Poll: Sarah Huckabee Sanders leads generic Democrat by 10 points in Arkansas governor’s race

by Roby Brock ([email protected]) 5,629 views 

Photo courtesy of Michael Hibblen, KUAR 89.1 FM.

Less than nine months until Election Day, Republican Sarah Huckabee Sanders has a roughly 10-point lead over a generic Democratic nominee in the race for Arkansas governor.

Sanders was the only announced Republican running for the GOP nomination when the latest Talk Business & Politics-Hendrix College poll was conducted Feb. 7-8, 2022. Talk show host Doc Washburn says he may challenge Sanders in the Republican primary.

There are five Democrats vying for their party nomination for governor – Dr. Anthony Bland, Dr. Chris Jones, Jay Martin, James “Rus” Russell, and Supha Xayprasith-Mays – and one Libertarian Party candidate, Ricky Dale Harrington, Jr.

In the latest poll, 961 likely Arkansas voters were asked:

Q: Sarah Huckabee Sanders is currently the only announced candidate for the Republican nomination for governor in 2022. Several individuals are seeking the Democratic nomination. If the election were held today, would you vote for Sarah Huckabee Sanders, the Democratic nominee, or a third party/independent candidate in this November’s general election?

43.5%  Sarah Huckabee Sanders
34%     Democratic nominee
7.5%    Third Party/Independent
15%      Don’t know

“While this question asks generically about other candidates, it’s clear that Sanders has a healthy lead,” said Roby Brock, Talk Business & Politics editor-in-chief. “She is well below the 50% threshold, but since no major media spending has occurred for any candidate messaging and the election is months away, I consider this a baseline starting point to monitor this race going forward.”

Talk Business & Politics seeks bipartisan input in the construction and analysis of its polls.

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:

“At this point, with the departure of Attorney General Leslie Rutledge to the Lieutenant Governor’s race, Sarah Huckabee Sanders lacks even token opposition in her quest for the Republican nomination for governor. Meanwhile, the field seeking the Democratic nomination has continued to grow with former legislator Jay Martin announcing his intention to file for the office. This provides us the opportunity to gauge Sanders’ standing against the ultimate Democratic nominee along with third party or independent candidates who might end up in the race.

“As expected, Sanders does lead a prospective general election race. Some might be surprised her margin – 44% for Sanders, 34% for the Democratic candidate, and 7.5% for a third party candidate – isn’t even larger. But, even that would be a solid victory. Moreover, while many voters have an abstract desire to support candidates who are neither Republicans nor Democrats, that abstract support rarely becomes reality. Sanders’ monstrous fundraising to date will make her omnipresent as undecided voters begin to focus more fully on the race.

“Sanders does show weakness with voters under 45 years of age, particularly with those under 30. However, she has solid margins with voters above 45 who disproportionately make up the electorate. While significant percentages of the state’s African-American voters have expressed respect for the current Republican governor, Asa Hutchinson, little such openness to Sanders is shown as she trails 72% to 3% with Black voters. The education gap shown in recent elections for national office is shown as Sanders has a solid lead among non-college graduates but runs even with college educated voters. If elected, Sanders would make history as the first woman elected governor in the state. However, while there is a gender gap, it skews more like national elections in the state with Sanders running much stronger among men than women, although about one in five women lack a definitive opinion on their future vote.

“Sanders performs better in the more rural areas of the state (the First and Fourth Congressional Districts), but trails the Democrat in the Second District. In the fast-growing Third Congressional District of Northwest Arkansas, Sanders has a small lead.

“Finally, as expected, partisans are already polarized on their general election vote. Sanders leads, however, among the crucial independent voters (38% for Sanders, 29% for the ultimate Democratic nominee, 13% for another candidate, and 20% undecided).

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:

“In a hypothetical three-way matchup in the general election for governor, Sarah Huckabee Sanders leads a generic Democratic nominee by 10 percentage points, garnering 44% of the vote in this survey. Support for the Democratic Party nominee (34%) is on par with their party’s share of the electorate in recent statewide elections which have hovered between 34% and 36% and may be the statewide ceiling for Democrats. Notably, 7.5% of respondents indicated they would vote for a third party or independent candidate, though that level of support at the ballot box would be out of the norm for a non-major party candidate in a statewide race. Voters may be more inclined to express support for a generic third party candidate that, in their minds, closely reflects their views than they might be to support a specific candidate who ultimately may not.

“Along party lines, Democrats and Republicans broadly plan on supporting their party nominees at 89% and 78%, respectively. Independents favor Sarah Huckabee Sanders by nine percentage points, however 13% favor a third party/independent candidate and 20% say they don’t know who they would support – increasing the importance of communicating to this group of voters in the months leading up to November.

“Huckabee Sanders performs highest among voters 45-64 (50%) and 65+ (48%), while a Democratic nominee leads with voters under 30 (50%) and 30-44 (39%). Huckabee Sanders outperforms a Democratic candidate with men by 15 percentage points, while the gap with female voters is 5 percentage points with 20% who don’t know who they’d choose.

“As Republican and Democratic voters coalesce around their respective party nominees post-primary, independent voters become a critical battleground for both candidates. While all candidates have the potential to make inroads with that group, independents have reliably trended Republican-leaning in recent Arkansas election cycles, giving Huckabee Sanders the clear advantage.”

This survey of 961 likely general election voters was conducted Feb. 7-8, 2022, and has a margin of error of +/- 4.4%. Responses were collected via SMS to an online survey and by phone. The poll is slightly weighted to account for key demographics including age, ethnicity, education, and gender.

Under 30 – 5%
Between 30-44 – 25%
Between 45-64 – 40%
65 and over – 30%

Black 9%
Asian 1%
White 83.5%
Hispanic 1%
Other 5.5%

Party affiliation
Democrat 25.5%
Independent 27.5%
Republican 38%
Other 9%

Female 52%
Male 48%

College graduate 40%
Non-college graduate 60%

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].