Poll: Razor close race in CD2 between French Hill, Joyce Elliott

by Talk Business & Politics staff ([email protected]) 8,034 views 

A new Talk Business & Politics-Hendrix College survey of 698 2nd Congressional District likely voters shows a virtual dead heat between incumbent GOP U.S. Rep. French Hill and his Democratic challenger, State Sen. Joyce Elliott.

2nd District voters are also favoring Joe Biden over President Donald Trump in the Presidential race.

The survey of 698 likely voters from Pulaski, Saline, Faulkner, White, Perry, Conway and Van Buren counties was conducted Sept. 4-9, 2020 and has a margin of error of +/-4.3%.

Q: If the election for Congress in the 2nd Congressional District were being held today, and the candidates were Congressman French Hill, the Republican, and Senator Joyce Elliott, the Democrat, for whom would you vote?

47.5%  Congressman French Hill
46%  Senator Joyce Elliott
6.5%  Don’t know

Q: If the election for President of the United States were being held today, and the candidates were Donald J. Trump, the Republican, Joseph R. Biden, the Democrat, Jo Jorgensen, the Libertarian, and Howie Hawkins, the Green Party candidate, for whom would you vote?

45%  Donald Trump
49%  Joe Biden
1.5%  Jo Jorgensen
0.5%  Howie Hawkins
1.5%  Someone Else
2.5%  Don’t know

“Trump beat Hillary Clinton in the 2nd District in 2016 by nearly 11 percentage points, but today Biden leads by four. This is a remarkable turnaround, and when you look through our poll’s crosstabs you see support for the incumbent President has shrunk among female voters in and out of Pulaski County. Joyce Elliott is benefitting from this trend in her race against French Hill,” said Talk Business & Politics Editor-in-Chief Roby Brock.

This is the first Talk Business & Politics-Hendrix College survey of the 2020 cycle for the 2nd Congressional District. On Friday, results from the survey showed Gov. Asa Hutchinson with a 70%-26% job approval rating among 2nd Congressional District voters.

In recent days, Hill has singled out Elliott’s vote for a 911 funding bill that increased fees on cell phone bills and added a tax on prepaid phone cards. In a TV ad, Hill says, “If my opponent acts this way in Arkansas, just imagine what she’ll do in Washington.”

Elliott has responded with an ad highlighting the bipartisan nature of the measure, which passed 29-3 in the Senate and 85-0 in the House. It was signed into law by Gov. Asa Hutchinson and had support from law enforcement personnel in Arkansas.

Talk Business & Politics seeks bipartisan input in the construction and analysis of its polls. The video at the bottom of this post discusses in-depth this poll’s features and results.

Dr. Jay Barth, emeritus professor of politics at Hendrix College, is active in Democratic Party politics and helped craft and analyze the latest poll. He offered this analysis of the poll results:

“Four years ago, the voters of the 2nd Congressional District gave Donald Trump a double-digit win in central Arkansas; Trump gained just over 52% of the vote in the district while Hillary Clinton gained just below 42%. Much as Barack Obama’s Democrats continually lost ground in rural America (and rural Arkansas) during his time in office, Trump’s Republicans are having major difficulties in more suburbanized districts like CD2 across the country.

“In our survey, Democrat Joe Biden now leads by 49% to 45% over Trump in the district. Several forces are behind this shift. First is geography. Biden is running up a two-to-one margin in Pulaski County, which historically accounts for more than half of the district’s vote; this marks a shift in the Democratic direction from Clinton’s solid 56%-38% win in the county four years ago.

“Perhaps even more important, the most suburbanized counties around Pulaski — Saline and Faulkner — have shifted towards Biden even more markedly. Trump still leads solidly in both counties, but while Clinton gained only 25% in Saline and 31% in Faulkner in 2016, Biden is now within spitting distance of 40% in each. The more exurban and rural four counties in the district have solidly stuck with Trump, but their votes are overwhelmed by shifts in the three larger counties.

“Demographically, the most noticeable patterns relate to sex and education. A massive gender gap shows itself in the presidential race in the district, as across the country. While a majority of men support Trump (53%-41%), a majority of women express a desire to vote for Biden (56%-37%). Also in synch with national trends, college grads veer towards Biden 55% to 39% while voters without a college diploma lean towards the President 49% to 44%.

“A direct correlation also shows itself on age as Biden runs best among the youngest group of voters and worst among those 65 or above; this does deviate slightly from national polling where those in the oldest group are also showing support for the Democrat. Trump leads solidly with white voters while Biden leads overwhelmingly with nonwhite CD2 voters. Finally, in terms of partisanship, while both major party candidates have locked up their fellow partisans, independents and those who support another party in the 2nd District are quite evenly split.

“To be clear, Trump remains favored statewide in Arkansas, but the Democratic success at the presidential level in the 2nd District has major ramifications for the highest-profile race on the ballot in Arkansas in 2020: the race for Congress in the 2nd Congressional District between incumbent Republican U.S. Rep. French Hill and Democratic challenger State Senator Joyce Elliott.

“The congressional race is thoroughly tethered to the presidential race in the current polling with all the geographic, demographic, and political patterns from the presidential race essentially replicated. Thus, while the presidential race is a referendum on Trump, the congressional race — in which Hill has not attempted to separate himself from the top of the ticket — is driven by nationalized patterns. Elliott’s campaign has emphasized her public education credentials, including 30 years as a teacher, which serves her particularly well in suburbanized communities where public schools serve as the glue for communities like Conway, Bryant, and Benton.

“Elliott does run just behind Biden in Pulaski County and needs to close that gap to maximize her vote in the largest county. She does also underperform slightly with younger voters (who are more likely to be undecided) and college-educated voters. Otherwise, the Biden and Elliott coalitions look very much alike.

“With Elliott showing solid fundraising success, all signs point to a very close race in the district before early voting begins. Elliott relies upon Biden maintaining his strong position in the district. Hill either needs Trump to rejuvenate his standing nationally or he must figure out how to subtly separate himself from the President without alienating core Trump voters.”

Robert Coon, managing partner with Impact Management Group, which works with Republican political candidates, also helped craft and analyze the latest poll. He offered this analysis of the poll results:

“Joe Biden leads Donald Trump in all age categories except voters over the age of 65, with significant margins among those under 30 (+11) and 30-44 (+12). Republicans and Democrats are largely voting for their party’s candidates, while Independents lean towards Trump by three percentage points.

“As we’ve seen at the national level, Biden has a significant lead among voters with a college degree (+16), while voters without a college degree lean towards Trump (+4). The most notable gap in this survey falls along gender lines. A majority of men indicate they will vote for Trump (53%), while women prefer Biden (56%). Despite Republican strength in the past few election cycles, the 2nd District is not immune to national trends.

“The race for Congress is highly competitive, with French Hill holding a razor thin lead over Joyce Elliott. In recent elections, Republicans have won this seat by running up high margins in the outlying counties, while hitting a modest floor in Pulaski County. According to this survey, French Hill’s share of the vote outside of Pulaski County currently sits at 61%, whereas in 2018 Hill received 67% of the vote. Joe Biden’s competitiveness outside of Pulaski County appears to be helping Elliott, as she is receiving nearly the same margin of support as Biden in the larger suburban counties like Faulkner (39%) and Saline (38%).

“In addition to the effect that the presidential race is having on this contest, other national trends are evident – specifically an erosion of support for Republicans among women. The views of men and women in this survey are near mirror images of each other with men supporting Hill (57% to 39%) and women supporting Elliott (52% to 39%). This gender gap is consistent with how men and women are breaking between Trump and Biden. Joyce Elliott’s recent ads focusing on education and healthcare are clearly designed to solidify and grow her advantage with women. Notably, 9% of women are still undecided on their choice for Congress, making women a critical area of focus going forward.

“Lastly, while Hill leads among voters over the age of 65 (+6), his lead among this important group is lower than in 2016 when polling showed him with a 16 point advantage with seniors. As with women, a decline in support among older voters for Republican candidates is not unique to Arkansas, yet it’s an essential base that Republican candidates need to win by a wider margin on Election Day.

“With 6.5% of the electorate undecided in this race, it’s important to look at who these undecided voters are. Predominantly they are younger (18-44), non-party identifiers (Independent or something else), female, and Pulaski County residents. To be successful, the candidates will have to not only communicate with these voters in the closing weeks, but they’ll have to communicate with them on the issues that they care about.”

This survey of 698 likely 2nd Congressional District voters was conducted Sept. 4-9, 2020, and has a margin of error of +/- 4.3%. Respondents were contacted via landline telephones and cell phones. The poll is slightly weighted to account for key demographics.

Under 30 – 12%
Between 30-44 – 23%
Between 45-64 – 37%
65 and over – 28%

Black 17%
Asian 1%
White 72%
Hispanic 2%
Native American 1%
Other 5%
Refused 2%

Party affiliation
Democrat 35%
Independent 22%
Republican 33%
Other 8%
Don’t know 2%

Female 52%
Male 48%

College graduate 40%
Non-college graduate 60%

Pulaski 52%
Others 48%

All media outlets are welcome to reprint, reproduce, or rebroadcast information from this poll with proper attribution to Talk Business & Politics and Hendrix College. A link back to this specific story is also required for any digital or online usage by other media outlets.

For interviews, contact Talk Business & Politics Roby Brock by email at [email protected].