Those are the headlines on a new poll of Alabama voters regarding the 2010 gubernatorial race. The poll was commissioned by Congressman Artur Davis (D, AL-07) who is widely expected to be a candidate on the Democratic side. The survey used random phone numbers -- landlines only -- and was conducted after the winter holidays but before the Inaugural events cranked up. Kay Ivey, Bradley Byrne and Jack Hawkins were the only Republicans mentioned.
Head to Head Matchups with Republicans
BIRMINGHAM - In a survey of 600 Alabamians conducted from January 8-14, 2009, by the polling firm of Anzalone-Liszt Research Inc., U. S. Rep. Artur Davis (D-Bham) is locked in a statistical dead heat with three leading potential Republican candidates for Governor.Davis is tied with State Treasurer Kay Ivey, 42 to 42 percent, leads Two Year College Chancellor Bradley Byrne 42 to 38 percent, and trails Troy University Chancellor Jack Hawkins 39 to 44 percent.
When asked, "In general, are you more likely to vote for a Democrat or a Republican for governor?" 33% said Democrat and 42% said Republican. Notice that when Artur Davis is named as the candidate he polls 6 to 9 points better than a generic Democrat. Interestingly, Hawkins is the only Republican mentioned who polled better than a generic Republican. Anzalone characterized the 2010 gubernatorial race as "incredibly competitive" and noted that, whatever happens with federal races, Democrats in Alabama remain very competitive for statewide offices such as Gov., Lt. Gov., Attorney General and so forth.
Look at the generic ballot numbers again for a moment. 33% would vote Democrat and 42% would vote Republican, leaving 25% in the "persuadable" category. Anzalone says that is 8 points higher than for the presidential race last year. For complex reasons, party is less important to Alabama voters in state elections than federal ones. The fact that no Democratic presidential candidate has campaigned or advertised in Alabama in at least 3 election cycles (or is it 4?) unquestionably enters into it. It's no good to sit on our hands and cry "the Alabama voters just don't like us;" we need to be out there asking for their votes every single election. Showing up is a critical, but oft overlooked step.
Strength Across Racial Lines
This finding is not the least bit surprising:
With black voters, Davis remains by a large margin the most popular political figure at the state political level.Sixty-five percent of black voters hold a favorable opinion of Davis, while only four percent hold an unfavorable view.
Figure Davis will get about 90% of the black vote, but what about the "white vote?" Every time the prospect of a Davis run is mentioned someone brings up the low support Barack Obama received from white voters in Alabama. Remember, the widely quoted 10% figure is based on exit polls -- accuracy unknown. This poll found that Davis runs ahead of the generic Democratic vote with white voters:
vs. Hawkins: Davis is 9 points ahead of the core white Democratic vote
vs. Byrne: Davis is 12 points ahead of the core white Democratic vote
vs. Ivey: Davis is 11 points ahead of the core white Democratic vote
According to Davis' general consultant Ben Chao of Chao Strategy Message and Media Inc., "This poll basically says two important things. One, Congressman Davis can win a statewide campaign for Governor in 2010. Two, Davis has amazing crossover appeal from Republicans and Independents alike in a general election. Its still early but the electability metrics for Davis are through the roof."
Davis' overall popularity ratings with white voters are approximately two to one favorable, with a majority of whites knowing enough about Davis to have an opinion.In comparison, Lt. Governor Jim Folsom also has a favorable to unfavorable ratio of about two to one with white voters.
51% of white Democrats view Davis favorably and only 6% view him unfavorably.
41% of white males age 18 to 54 view him favorably vs. 16 % unfavorably.
38% of white females over 55 view Davis favorably vs. 12% unfavorably.
Among whites age 45 to 54, 39% view Davis favorably, only a 5 points lower than the 44% who view Kay Ivey favorably.
OK, fine. But do these poll respondents realize Artur Davis is black? Just in case, Anzalone-Liszt checked that, too:
According to pollster John Anzalone, "While race is an impossible factor to evaluate in any campaign, it is fair to say that when white voters learn that Davis is black, that fact alone does not shift them away from Davis. On balance, when they are told that he is a black congressman from Birmingham, Davis' support actually moves up in a majority of the white subgroups based on gender and age."
Like Obama was the first serious African-American candidate to seek the presidency, Davis might be the first African-American with a serious chance at the Alabama governorship. That fact alone can pique the interest of certain voters and inject energy into the race -- it certainly did for Obama. Now for the question we have all asked and discussed so often when the subject of a Davis candidacy is raised: Is Alabama ready to elect a black governor in 2010? This survey asked that question and found that ...
A majority (51 percent) agree, while 38 percent disagree.These results are virtually unchanged from the July sample, which split 53 percent agree to 37 percent disagree.
What about the folks who might not vote for a black candidate, but don't want to actually say that to a pollster? Ask them about their family. Apparently pollsters understand that however embarassed we are about our own racist attitudes, we're happy to rat out Uncle Joe Bob or our obnoxious brother-in-law.
Sixty-nine percent of voters overall say that they believe their family members would consider voting for a black candidate for governor, while 18 percent say that their family members would not be willing to consider voting for a black.
Very hopeful. A similar poll in January 2008 found only 38% agreeing that Alabama was ready to elect a black governor in 2010, while 55% disagreed. That was quite a shift from January to July of 2008. What happened? The Iowa caucuses for one thing, and that incredible, interminable primary fight between Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton that had both of them in our living rooms just about every evening from January through June. Might that have prompted a few people to get more comfortable with black candidates in general? Will an Obama presidency make voters even more comfortable with the idea of a black leader? If he leads well, that's exactly what I expect.
The results of this survey are very positive for a Davis candidacy and give hope that Alabama is not as racially polarized as the common wisdom would have us believe. At some point I'd like to see the pollsters include a more far-right Republican in the mix. It's my belief that a Roy Moore type Republican won't fare as well as a moderate in 2010, but it would be interesting to see if a far right candidate affected the racial dynamics a bit.