

First, we asked about a race between Ross and any GOP nominee. Here, Ross has a tiny lead (37%-36%) while over a quarter of voters (27%) are undecided. While Republicans and Democrats are overwhelmingly supportive of their party in the governor’s race, independents support the Republican by a 40%-32% margin in this framing of the question.

Second, we asked a head-to-head matchup between Ross and Hutchinson. In this scenario, Hutchinson holds a four-point lead (41%-37%) while over one in five voters remain undecided over a year in advance of election day. Hutchinson leads with crucially important independent voters (48%-32%). He also leads in three of the state’s four congressional districts, including holding a 44%-38% margin in the Fourth District which Ross represented in Congress for a dozen years. (Ross leads in the Second District by a 44%-38% margin).

So, while it appears that Republicans have a structural advantage going in the 2014 election, with Ross developing a fundraising advantage in the race, either candidate could still prevail in what promises to be a close race to take Beebe’s seat.

METHODOLOGY
This survey was conducted by Talk Business Research and Hendrix College on Tuesday, October 8, 2013. The poll, which has a margin of error of +/-4%, was completed using IVR survey technology among 603 Arkansas frequent voters statewide.

Approximately 25.7% of the voters in our sample were contacted via cell phone. This is in response to the increased reliance by voters on cell phones.

All media outlets are welcome to reprint, reproduce, or rebroadcast information from this poll with proper attribution to Talk Business and Hendrix College.

For interviews, contact Talk Business executive editor Roby Brock by email at roby@talkbusiness.net or Dr. Jay Barth by email at barth@hendrix.edu.

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