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WHAS11/CJ Bluegrass Poll: McConnell up 46% - 42% over Grimes

by Joe Arnold


Posted on August 30, 2014 at 7:00 PM

Updated Sunday, Aug 31 at 8:41 PM

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WHAS11) -- Nine weeks until election day, Kentucky's U.S. Senate race remains close, but Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell has improved his lead over Alison Lundergan Grimes in the latest WHAS11/Courier-Journal Bluegrass Poll, from a two point lead one month ago to a four point lead today.

WHAS11/Courier-Journal Bluegrass Poll

46%  McConnell (R)

42%  Lundergan Grimes (D)

5%    Patterson (L)

8%    Undecided

569 likely voters

Margin of error = ± 4.2%

Libertarian David Patterson is down two points since the last poll, now with five percent support.

"It's still close to the margin of error," Democratic strategist Bob Gunnell said.  "(Grimes) still has very much a shot to win, and money will still continue to flow into her campaign."

"I think the McConnell people are going to be very excited about these numbers," said Republican strategist Les Fugate.  "It continues the trend that we've seen in a lot of other polls, both polls for the campaigns and other independent polls. His momentum has slowly picked up since January and moved, once he consolidated the vote after the primary, and he continues to build off of that."

Neither Gunnell or Fugate are affiliated with the campaigns.


Click here for poll results including crosstabs (pdf).


The poll was conducted by SurveyUSA over a three day period, August 25-27, in the middle of the news cycle revealing a recording of McConnell's comments to a gathering of conservative donors tied to the Koch brothers, but prior to the August 29 resignation of McConnell's campaign manager, Jesse Benton, amid an unfolding bribery scandal related to the 2012 Ron Paul presidential campaign.  Benton, the chairman of that campaign, denies any role in the scandal.

It is also the first WHAS11/Courier-Journal Bluegrass Poll conducted since:

  • the political speeches at Fancy Farm,
  • former President Bill Clinton's second trip to Kentucky to campaign with Grimes,
  • questions raised about board fees collected by McConnell's wife, Elaine Chao and
  • questions raised whether Grimes is receiving an illegal in-kind contribution because a company owned by her father is charging the campaign below market rates for her campaign bus.

Survey USA memo:

McConnell's entire lead comes from men, where he is up by 10 points. The contest is effectively even among women. McConnell holds 79% of the Republican base. Grimes holds 67% of the Democratic base. Independents and moderates both break for Grimes. In Western Kentucky, McConnell leads by 23. In Eastern Kentucky, McConnell leads by 27. Grimes keeps it close, with strong performances in greater Louisville, where she leads by 7 points, and in North Central KY, where she leads by 9 points.

The WHAS11/Courier-Journal Bluegrass Poll is conducted by Survey USA in conjunction with the Lexington Herald-Leader and WKYT-TV.

The poll asked registered voters which candidate they trust more to address a variety of issues.  McConnell leads on coal, immigration and foreign policy.  Grimes leads on improving the lives of women.  McConnell's narrow lead on the economy is within the poll's margin of error.

Coal has been king in the race.  Both campaigns have stressed the issue, describing the Obama administration's EPA as waging a "War on Coal" and saying the other would not effectively fight that war.

McConnell is convincingly winning the coal argument in the survey, by a 2:1 advantage.

WHAS11/Courier-Journal Bluegrass Poll

Most effectively fight vs 'War on Coal'

44%  McConnell

22%  Grimes      

24%  No War On Coal

11%  Not Sure   

647 registered voters

Margin of error = ± 3.9%

"The coal issue and the numbers (McConnell) has in coal is driving a lot of the success in Eastern Kentucky," Fugate said. "But even importantly, when the question was asked about coal in Louisville, McConnell even wins in Louisville on who handles the issue on coal most."

McConnell leads 59 percent to 32 percent in Eastern Kentucky, which Survey USA categorizes as the 29 easternmost counties in Kentucky. 

"It's deeply personal in eastern Kentucky," Fugate said.  "That is traditionally an area where Democrats do well and if (McConnell) is driving up that margin so high, it may be a situation where (Grimes) just can't make up the votes in the urban areas to be able to come out on top."

"In eastern Kentucky alone, you can't win as a Democratic candidate and get beat by 24, 25, 26 points," Gunnell agreed.  "So, she has got to close that gap.  And the only way that I see to close the gap is to have Bill Clinton in this state every week campaigning for her because Barack Obama is a noose around her neck."

The poll shows that a majority of Kentucky voters, 53 percent, have a favorable opinion of Clinton, who has a 'Plus 27' favorability rating, while Obama is upside down in his favorability rating at 'Minus 28.'  57 percent of Kentucky voters have an unfavorable opinion of Obama. Only 29 percent have a favorable view of the president.

McConnell's steady improvement in the poll aligns with a narrowing of his own favorability gap:


McConnell's net favorability today is Minus 10 (46% of KY voters have an unfavorable opinion of him, compared to 36% who have a favorable opinion). This is an improvement from May 2014, when McConnell was at Minus 20. Grimes's Net Favorability today is Plus 1 (38% have a favorable opinion of her, compared to 37% who have an unfavorable opinion). Grimes's unfavorable numbers have risen slowly but steadily since May 2014, when she was Plus 8. Patterson has a Minus 6 Net Favorability today, but remains largely unknown (6% like him, 12% dislike him, 46% are neutral, and 36% have no opinion whatsoever).

"If I were (Grimes), I don't think you can change any minds on the coal message, so everyday that she's talking about coal, I think that she's helping Mitch McConnell," Fugate said.

"To me, she's got to find out a way to shift the race to not be about Barack Obama, to not be about coal," Fugate continued, "to not be about all these conservative issues that the voters of Kentucky really get juiced up and want to vote about.  She's got to make it about the individual Mitch McConnell. And McConnell is the master of setting the topic of conversation about races."

WHAS11/Courier-Journal Bluegrass Poll

Trust to improve women's lives?

31%  McConnell

52%  Grimes

5%    Patterson

12%  Not Sure

647 registered voters

Margin of error = ± 3.9%

The only issue where voters trust Grimes more than McConnell is on the question of which candidate they trust more to improve women's lives, a key focus of the Grimes campaign.  Voters favor Grimes 52 percent to 31 percent on the issue.  From the beginning of her campaign, Grimes has made an issue of McConnell's votes on the Violence Against Women Act, Paycheck Fairness Act and Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act.  McConnell has explained that he backs alternative measures which accomplish the same stated purposes yet the details of the legislation differ.


WHAS11/Courier-Journal Bluegrass Poll

Trust on economy?

40%  McConnell

38%  Grimes

5%    Patterson

17%  Not Sure

647 registered voters

Margin of error = ± 3.9%

Though Grimes has hammered McConnell on job creation, in particular his comment to an eastern Kentucky newspaper that it is not his job to bring jobs to Lee County, the five-term incumbent still has a slight advantage on the issue of the economy.

WHAS11/Courier-Journal Bluegrass Poll


Trust on immigration?

40%  McConnell

32%  Grimes

4%    Patterson

24%  Not Sure

647 registered voters

Margin of error = ± 3.9%

McConnell leads Grimes by eight percentage points on who would better handle immigration issues.  In July, Grimes deflected repeated questions whether she supported President Barack Obama's $3.7 billion supplemental spending request to address the humanitarian crisis of unaccompanied child immigrants.  At the time, Grimes would only criticize McConnell for opposing an immigration reform bill.


WHAS11/Courier-Journal Bluegrass Poll

Trust on foreign policy?

43%  McConnell

28%  Grimes

6%    Patterson

24%  Not Sure

647 registered voters

Margin of error = ± 3.9%

McConnell has a 15 point advantage on foreign policy. Grimes has stumbled on several foreign policy questions, raising eyebrows in July when she suggested that Israel's Iron Dome missile defense system helps thwart terrorists using tunnels.  She later clarified that the missile defense system's effectiveness allows Israel to devote more resources to defending itself from tunnel advances.

"Can she do something dramatic to completely alter the race?" Fugate said, "Otherwise, all the trends are pointing in his direction."

"There's lot's of avenues for Alison Lundergan Grimes to win this race," Gunnell said.  "But from this point forward, she's got to run a perfect race."


Cell-phone and home-phone respondents included in this research: SurveyUSA interviewed 700 state of Kentucky adults 08/25/14 through 08/27/14. Of the adults, 647 were registered to vote. Of the registered voters, 569 were determined by SurveyUSA to be likely to vote in the 11/04/14 general election. This research was conducted using blended sample, mixed mode. Respondents reachable on a home telephone (72% of likely voters) were interviewed on their home telephone in the recorded voice of a professional announcer. Respondents not reachable on a home telephone were shown a questionnaire on their smartphone, tablet or other electronic device.