Poll: Undecideds rule in Arkansas Supreme Court contests

by Talk Business & Politics staff ([email protected]) 2,798 views 

A new Talk Business & Politics-Hendrix College Poll of Arkansas voters finds that two incumbent Supreme Court justices lead in their re-election bids, but undecided voters could easily alter the final results.

The survey, conducted Monday, May 2, gathered opinions from 1,436 likely voters and has a margin of error of +/-3.6%. Respondents were asked for whom they planned to vote in the two contested nonpartisan Supreme Court races.

Arkansas Supreme Court, Position 2
23% – Supreme Court Associate Justice Robin Wynne
9% – Judge Chris Carnahan
8% – David Sterling
60% – Don’t know

Arkansas Supreme Court, Position 6
33.5% – Supreme Court Justice Karen Baker
18.5% – Judge Gunner DeLay
48% – Don’t know

These judicial results are the final results to be released in the latest round of TB&P-Hendrix polling, which included matchups for U.S. Senate, Governor, Lt. Governor, Secretary of State and Treasurer. Early voting begins Monday, May 9 and Election Day is Tuesday, May 24.

“Many people are not as attuned to judicial elections, especially at the statewide level. Our latest polling confirms that disconnect,” said Roby Brock, Talk Business & Politics Editor-in-Chief. “That said, the two incumbent court members have leads over their challengers. Short of something highly influential happening between now and Election Day, their titles help their chances for re-election.”

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:

“A flurry of justice-focused positions will also be on the ballot across the state in a nonpartisan primary to take place in conjunction with the party primaries this spring. This includes numerous judgeships and prosecuting attorney positions. Two of those races — for the state Supreme Court — are statewide elections and we took a look at them. In each case, fairly moderate incumbent members of the Supreme Court (each able to identify themselves with the potent title of an incumbent) face off against candidates with deep ties in the Republican Party based on their past elections or their work on behalf of GOP officeholders. One of the two — Justice Karen Baker — has an additional advantage of being the sole woman on the ballot for Supreme Court; in recent elections, women have performed particularly well in judicial races in the state.

“The other incumbent — Justice Robin Wynne — shows a lead against his two opponents: Circuit Judge Chris Carnahan and David Sterling. However, six in ten voters are unclear in their vote intention in the race for Position 2 on the Court meaning that while Wynne is well-positioned to garner a position in a November runoff, it’s uncertain how close he can get to avoiding a second round race. Carnahan has a slight edge over Sterling for second place and his title as a judge certainly gives him an advantage, but this race is very much up for grabs.

“Justice Baker is in a stronger spot with the votes of about one-third of those expecting to vote in the race and a healthy lead over Circuit Judge (and former GOP legislator) Gunner DeLay. Still, just under half of the voters are unclear of their vote intention in the race, leaving some doubt about its outcome, particularly if outside money plays a significant role in the campaign debate in the coming days.

“Both incumbents run particularly strongly with voters of color, with Democratic and Independent voters, and voters with a college degree. Their opponents run well with Republicans, as would be expected, and Carnahan’s slight advantage over Sterling runs from his strength among GOP 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:

“60% of likely primary voters are undecided on their choice in the race for Position 2. Supreme Court Associate Justice Robin Wynne leads the field by a small margin, largely based on his ballot title. Wynne performs a few points better among Democratic primary voters (26%) than with Republican primary voters (20%). Judge Chris Carnahan gets greater support from Republican primary voters (12%) compared to those casting their ballots in the Democratic primary (7%). David Sterling has similar support among both groups. Along age lines, Wynne’s highest support comes from voters under the age of 30 (28%) and those over the age of 65 (25%).

“The current group of undecideds in this race largely matches the overall survey group, apart from being slightly more female, so no obvious advantage emerges for any particular candidate. However the two candidates with the title of “judge” and “justice” should have a slight edge for a win or a runoff.

“Supreme Court Justice Karen Baker currently leads the race for Position 6 with 34% of the vote. Baker has a seven percentage point lead over Judge Gunner DeLay among Republican primary voters and a 28 percentage point lead among Democratic primary voters. The narrower gap among Republican primary voters is driven by the fact that the candidates are tied (27% each) among those that identify themselves as Republicans. Clearly, DeLay has made in-roads with Republican base voters, but with Baker having a decent base of support in both party primary camps, DeLay will have to win Republican primary voters by a comfortable margin to win this contest.”

The survey of 1,436 likely GOP, Democratic, and nonpartisan primary election voters was conducted May 2, 2022, and has a margin of error of +/- 3.6%.

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. Additional methodology is available upon request.

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].