Category Archives: Kentucky politics

Public Opinion in the Bluegrass: Three Types of Kentucky Voters


What are the major public opinion coalitions among Kentuckians? Is it as simple as blue voters vs. red voters, Democrats vs. Republicans? Or is there more nuance among Kentuckians when it comes to their political policy views?

The 2019-2020 Nationscape Survey fielded nationally-representative surveys on a weekly basis throughout the 2020 presidential election cycle, resulting in over 315,000 completed surveys. Over 6,000 of these respondents were Kentuckians. This is one of the largest surveys of American public opinion ever fielded and allows for an unprecedented level of in-depth analysis of American political attitudes and behavior, with a margin of error for the Kentucky sample of approximately ±1.3%.

I analyzed this survey to identify different “clusters” of policy opinion coalitions among Kentuckians. This analysis is based on Pew Research Center’s “Political Typology” research that identified a variety of consistent groups into which Americans tend to fall in terms of their political opinions. Pew’s Political Typology identified, for instance, differences between “core conservatives” who hold consistently conservative views across a range of different political and social topics and “market skeptic Republicans” who are socially conservative but are generally in favor of stricter regulations on financial institutions and economic transactions. (In all, Pew identified eight different political groups in their analysis of American public opinion.) To analyze whether there are any similar dominant public opinion groupings in Kentucky specifically, I used the same statistical approach employed by Pew and identified three key public opinion groups.[FN1]

The three groups, their political views, and their demographic characteristics are shown in the tables below:

About one-third of Kentuckians
About one-in-five Kentuckians
About half of all Kentuckians
Four-in-five identify as Republicans and over 90% voted for Trump

Tend to be older, economically affluent, white, Evangelical, and straight  

Consistently conservative policy views

Over half regularly watch Fox News

Half are gun owners
Two-thirds identify as Democrats

Strongly opposed to Trump

Tend to be younger women, economically affluent, racially/ethnically/sexually diverse, and less religious

Consistently liberal policy views, especially on issues of race, sexuality, and culture  
Tend to split between Democrats and Republicans

Liberal economic and environmental policy views but conservative social policy views  

Tend to be women, more racially/ethnically diverse, moderately religious, and straight  

Most are lower class or middle class

Political attitudes and behavior among Kentucky public opinion groups

 Core Conservatives   37% of KentuckiansSolid Liberals   20% of KentuckiansPragmatic Moderates   46% of Kentuckians
Things in U.S. are generally headed in the right direction55.613.928.7
Things in U.S. are off on the wrong track38.273.158.8
Viewed MSNBC in past week14.834.731.1
Viewed FOX in past week51.928.237.5
Somewhat/strong Trump approval rating79.720.443.7
Voted for Trump in 201686.915.647.5
Support Trump’s Jan 2020 impeachment5.556.840
Plan to vote Trump in 2020 election against Joe Biden78.318.940.2
Agree that Blacks should work way up without special favors69.728.854.4
Disagree that slavery and discrimination make it difficult for Blacks to leave lower class58.917.436.7
Agree that there is a lot/great deal of anti-Black discrimination in U.S. society2373.751.3
Conservative 58.1 6.5 36.9
Someone in household owns a gun48.724.429.4
Ban assault rifles23.859.653.8
Build a wall on southern U.S. border68.310.537.8
Cap carbon emissions23.175.263.0
Raise taxes on families making more than $250K/year28.953.356.5
Allow abortion only in special circumstances26.370.546.6
Legalize marijuana37.071.368.8
Medicare for All16.561.971.2
Raise minimum wage to $15/hour26.277.379.6
Ban travel from Muslim countries36.88.024.2
Allow transgender in military30.679.959.8
Note: All the figures reported above include the proportion who fit the survey question option indicated, including those who reported “don’t know” or “not sure.”

Demographic characteristics of Kentucky public opinion groups

 Demographic % of all KentuckiansCore Conservatives   37% of KentuckiansSolid Liberals   20% of KentuckiansPragmatic Moderates   46% of Kentuckians
Less than high school14.212.11314.8
High school degree26.324.91829.6
Some college36.938.340.436.9
Post-grad degree10.810.412.69.6
Lower class (less than $50K/year)43.631.839.751.7
Middle class ($50K-$125K/year)38.846.543.230.9
Upper class (more than $125K/year)17.721.717.116.4
Other race/ethnicity21.12.53
Evangelical Protestant34.245.214.634.8
Non-Evangelical Protestant21.320.321.121.1
Latter-day Saint0.610.80.3
Other religion3.
“Nothing in particular”16.213.719.916.6
Congressional District 1 (western KY)16.918.31316.8
Congressional District 2 (central-west KY)17.818.314.418.9
Congressional District 3 (Louisville)14.58.717.718.2
Congressional District 4 (northern KY)18.519.922.915
Congressional District 5 (eastern KY)17.518.812.919.3
Congressional District 6 (Lexington/Frankfort)14.81619.111.9
Pure Independent138.515.914.5
Note: All the figures reported above include the proportion who fit the survey question option indicated, including those who reported “don’t know” or “not sure.”


The first group can be characterized, following Pew’s labels, as “Core Conservatives” and are strongly supportive of President Donald Trump (recall that this survey was conducting during 2019-2020 during the Trump Administration). These make up a solid third (34%) of all Kentuckians. Politically, 78% identify as Republicans compared to only 14% who identify as Democrats and only 9% who identify as Independents. Most identify as ideologically conservative while a quarter identify as moderate. Nine in ten voted for Trump in the 2016 presidential election and nearly four years later, four in five approved of his performance in office and planned to vote for him again in the 2020 election, while only 6% thought he should be impeached over his overtures toward Ukraine to get involved in the 2020 election. Over half say they watch Fox News on a regular basis to get their news. Two thirds (68%) support Trump’s border wall and half (49%) support Trump’s travel ban on those from majority-Muslim countries. They strongly oppose most liberal priorities, with only 23% supporting a carbon cap, 24% supporting an assault rifle ban, 26% supporting conditional abortion rights, 21% supporting Medicare for All, and 26% supporting raising the minimum wage to $15/hour. They also show consistently high levels of racial resentment and are skeptical of claims that there is widespread discrimination against Blacks in contemporary American society.

Demographically, Kentucky’s Core Conservatives tend to be older (about a third each are GenXers and Baby Boomers). There are equal numbers of men and women in this group, and they tend to be more economically affluent, with two-thirds being either middle or upper class. They are also racially homogenous (89% white) and mostly heterosexual (94%). They are also most likely to identify as Evangelical Protestants (45%) with another 31% identifying with some other Christian denomination. Geographically, they tend to be found in all parts of Kentucky, although relatively fewer tend to be present in Congressional District 3 (Louisville). Also, nearly half (49%) report that they own a gun.


Again borrowing Pew’s labels, the second group can be described as “Solid Liberals” and comprise one in five (20%) of all Kentuckians. Two-thirds of Kentucky’s Solid Liberals identify as Democrats, while the remainder are split evenly between Independents and Republicans. Half identify as ideologically liberal and a third as moderate (only 7% identify as conservative). Solid Liberals are most strongly characterized by their opposition to President Trump—only 18% voted for him in 2016 and about as many approved of his job performance and planned to vote for him in 2020. A full 76% approved of Trump’s January 2020 impeachment. During 2019-2020, they were also very pessimistic about the direction of the country, with 73% saying that America was “off on the wrong track” and only 13% saying things were going “in the right direction.”

In terms of policy views, Solid Liberals in Kentucky can be characterized as consistently liberal. About three in five support an assault rifle ban and enacting Medicare for All. Somewhere between two-thirds and three-quarters are in favor of carbon emission caps, permitting abortion in cases other than rape, incest, or risk to health of the mother, legalizing marijuana, and raising the minimum wage. Four in five support allowing transgender people to serve in the military. Only one in ten support Trump’s border wall and a Muslim-majority country travel ban. Only about a quarter show racial resentment attitudes and three-quarters believe that there is a great deal of anti-Black discrimination in American society.

Demographically-speaking, Kentucky’s Solid Liberals are a little more likely to be women (57%) and skew younger, with more than half (51%) in the GenZ or Millennial generation. Similar to the Core Conservatives, three in five are either middle or upper class. Nearly a quarter are racial/ethnic minorities, with 6% identifying as Latino, 10% Black, and 5% Asian. One in five identify as LGBTQ+ and among all three groups they are least likely to identify as Evangelical Protestants (15%) and most likely to identify as atheist/agnostic (21%) or “nothing in particular” (20%). A majority of Kentucky’s Solid Liberals live in Congressional Districts 3, 4, or 6, the traditional “northern triangle” of Kentucky comprising Louisville, Lexington, and northern Kentucky.


The final political group we might call Kentucky’s “Pragmatic Moderates” and constitute nearly half (46%) of Kentuckians. They are split in their party loyalties, with 46% identifying as Democrats and 39% as Republicans. They are similarly split in their ideological identification, with 38% claiming a “moderate” label, 37% conservative, and 19% liberal. Their views of Donald Trump are similarly mixed—half voted for Donald Trump in 2016 and in the lead-up to the 2020 election, 43% approved of his job performance and 40% planned to vote for him again, while 47% supported his January 2020 impeachment.

What distinguishes these Pragmatic Moderates from either Solid Liberals or Core Conservatives is that they tend to support liberal economic and environmental policy but are more moderate when it comes to social and identity issues. For example, they are about as likely as Solid Liberals to support Medicare for All (71%), legalizing recreational marijuana (69%), and raising taxes on high-income Americans (57%). They also tend to be skeptical about some of President Trump’s signature policies, with only 38% supporting the U.S.-Mexico wall and 24% supporting the ban on Muslims traveling to the U.S. More similar to Core Conservatives, however, they are mixed on supporting broad abortion access (47%) and have more moderate levels of racial resentment; only half agree that there is a lot of discrimination against Blacks in today’s society.

In terms of demographics, Kentucky’s Pragmatic Moderates skew a little toward female (similar to Solid Liberals) with women comprising 58% of the group. They are similarly diverse when it comes to race/ethnicity, with 77% identifying as white, 8% as Latino, and 10% Black. Similar to Core Conservatives, however, they are largely heterosexual (93%) and 35% identify as Evangelical Protestants, with another third claiming some other Christian identity. What is unique about this group in terms of demographics, though, is that more than half (52%) are lower class, earning less than $50,000/year, and only 19% have a college degree (compared to 25% of Core Conservatives and 29% of Solid Liberals). They also tend to be found all around Kentucky, perhaps a little less so in Congressional District 6 (Lexington). Essentially, what characterizes Kentucky’s Pragmatic Moderates is that they are more financially insecure, possibly leading them to support more liberal economic policies while exhibiting measured views toward social policies.

As always, though, demographic indicators are often strongly correlated with one another, making it unclear which characteristics have independent correlations with other factors of interest. Using a more sophisticated statistical analysis that identifies unique correlations between the various political and demographic variables as well as which of the three clusters discussed above (once controlling for the overlapping correlations of all the factors simultaneously including partisan identity) we find that the strongest demographic predictor of a Kentuckian’s public opinion cluster group is religion, specifically whether or not someone identifies as atheist/agnostic.[FN2] Secular Kentuckians make up about 9% of Kentucky’s population and are most likely to be in the Solid Liberal group—58% are Solid Liberals while 29% are Pragmatic Moderates and only 13% are Core Conservatives.

Another key factor revealed by this analysis is race/ethnicity. Blacks, Asians, and “other” identifiers in Kentucky are more likely to be Pragmatic Moderates and less likely to be Core Conservatives than their partisanship would suggest. A full 62% of Black and “other” race/ethnicity-identifying Kentuckians are Pragmatic Moderates, with only a quarter as Solid Liberals and about one in ten Core Conservatives. Similarly, Latinos are less likely to be Solid Liberals than their partisanship would suggest, with only 17% of Latinos being Solid Liberals, 55% Pragmatic Moderates, and 37% Core Conservatives.

Of course, a key question, especially for statewide political candidates, is how many of each of these groups show up on Election Day and who they (might) vote for. This table shows the overall percentage of Kentuckians who said that they voted in the 2016 election who fall into each public opinion group, separated by their political partisanship:

Proportion of regular voting Kentucky electorate, by partisanship and public opinion group

 Core ConservativesSolid LiberalsPragmatic Moderates
Democrat/leaner5.6 (46%)15.8 (10%)20.3 (10%)
Pure Independent1.2 (77%)1.1 (62%)1.7 (62%)
Republican/leaner35.1 (98%)1.7 (72%)17.5 (95%)

This table shows us, for instance, that the largest voting bloc in Kentucky are Core Conservative Republicans who make up 35% of the electorate—Donald Trump received 98% of the two-party vote from this group in 2016. The second largest is the Pragmatic Moderate Democrats who make up 20% of the electorate—Hillary Clinton received 90% of their two-party vote in 2016. Pragmatic Moderate Republicans, for their part, are about 18% of Kentucky’s electorate and voted overwhelmingly for Donald Trump, although not at the same rate as Core Conservative Republicans. Solid Liberal Democrats are 16% of Kentucky’s electorate and Hillary Clinton won 90% of their two-party votes in 2016.

Republicans hoping to win statewide office in Kentucky, then, really only need the support of Core Conservative and Pragmatic Moderate Republicans to achieve a comfortable majority of the regular Kentucky electorate (53%). Democrats, on the other hand, have an uphill battle to get a majority. Securing the support of Solid Liberal and Pragmatic Moderate Democrats puts them at 36% of the electorate, but even then about 10% of this group tends to cross party lines and vote for Republicans (at least at the national level), putting Democratic candidate votes at closer to 33% of the electorate. They would need to win all Core Conservative Democrats, all Independents (regardless of their ideological group), all Solid Liberal Republicans, and peel off about a quarter of the Pragmatic Moderate Republicans to get to a majority statewide, a challenging task indeed. (Of course, the bar may be a lower if there is a competitive third-party candidate who draws votes away from the Republican candidate.)

This may explain how Republican candidates have won statewide elections in recent years in Kentucky, even though Democrats had a lock on statewide offices for most of the 20th century and Kentucky Democrats are still a sizeable portion of the electorate. The 2019 vote totals for Republican candidates for Agricultural Commissioner, Treasurer, Auditor, Secretary of State, and Attorney General were 58%, 61%, 56%, 53%, and 58%, respectively. This also helps explain Kentucky’s patterns in statewide votes for federal office, including Mitch McConnell’s 58% and Rand Paul’s 57% share of the vote in the 2020 and 2016 U.S. Senate elections, respectively, and Donald Trump’s 62% and 63% attainment in the 2020 and 2016 presidential elections, respectively.[FN3]

FN1 Specifically, this analysis used a k-means cluster analysis data reduction procedure that identifies correlation patterns among various indicators across multiple cases. The goal of the procedure is to identify groups that are consistently homogenous across selected variables. In this case, the clustering procedure was performed among Kentucky respondents only in the Nationscape dataset. Political attitudes included in the analysis were a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants, building a wall on the Southern U.S. border, racial resentment, gender resentment, carbon caps, assault rifle bans, eliminate estate tax, raising taxes on those making more than $600,000/year, eliminating debt for graduates of public colleges, conditional abortion access, public option for health insurance, and subsidizing health insurance premiums with taxpayer dollars, preferences for small government with fewer services vs. larger government with more services, and the extent to which the government should try to preserve traditional values. For more information, see here: Pew Research Center. 2017. “Appendix 2: About the Political Typology.”

FN2 Specifically, using a multinomial regression analysis to generate predicted probabilities of belonging to each of the three public opinion categories, using Pragmatic Moderates as the reference category and including gender, age, education, economic class, race/ethnicity, sexual orientation, religious affiliation, and Congressional district as the independent variables.

FN3 At the same time, Democrat Andy Beshear managed to win an extremely close gubernatorial election in 2019, but this will likely be an outlier going forward given incumbent Matt Bevin’s tenure as governor had sparked numerous controversies, including alienating key constituencies as well as many Republicans in the state legislature, see Cizmar, Anne. 2019. “The Democrats’ Kentucky Win Is an Outlier Which Tells Us Little about 2020.”

Which Kentucky Democratic primary candidate is best positioned to challenge Mitch McConnell in November 2020?


Senator Mitch McConnell

There are ten Democrats vying for the honor of challenging incumbent Senator Mitch McConnell this fall. The three most prominent are Amy McGrath, a retired Marine Corps Lt. Colonel who narrowly lost a 2018 challenge to incumbent Congressman Andy Barr in Kentucky’s 6th district, Kentucky State Representative Charles Booker, and Marine Corps veteran Mike Broihier.


Amy McGrath

In a recent debate, McGrath presented herself as an electable moderate who can appeal to Trump voters while Booker and Broihier hammered her for these moderate positions and presented themselves as solidly liberal alternatives. While there is, again, a conspicuous absence of head-to-head polling in this race, McGrath is heavily favored to win due to her name recognition and fundraising advantage, as well as her strong endorsement by the DSCC. That said, Booker’s profile has risen in recent days due to his visible participation in the ongoing protest events in Louisville surrounding the deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and others.


Charles Booker

All three argue that they are the best bet to beat McConnell this fall, and have drawn attention to the smattering of polls from January that show McConnell and McGrath or a generic Democratic challenger in a statistical tie.


Mike Broihier

The fundamentals are that partisans tend to vote for their party’s candidate in federal-level elections, and roughly 53% of Kentucky voters identify as Republicans or Republican-leaners. Assuming this pattern holds, the Democratic Senate nominee will need to persuade and mobilize the handful of voters who identify as pure Independents as well as a critical mass of Kentucky Republican voters, 90% of whom have a favorable view of Donald Trump, in order to win.

There is some recent precedent for this. Last year, Democratic Governor Andy Beshear won an extremely narrow victory over unpopular Republican incumbent Matt Bevin by, in part, winning 16% of Republican voters. This may not be a “perfect parallel,” though, as Perry Bacon Jr. has written, “because governors races tend to be more localized and Senate races more nationalized. In 2016, every U.S. Senate election was won by the same party that won the presidential race in that state.”

The key question, I think, will be whether Kentucky Republican voters see Mitch McConnell as more like Trump (who they like a lot) or more like former Governor Matt Bevin (who they didn’t like as much). If they see McConnell more likely they see Trump, he’ll probably have a relatively easy path to reelection. If they see him more like Bevin, though, then the Democratic candidate might have a shot if he or she can peel off some Republican voters. Which candidate is best poised to do that?

A 2019 Kentucky exit poll fielded by yours truly and a collaborative of political scientists from institutions around Kentucky showed that among these 16% of Republican voters who crossed party lines to vote for Andy Beshear, 42% said they had a very/somewhat favorable view of Joe Biden and 27% said the same about Bernie Sanders.

Now, Biden and Sanders are not the same people as McGrath, Booker, and Broihier. That said, if Kentucky voters are thinking in terms of ideological lanes and strategy styles, Biden and McGrath both present themselves as pragmatic moderates and Sanders, Booker, and Broihier present themselves as more consistent ideologues.

If (and it’s a big IF) those same Republican-Beshear voters think about the Senate race the same way they did about the governors race last year, this would suggest that McGrath has an edge over Booker or Broihier in attracting Republicans who might be willing to cross party lines, as they more of them view Joe Biden favorably compared to Bernie Sanders.

Digging even deeper, this same exit poll shows that among Kentucky Republicans who have a favorable view of Donald Trump but an unfavorable view of Mitch McConnell, 22% view Biden favorably compared to 16% who view Sanders favorably. Again, assuming that they view the Senate race the same way they did about the governors race last year, McGrath has a very small edge in the likelihood of attracting Republican voters  who like Trump but not McConnell.

The bottom line? This November, most Kentucky Republicans will vote for McConnell and most Kentucky Democrats will vote for the Democratic candidate, regardless of whoever wins the primary election this month. All three leading Democratic primary candidates would have a shot of peeling off the Republican votes that they would need to win, but the exit poll shows some evidence that, all other things being equal, Amy McGrath might be able to peel off a few more than either Charles Booker or Mike Broihier.


Strategic voting in a presidential primary after a presumptive nominee is selected

So for those who haven’t still voted in the spring primary presidential election, how are you all thinking about the voting choice?
At this point both parties have presumptive nominees and that very, very, very likely will not change regardless of whom we cast our vote for. How does that factor into your voting choice?

National convention delegates are allocated both state-wide and by congressional district. A candidate has to get 15% of the vote either state-wide or in a district to get a delegate to go to the convention. In Kentucky where I live, Biden is projected to get about 2/3 of the vote in Kentucky and Sanders 1/3 of the vote, so they’re likely the only two to get delegates from Kentucky.
One option is to vote for either Biden or Sanders, regardless of who your original preference was. This way you get a voice in sending delegates to the convention who generally correspond to your vision of the direction you’d like the Democratic Party to go over the next four years (as delegates help write the platform and rules).
Another option is to vote for whoever was your original preferences (if not Biden or Sanders) with the idea that a higher popular vote (even if no delegates) corresponds to more visibility and sends a signal to Biden about which candidates/platforms were popular, and potentially also popularity as a potential VP pick or cabinet position nominee.
National convention delegates are allocated on a winner-take-all basis. Whoever wins the most wins all of the delegates. The two options on the ballot in Kentucky will be Trump and “uncommitted.”
For most Republicans the obvious choice is to vote for Trump as he’s the only candidate on the ballot.
For the few Republicans that are dissatisfied with the way that Trump has changed the Republican Party over the last 4 years, do they vote for “uncommitted” on principle even though “uncommitted” will almost certainly not get any delegates? Or is this worth it to rack up the “uncommitted” vote just to send a message?

How are you all thinking about this? What factors are relevant to your primary vote now that the nominees are set?

Kentucky exit poll suggests more warning signs for Mitch McConnell than for Donald Trump in the aftermath of Tuesday’s gubernatorial election


There has been no small amount of punditry this week on what implications, if any, Kentucky Governor Matt Bevin’s narrow loss to Democratic challenger Andy Beshear might have for President Trump or Senator McConnell in 2020 next year.

Some have argued that Bevin’s loss was “a smack at both Mitch McConnell and the president, sending up a cautionary note” while others have said that Bevin’s loss “tells us nothing about McConnell’s chances in 2020.”

The 2019 Collaborative Kentucky Exit Poll (CKEP) surveyed nearly 4,000 voters in Tuesday’s gubernatorial election. The results offer some clues into what Bevin’s loss might mean for 2020 for both Trump and McConnell.

President Trump

Partisan identity is the strongest and most consistent predictor of presidential voting patterns in modern American elections. The CKEP survey showed that Republicans (and Republican leaners) made up about 53% of Kentucky voters in this Tuesday’s election. The survey also showed that 88% of Kentucky Republicans say that they have a very/somewhat favorable view of Trump as well as roughly half of Kentucky Independents (who made up about 6% of all voters). If these patterns hold through next year, Trump is on track to win roughly 55% of the vote next year, give or take.

But what about the Kentucky Republicans who crossed party lines to vote for Andy Beshear last week? The CKEP survey showed that one in six Republicans (16%) voted for Beshear. Given the similarities of their campaigns and the governing styles of Trump and Bevin, would those same 16% be persuadable to vote for a Democrat for president in 2020?

Not necessarily. It turns out that Trump has a 55% favorability rating among those Republicans who voted for Democrat Andy Beshear for governor. Among that same group, only 42% view Biden favorably and 34% view Warren favorably.

Does favorability, though, translate into voting? The Boyle County portion of the KCEP asked voters whether they believed that various elected officials deserved reelection or whether it was time to give someone else a shot. Among Boyle County voters, 92% of those who view Trump favorably believe he deserves reelection compared to only 5% among those who view him unfavorably. So it’s fairly safe to assume that for President Trump, favorability and intention to vote are virtually interchangeable.

Let’s say roughly half of the Republican-Beshear voters (8% of all voters in Kentucky voters on Tuesday) who have an unfavorable view of Trump (45% of them) defect to the Democratic candidate in 2020. That’d put Trump somewhere around 51%-52%. This is definitely close, but still enough to win the state.

The bigger takeaway, in my view, is that Kentucky voters did not end up linking their views of Donald Trump and Matt Bevin in Tuesday’s election as strongly as either of them had intended and hoped for.

Mitch McConnell

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell will be running for reelection as Kentucky’s senior senator next year. The CKEP survey revealed that McConnell is not as popular as Donald Trump in his own home state. McConnell is viewed either somewhat or very favorably by 46% of Kentucky voters on Tuesday compared to 55% who say the same about President Trump.

Also, the link between favorability, partisanship, and reelection is a little weaker for Mitch McConnell than it is for Donald Trump.

For example, McConnell enjoys only about a 74% favorability rating among Kentucky Republican/leaners, 44% among Independents, and 11% among Democrats/leaners. Also, when we drill down into opinions on reelection among Boyle County voters specifically, a full 19% of those who view McConnell favorably think he should not be reelected. Also, one full third (31%) of Boyle County Republican/leaners think he should not be reelected.

As far as the link between attitudes toward McConnell and Trump, only 81% of those who view Trump favorably see McConnell favorably while 92% of those who view Trump unfavorably also view McConnell unfavorably.

Looking again at those Republican-Beshear voters which made up about 8% of the electorate on Tuesday, McConnell has a 62% unfavorability rating. If that same group is willing to cross party lines again next year (emphasis: a big ‘if’!), that’s potentially 10% of Kentucky Republicans (or 5% of everyone who voted this past Tuesday) who might be persuadable to support a Democrat in next year’s Kentucky senate race.

Of course, the odds are still in McConnell’s favor given that Kentucky is a red state and that he outperformed the October polls by about 6% in his last Senate race in 2014. It’s still an uphill battle for any Democrat looking to take on the nation’s Senate Majority Leader.

At the same time, McConnell’s support among Republicans and those who approve of President Trump is weaker than he would prefer going into an election year. Kentucky Democrats will be strongly motivated to knock him out and will likely turn out en masse to vote against President Trump as well in 2020.

This suggests that one good strategy for Kentucky Democrats might be to focus their efforts on the 16% of Republicans who were willing to cross party lines to vote for Beshear last week. The CKEP survey showed that nearly two in five of these (38%) were under age 40. It may be a smart move for the eventual Democratic nominee to focus his or her appeal on Kentucky’s younger voters.

2019 Boyle County Exit Poll: Topline Results

A PDF version of this report is available here.

The 2019 Boyle County Exit Poll (BCEP) was administered by Dr. Benjamin Knoll, Dr. Ryan Lloyd, and Dr. Jaclyn Johnson of Centre College in Boyle County, Kentucky on November 5, 2019. This 2019 BCEP is part of a wider series of surveys administered around Kentucky on Election by researchers at the University of Kentucky, Morehead State University, Campbellsville University, and the University of Cincinnati.

Approximately 75 Centre College students were on-site from 6:00 AM through 6:00 PM surveying voters as they left the polling locations. Respondents were randomly selected by interviewers to participate in the survey. In all, 1,832 Boyle County voters participated in the exit poll. For comparison, the Kentucky Secretary of State’s website reports that 10,400 individuals voted in Boyle County on Election Day, meaning that this survey contains the views of approximately 1 out of every 6 voters in Boyle County.

This year’s survey had a response rate of 55.1%. (We asked a total of 3,325 people to take the survey and 1,832 of them agreed.) This is slightly higher than the response rates that were achieved in previous Boyle County Exit Poll years of 48.4% in 2016, 47.5% in 2015, 47.4% in 2014, and 50.5% in 2012. (This is similar to other national exit poll response rates.)

It should be noted that this is an exit poll of voters only and therefore these figures should not be interpreted as fully representative of all adults in Boyle County, but rather of 2019 Election Day voters in Boyle County, Kentucky. The margin of error for the full sample is ±2% and approximately ±3.5% for subsamples.

We gratefully acknowledge the assistance of Michele Margolis, Dan Hopkins, and David Azizi at the University of Pennsylvania for their valuable assistance in preparing and processing the survey results. All errors are our own.



The following tables are read going across. Example: 54.6% of men voted for Bevin compared to 42.6% who voted for Beshear, while 42.7% of women voted for Bevin compared to 56% who voted for Beshear.

Figures due not round to 100% due to a small number of write-in candidates for each office.

Male 54.6% 42.6% 2.9%
Female 42.7% 56% 1.2%
White 51.9% 45.8% 2.2%
Black 15.9% 84.2% 0%
Other race/ethnicity 41.3% 58.7% 0%
Income over $50K/year 47.3% 50.6% 2%
Income $20K-$50K/year 52.2% 44.1% 2.8%
Income uncer $20K/year 43.2% 53.8% 3%
High school or less 53.8% 41.2% 4.3%
Some college 47.9% 51.3% 0.7%
College degree 38.2% 49.6% 2.4%
Age under 40 36% 60% 4%
Age 40-64 61.6% 46.3% 2.1%
Age over 65 53.8% 45.6% 0.6%
Attend religious services weekly or more 57.8% 40.5% 1.7%
Attend religious services sometimes 45.9% 51.4% 1.6%
Attend religious services never 29.5% 66% 4.6%
Consider yourself an Evangelical or ‘born-again’ Christian? 60.8% 37.9% 1.3%
Do NOT consider yourself an Evangelical or ‘born-again’ Christian 30.4% 65.8% 3.8%



Kentucky’s economy has gotten better recently 79.9% 16.3% 3.7%
Kentucky’s economy has gotten worse lately 5.8% 92.8% 1.4%
Kentucky’s economy has stayed the same recently 24.3% 74% 1.6%
Trump’s trade war with China has had a positive impact on Kentucky’s economy 85.2% 12.7% 2.2%
Trump’s trade war with China has had a negative impact on Kentucky’s economy 11.4% 85.5% 3.1%
Trump’s trade war with China has had no impact on Kentucky’s economy 49.7% 48.5% 1.4%



Republicans 81.8% 15.3% 2.3%
Democrats 5.4% 93.6% 1.1%
Independents 42.4% 45.44% 12.3%
Favorable view of Donald Trump 82.1% 15.9% 2%
Unfavorable view of Donald Trump 7.2% 89.7% 3.2%
Voted for Cameron (R) for Attorney General 80.8% 15.6% 3.7%
Voted for Stumbo (D) for Attorney General 6.2% 92.8% 1%
Voted for Adams (R) for Sec of State 83.5% 12.6% 3.4%
Voted for Henry (D) for Attorney General 9.1% 89.4% 1.4%



Republicans 81.8% 15.3% 2.3%
Democrats 5.4% 93.6% 1.1%
Independents 42.4% 45.44% 12.3%


Republicans 92.2% 7%
Democrats 9.1% 90.3%
Independents 64.1% 35.6%


Republicans 88.7% 11.3%
Democrats 4% 95.4%
Independents 49.7% 45.2%




“What is the single most important problem our local area needs to solve? (check only one)”

  • Prescription drug abuse: 21.5%
  • Crime 17.8%
  • Education 15.7%
  • Job creation 10.8%
  • Roads and sidewalks: 10.3%
  • Economic development: 7.1%
  • High taxes: 7%
  • Health care availability: 4.7%
  • Racial/ethnic tension 3.3%
  • Expansion of parks/trails: 1.1%
  • Expansion of cultural opportunities: 0.8%

“Over the past year, do you believe that Danville/Boyle County’s economy has generally…?”

  • Gotten better: 37.2%
  • Stayed the same: 55.5%
  • Gotten worse: 7.3%

“Over the past year, do you believe that Kentucky’s economy has generally…?”

  • Gotten better: 42.6%
  • Stayed the same: 39.5%
  • Gotten worse: 17.9%

Regarding the “recent lane reconfiguration on Danville’s main street”: 80.8% approve and 19.2% disapprove.

Regarding ranked choice voting, where voters cast their ballots by “voting for political candidates by ranking in order of preference (1st, 2nd, 3rd) instead of choosing one of several options”: 46.4% approve, 53.6% disapprove.

“Do you think the following officials have performed well enough to deserve re-election, or do you think it’s time to give a new person a chance?” Proportion who said “deserves re-election” for each elected official/entity:

  • Boyle County Judge Executive Howard Hunt: 60.5% (79.3% of Republicans, 38.8% of Democrats, and 48.9% of Independents)
  • Boyle County Fiscal Court: 57.8% (67.1% of Republicans, 47.3% of Democrats, and 54.4% of Independents)
  • Danville Mayor Mike Perros: 46.2% (53.4% of Republicans, 36.3% of Democrats, and 54.5% of Independents)
  • Danville City Commission: 55.6% (54.4% of Republicans, 57.3% of Democrats, and 53.8% of Independents)



The following table is read going across. Example: 43% of Boyle County voters have a “very favorable” view of Donald Trump, 12.3% of a “somewhat favorable view,” etc.

“Please tell us how you feel about:”

Very favorable Somewhat favorable Somewhat unfavorable Very unfavorable
President Donald Trump 43% 12.3% 6.2% 38.5%
Senator Mitch McConnell 22.6% 24.5% 13.1% 39.9%
Senator Elizabeth Warren 13.1% 31.1% 15.1% 39.8%
Former Vice President Joe Biden 17.3% 27.8% 16.2% 38.7%
Senator Bernie Sanders 14.2% 26.5% 14.6% 44.7%


  • Donald Trump somewhat/very favorable among: 88.3% of Republicans, 10.3% of Democrats, 64.2% of Independents.
  • Senator Mitch McConnell somewhat/very favorable among: 75.2% of Republicans, 10.5% of Democrats, and 60.4% of Independents.
  • Senator Elizabeth Warren somewhat/very favorable among: 17.8% of Republicans, 76.7% of Democrats, and 48.4% of Independents.
  • Former Vice President Joe Biden somewhat/very favorable among: 16% of Republicans, 79.6% of Democrats, 38.9% of Independents.
  • Senator Bernie Sanders somewhat/very favorable among: 11.5% of Republicans, 76% of Democrats, and 38.8% of Independents.


“Do you think the following officials have performed well enough to deserve re-election, or do you think it’s time to give a new person a chance?” Proportion who said “deserves re-election” for each elected official/entity:

  • President Donald Trump: 52.3% (88.4% of Republicans, 7.7% of Democrats, and 49.4% of Independents)
  • Senator Rand Paul: 49.9% (82% of Republicans, 11.3% of Democrats, and 54.7% of Independents)
  • Senator Mitch McConnell: 41.2% (69.2% of Republicans, 6.8% of Democrats, and 50.3% of Independents)
  • Congressman Brett Guthrie: 53.7% (77.9% of Republicans, 23.6% of Democrats, and 57.8% of Independents)


Regarding “the construction of more walls along the U.S.-Mexico border”: 49.7% approve (87.7% of Republicans approve, 8.9% of Democrats approve, 44.9% of Independents approve).

Regarding “how Robert Mueller handled the investigation into Russia’s role in the 2016 election and Donald Trump’s possible connection”: 47.7% approve (35.9% of Republicans approve, 60.2% of Democrats approve, 43.5% of Independents approve).

“What impact do you think President Trump’s actions on trade policy with China have had on Kentucky’s economy?”

  • Positive impact: 37.8% (65.1% of Republicans, 6.3% of Democrats, and 50% of Independents)
  • No impact: 15.7% (18.9% of Republicans, 13.4% of Democrats, and 7.2% of Independents)
  • Negative impact: 46.5% (16% of Republicans, 80.2% of Democrats, 42.8% of Independents)



All figures presented here are statistically weighted by education levels and partisanship as per the 2018 CCES survey (weighted and voter-validated) results of Kentucky voters in the 2018 midterm election. This is a standard procedure in public opinion survey research to increase the representativeness of public opinion polling samples.

Demographic breakdown of survey respondents:

Do you think of yourself as a (an): 37.4% Democrat, 3.8% Independent but lean Democrat, 6.3% pure Independent, 10.3% Independent but lean Republican, 42.2% Republican (for the purposes of this report, partisan leaners are combined with partisans); 51.7% of survey respondents were female, 48.3% male; 54.4% report an income over $50K/year while 19.9% report an income under $20K/year; 26.1% report never attending religious services and 51.3% report attending once a week or more; 86.4% report white ethnicity with 9.7% reporting African-American ethnicity; 41.1% report a high school education or less, 27.1% report college level of education; 28.5% reported being under 40 years old, 45.4% reported being between 40-64 years old, 26.2% report being 65+; Evangelical Protestants make up 44.1% of the sample, with non-“born again” or other Christians 17.1%, 7.5% Catholic, 17.7% “nothing in particular,” 13.6% “other” religion.

Election reform measures in the 2018 Kentucky legislative session

A number of bills have been filed for consideration with the Kentucky state legislature whose term begins this month. Several deal with government and election reform and, in my view, would go a long ways to improving the quality of our democracy here in Kentucky.

House Bill 23 (BR 41, also Senate Bill 4) would change Kentucky’s election schedule to presidential election years, subject to approval from the voters. I’ve written elsewhere that this measure is the single strongest election reform that would boost voter turnout in Kentucky for state-level offices. Presidential elections draw the highest levels of turnout and while voters are already there they can then vote for state-level officials. This would also save a lot of tax dollars by consolidating election efforts.

Senate Bill 14 (BR 49) would introduce some early voting options and also extend Kentucky’s voting window from 6:00 PM to 8:00 PM. While there is more evidence that the 8:00 PM reform would do more to boost turnout than early voting, both are aimed at making it easier for citizens to vote in Kentucky. (Senate Bill 47 / BR 328 focuses solely on the 8:00 PM extension without the early voting.)

Also, HB 72 (BR 387), HB 78 (BR 388), and HB 112 (BR 4424) all serve to strengthen transparency and accountability on the part of our elected officials which I argue is a good thing.

I also urge my fellow Kentuckians to oppose these bills:

House Bill 53 (BR 305) would 1) make it a misdemeanor to wear a mask or cover one’s face while participating in a public protest, 2) absolve a driver from any legal liability if they unintentionally injure or kill a protester with their car if the protester is not in the area specified in the protest permit, and 3) makes it a class A misdemeanor to interfere with a police officer exercising “official duties” during a public protest. While, in my view, a reasonable argument could be made for each of these, I read the “spirit” of the measure as making it more difficult for citizens to exercise their First Amendment rights to freedom of speech and assembly, especially in a spontaneous way. Also, how would a court determine if the car driver killed the protester “intentionally” or not?

House Bill 73 (BR 385) would introduce term limits for Kentucky House legislators. There are, of course, reasonable arguments both ways on terms limits, but in general, most political science research tends to show that states with term limits have lower quality policy outputs, more fiscal problems, and in general poorer-quality legislating because legislators are forced to leave before they are able to develop strong specialization. Also, if a legislator is doing a good job and the voters wish to retain him or her, a democratic system should, in my view, permit voters to do so.

You can find your state legislators and their contact information on the Kentucky legislature website.

Q&A with the Kentucky Democratic Primary

Answers to commonly-asked questions about the May 17 Kentucky Democratic presidential primary:

Q. What was voter turnout?

A. Official election returns are currently showing a turnout of 20.65% of registered voters (which is different than eligible voters, mind you). This is about the same rate of turnout in previous Kentucky primaries over the last several years and just about what the Secretary of State’s office was predicting in the days leading up to the primary.

Q. Was voter turnout different between Republicans and Democrats?

A. Yes. Republicans had a non-competitive Senate primary (Rand Paul and two challengers) while Democrats had the presidential primary and also a Senate primary (in addition to various local and state-level primaries).

The election returns indicate that 199,519 registered Republicans voted in the Senate primary, which is 9.2% of the 1,295,392 registered Republicans in Kentucky, as per the Sec. of State’s website. On the Democratic side, 454,573 registered Democrats voted in the presidential primary which is 26.9% of the state’s 1,688,472 registered Democrats. This is a little better than the 18% or so of Republicans who turned out in the Kentucky GOP caucus back in March.

This is not terribly surprising given that Republican primary was non-competitive and the Democratic presidential primary had received a great deal of attention in the last few weeks, including multiple visits by both Secretary Clinton and Senator Sanders.

Q. Who won the Democratic presidential primary?

A. Secretary Clinton, by a margin of less than 1%: 46.76% for Clinton vs. 46.33% for Sanders.

Q. How did the race go in Boyle County?

A. Hillary Clinton won 50% to Bernie Sanders 44%.

Q. How does this translate into delegates?

A. More or less a straight tie: most media outlets are estimating that both candidates will receive 27 pledged delegates to the DNC convention. Kentucky Democrats also have 5 super-delegates, at least 2 of which have already announced support for Secretary Clinton.

Q. How does Kentucky’s primary affect the Democratic presidential race?

A. Mathematically speaking, it is nearly impossible for Bernie Sanders to win enough pledged delegates (not counting super-delegates) to win the Democratic nomination at this point. To make any dent in Hillary Clinton’s lead would have required a massive landslide win in Kentucky which did not happen. That being said, by continuing to keep the delegate count close, the Sanders campaign is motivating the Clinton campaign to continue to be responsive to Sanders voters and their interests and ensures that the Sanders coalition will have an important influence on the Democratic platform going forward and possibly even an influence on who Hillary Clinton chooses as a vice presidential candidate.

Q. What explains the election results?

A. Hillary Clinton won by racking up large margins in Louisville and Lexington. Bernie Sanders kept it close by dominating in coal country in eastern Kentucky and also in far western Kentucky. It was pretty evenly split throughout the rest of the state.

Academics and data journalists have identified a few basic factors that have done a pretty good job explaining the Democratic primary election results so far:

  1. Closed vs. open primaries: Clinton does better in closed primaries and Sanders does better in open primaries.
  2. Primaries vs. caucuses: Clinton does better in primaries and Sanders does better in caucuses.
  3. Demographics: Clinton does better with minorities while Sanders does better with whites.
  4. Geography: Clinton does better in the south while Sanders does better in the north.

Based on those factors, statistician Nate Silver predicted Hillary Clinton winning by 2%. Given that this estimate was off by only about 1.5% it suggests that she won because: 1) Kentucky has a closed primary (not an open primary or a caucus), 2) she racked up bigger margins in urban areas (Louisville, Lexington) with larger minority populations, and 3) Kentucky is south-ish where Clinton has done better.

One interesting pattern is that Bernie Sanders did very well in eastern Kentucky which is dominated by the coal economy and Appalachian culture. Democrats in this part of the state are very likely not “social democrats” as Bernie Sanders identifies as. Thus, it is likely that they were not voting for Bernie Sanders out of an affinity for his policy views. Rather, they likely voted for Bernie Sanders as an anti-Clinton “protest vote” as they perceive Hillary Clinton very unfriendly to coal interests and disapprove of the direction that the Democratic establishment has gone in recent years, similar to what happened in West Virginia.

Q. Where can I find nifty election statistics and maps?

A. Here are a few:





Previewing the Kentucky Democratic primary


At this point Hillary Clinton is a clear favorite to win the 2016 Democratic nomination, but that doesn’t mean that next week’s Kentucky Democratic primary election is unimportant. The question now is how many pledged delegates Bernie Sanders will accumulate before the summer convention. The more pledged delegates the more influence he will be able to exert on the party platform and potentially also having some input or influence on Hillary Clinton’s VP pick. If Bernie Sanders wins next Tuesday, he’ll be in a stronger position to influence the party platform and future direction of the Democratic party, even if he (likely) does not win the  nomination.


Until a few weeks ago, I would have confidently said Hillary Clinton. She won the 2008 Kentucky Democratic primary by more than a 2-to-1 margin against Barack Obama (65% to 30%). Kentucky also voted for Bill Clinton in the 1990s.

Kentucky Democrats are generally not near as liberal as Democrats in other parts of the country. Given that Hillary Clinton is clearly the more ideologically moderate of the two, it would be entirely reasonable to assume that moderate/conservative Democratic primary voters would choose Clinton over Sanders (a self-described Democratic Socialist).

But then this week Bernie Sanders won neighboring West Virginia 51% to 36% and West Virginia is culturally and demographically similar to Kentucky in many ways (especially Eastern Kentucky). Jeff Stein argued that Sanders voters in West Virginia did not choose him because they agree with him ideologically, but instead because it was an “anyone but Clinton” protest vote against the policies of the Obama administration which they perceive as entirely antagonistic to the coal and energy industries that are the lifeblood of many West Virginia communities.

So next week’s primary will likely turn on whether Kentucky’s Democrats decide to vote based on ideological similarity or protesting the energy regulatory policies of the Obama administration. Clinton will win if the former, Sanders will win if the latter.


A few months ago about 18% of the registered GOP electorate showed up to vote in the caucus where Donald Trump won, which was not all that different than the usual primary turnout rate in Kentucky of around 16-19%.

Given that the Democratic primary race is even less competitive than the Republican primary race was back in March, I would be surprised if turnout tops 20%.

A quick analysis of the Kentucky 54th legislative district special election

This week Republican Daniel Elliot won the special election for the Kentucky 54th state legislative seat which comprises Boyle and Casey counties. According to the Advocate-Messenger report, he received 58.4% of the vote compared to the 41.6% received by Democratic challenger Bill Noelker. Noelker evenly narrowed out Elliot in Boyle County with 50.5% of that county’s vote, while Elliot won a clear majority (78.4%) of the Casey County vote.

This morning a friend asked a question about the precinct turnout patterns that prompted us to look at the relationship between turnout and party registration in each precinct. Here’s a quick summary of what we came up with:

Democrat/Republican registration ratio:

  • Boyle County: 1.47
  • Casey County: 0.23

Noelker/Elliot voting ratio:

  • Boyle County: 1.02
  • Casey County: 0.27

This suggests that Noelker underperformed significantly in Boyle County relative to party registration and overperformed slightly in Casey County relative to party registration. Also, the precinct-by-precinct D-R ratio and Noelker-Elliot voting ratios correlations are 0.42 in Casey County and 0.19 in Boyle County which means that partisan registration ratios were more predictive of voting patterns in Casey County than in Boyle County.

This admittedly back-of-the-envelope analysis suggests that Elliot won by turning out Republican voters in Boyle County (or that Noelker was less successful at turning out Democratic voters in Boyle County) and that each candidate did pretty well among their respective party bases in Casey county. It’s also possible that mobilization efforts on the part of campaigns mattered less and that Republican voters in Boyle County were simply more enthusiastic to show up to vote on Tuesday than were Democratic voters. It’s not possible just from the turnout statistics to know definitely one way or the other.

In the nearly six years that I’ve lived in Kentucky, I’ve observed that Republicans have been trending more and more successful at the state and local level in the state of Kentucky. Over the past several decades “ticket splitting” has been declining, meaning that voters have become more and more consistent in voting patterns between national and state/local elections. Kentucky has resisted that trend for a long time: continuing to elect Democrats at the local level while electing Republicans at the national level. The federal and state elections of 2012, 2014, and 2015 have generally trended more and more Republican at the local level here in Kentucky. My hunch is that Daniel Elliot’s victory this week is part of the broader on-going trend of the decrease in “ticket splitting” among Kentucky voters who are becoming more consistent in their Republican preferences at the local as well as state and national levels.

2015 Boyle County Exit Poll: comparison of gubernatorial voting responses

Our exit poll showed that of those who answered the question on the survey, 48.8% reported voting for Bevin, 47.1% reported voting for Conway, and 4.2% reported voting for Curtis. According to the Secretary of State’s website, 54.7% of Boyle County voters voted for Bevin, 40.1% for Conway, and 4.6% for Curtis. That’s a difference of 5.9%, 7%, and 0.4%, respectively, and in a direction that over-states support for Conway and understates support for Bevin.

There are a few possible (and not mutually exclusive) explanations for this:

  1. It is possible that the 1.9% of voters who did not complete the question on the survey were mostly Bevin voters.
  2. It is possible that some Bevin voters indicated on the survey that they voted for Conway, despite voting for Bevin in actuality.
  3. It is possible that Bevin voters were less likely to agree to take the survey than Conway voters.

My strong hunch is that #3 is the most likely explanation, especially given that the 2014 Exit Poll had a 3-6% bias in favor of Democratic candidates (but not non-partisan candidates), although it is not possible to definitely prove this.

We attempt to correct for these types of effects by using a sample weighting procedure, which is a standard procedure used to correct for differences in how different demographic groups respond to the initial invitation to take the survey.

It should also be noted that a 6-7% difference is still not terribly far off from the standard accepted margin of error in the polling industry of 3% for most national surveys and professional polling firms. And I’ll also note that our survey was ultimately more accurate than the plethora of professional and partisan telephone surveys taken statewide in the lead up to the election.

This is an interesting puzzle to consider going forward: why are Democrats slightly more willing to take the Exit Poll survey than Republicans in Boyle County, Kentucky elections? I welcome ideas from interested parties.