Despite a rough job approval rating and more Democratic blame than GOP fault for the federal government shutdown, incumbent Democrat U.S. Senator Mark Pryor remains slightly ahead of Republican challenger Cong. Tom Cotton in the latest Talk Business-Hendrix College poll.

In fact, the race is a statistical dead heat with nearly one full year to go.

In the latest survey of 603 likely Arkansas voters, Pryor leads Cotton 42% to 41% with 17% of voters undecided. The poll, which was conducted on Tuesday, Oct. 8, has a margin of error of +/-4%.

“This is simply a snapshot of where this race is at this time,” said Roby Brock, Talk Business executive editor. “We’ll use several of the questions in this survey as a benchmark for future polling on political races and attitudes throughout 2014.”

Later this evening, results of the Arkansas Governor’s race will be revealed.

RESULTS
In today’s poll release, Talk Business and Hendrix College unveil four questions that provide insight into federal politics.

Q. Do you approve or disapprove of the job that President Barack Obama is doing?

34%  Approve
62%  Disapprove
4%    Don’t Know

Q. Do you approve or disapprove of the job Sen. Mark Pryor is doing?

34%  Approve
48%  Disapprove
18%  Don’t Know

Q. Who do you blame most for the federal government shutdown?

40%  President Obama and the Democrats
35%  Republicans in Congress
24%  Both are equally to blame
1%    Don’t Know

Q. If the 2014 race for U.S. Senate was a contest between Democratic Senator Mark Pryor and Republican Congressman Tom Cotton and the election were today, for whom would you vote?

42%   Mark Pryor
41%   Tom Cotton
17%   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:

Federal Government Shutdown - While national polling indicates considerably more blame being placed on the Republicans in Congress than on President Obama and the Democrats, our poll of Arkansans shows a plurality placing the bulk of blame on Obama and his party in Congress by a 40% to 35% margin; 24% of Arkansans say that both are equally to blame.

While partisan voters naturally support their party in the standoff in D.C., the Arkansas results are driven by independent voters with 49% of that group of voters blaming President Obama and Democrats while only 30% primarily blame the Republicans in Congress.

In looking across the state, a plurality of voters in three of the state’s Congressional Districts place primary blame on the Democrats while voters in the Second Congressional District are evenly divided on the question.

U.S. Senate Race - The current dynamics in Washington appear to be doing all incumbent federal officeholders a disfavor. President Obama, unpopular with the Arkansas electorate throughout his presidency, nears his low point in our polling with an approval rating of only 34%. Senator Mark Pryor matches the President with a 34% approval although his disapproval numbers are sharply lower than those of the President (48% of Arkansas voters disapprove of Pryor versus 62% for Obama).

One would assume that such dismal approval numbers would doom an incumbent Senator running for reelection. Yet, Pryor continues to hold a sliver of a lead (42%-41%) over his challenger, Republican Congressman Tom Cotton. The fact that Cotton is also a federal officeholder likely is hurting his ability to open up a lead on the incumbent Democrat.

Cotton has a lead with independent voters 48%-42%, but Pryor is hanging tough in that subgroup of voters who have been the death knell for most Arkansas Democrats in recent cycles.

Both candidates are in strong shape with their party loyalists. Pryor’s strongest showing is with the oldest group of voters; those 65 and older support the Democrat by 46%-41%, indicating that the Pryor name may still have some potency with a high turnout group.

OTHER NOTES
Brock also highlighted other observations on the poll:

Federal Government Shutdown - It is interesting to note how little indecision there is on this question. Only one percent of voters did not weigh in with an opinion. This shows how top of mind and influential this political quagmire has impacted state politics.

Also of note, we mirrored this question off of a national CBS/New York Times poll, which asked the question in a similar manner. In that poll, 44% of respondents placed blame on Republicans compared to 35% who blamed Obama and Democrats.

U.S. Senate Race - Both sides in this race have something to cheer and something to be concerned about from this early insight.

For Cotton, he is already competitive with Pryor and has a lot of momentum due to anti-Obama and pro-GOP trends we’ve seen for the last two election cycles in Arkansas. Those headwinds appear to still be prevalent.

However, Cotton is not running away among independent voters in this poll despite, with rare exceptions (Gov. Mike Beebe, for instance), Republicans enjoying 2-to-1, 3-to-1 or greater margins among independent voters in recent cycles.

This is good news for Pryor, whose brand will clearly be competitive for this bloc of crucial voters. As Dr. Barth has noted, Pryor’s ties to national Democrats, which will be a centerpiece of the Cotton campaign, and his poor job approval have not deterred voters from considering him for another term.

Still, he is not near where any incumbent would prefer to be. Cotton will be a stout rival for Pryor and this race may remain neck-in-neck for many more months.

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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