New poll: Idaho races are tight … at this point

Democrats are within striking range in three statewide races, according to a new poll.

But the pollster, Raleigh, N.C.-based Public Policy Polling, says the trend lines would appear to favor Republicans come Election Day.

The poll, released Tuesday, found three races within the statistical margin for error:

Gov. Butch Otter leads Democratic challenger A.J. Balukoff, 39 percent to 35 percent.

In the superintendent of public instruction race, Republican Sherri Ybarra leads Democrat Jana Jones, 41 percent to 38 percent.

In the race for secretary of state, Republican Lawerence Denney leads Democrat Holli Woodings, 38 percent to 35 percent.

That leaves high percentages of undecided voters — or voters supporting third-party candidates for governor. But third-party candidates tend to fade late in elections, and in Idaho, undecided voters tend to break late for Republicans.

“Butch Otter is one of the least popular governors in the country,” said Dean Debnam, president of Public Policy Polling. “But there may not be a state where it’s harder for Democrats to win than Idaho.”

To put these latest poll numbers in perspective, here’s my post from last week on the fundraising in these three races.

Here’s the Public Policy Polling news release, in full:

PPP’s new Idaho poll finds a close race for governor — although there are also strong signals within the poll that the contest might not end up being that close in the end. Incumbent Butch Otter leads with only 39 percent to 35 percent for Democrat A.J. Balukoff. Minor candidates combine for an unusually high 12 percent, and 14 percent of voters are undecided.

The support right now for the minor candidates is a reflection of Otter’s unpopularity. Only 36 percent of voters approve of the job he’s doing to 49 percent who disapprove, and even Republicans are pretty tepid in their feelings about him with 54 percent approving to 27 percent who disapprove. But those voters supporting the minor candidates say they would pick Otter over Balukoff 65/26 if they had to choose between the two, and that’s enough to push Otter’s lead up to 47/38 in a head-to-head contest. Given the tendency for third-party candidates to fade down the stretch, that’s an important data point. Beyond that the undecideds voted for Mitt Romney over Barack Obama 71/16 in 2012, suggesting that if they eventually choose based on party loyalty Otter could ultimately win by double digits despite his current low numbers.

“Butch Otter is one of the least popular governors in the country,” said Dean Debnam, president of Public Policy Polling. “But there may not be a state where it’s harder for Democrats to win than Idaho.”

There are also several down-ballot races right now where Democrats find themselves within striking range. Republican Lawerence Denney leads Holli Woodings only 38/35 for Secretary of State, and Republican Sherri Ybarra leads Democrat Jana Jones just 41/38 for Superintendent of Public Instruction. The undecideds don’t bode terribly well for Democratic chances in these races either though — the ones for secretary of state voted 68/18 for Mitt Romney in 2012, and the ones for superintendent voted 75/12 for Romney. The rest of the Idaho ballot finds Republicans leading by double digits. Jim Risch is up 50/32 on Nels Mitchell for the Senate, Brad Little leads Bert Marley 42/25 for lieutenant governor with Constitution Party candidate David Hartigan at 12 percent, Ron Crane leads Deborah Silver 46/32 for treasurer, and Lawrence Wasden is up 52/26 on Bruce Bistline for attorney general.

PPP surveyed 522 likely voters from Oct. 9 to 12. The margin of error for the survey is +/- 4.3 percent. Eighty percent of interviews for the poll were conducted over the phone with 20 percent interviewed over the internet to reach respondents who don’t have landline telephones. 

Kevin Richert

Kevin Richert

Senior reporter and blogger Kevin Richert specializes in education politics and education policy. He has more than 30 years of experience in Idaho journalism. He is a frequent guest on "Idaho Reports" on Idaho Public Television and "Idaho Matters" on Boise State Public Radio. Follow Kevin on Twitter: @KevinRichert. He can be reached at [email protected]

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