Category Archives: Kentucky politics

Drew Curtis is pulling about even from potential Conway and Bevin voters

Yesterday’s release of the most recent Kentucky gubernatorial election Bluegrass Poll showed Jack Conway 42%, Matt Bevin 37%, and Drew Curtis 7% (MoE 3.8%), meaning that the gubernatorial race is a statistical tie. Given, however, that the same poll two months ago showed virtually identical results, it gives more confidence to the reality of Conway’s lead.

One question that has come up in the gubernatorial campaign so far is the effect of Drew Curtis in the race. Is he pulling more from potential Conway or Bevin voters?

By doing some quick arithmetic with the cross-tabulations on the most recent Bluegrass Poll, we find that 2.5% of likely voters in Kentucky are Republican Curtis supporters while 2.8% are Democratic Curtis supporters[1]. This suggests that Curtis is pulling roughly evenly from Conway or Bevin, which further suggests that he won’t likely play a “spoiler” role for either candidate.

Further, by the same method we can see that 6% of likely Kentucky voters are undecided Republicans while 5% are undecided Democrats. If the undecideds break in favor of their partisan identities (and there’s little reason to suspect that they won’t), this suggests that neither candidate will gain much of an advantage from the “undecided” folks.

All told, the polling evidence is still giving a very slight, but consistent, advantage to Jack Conway in the upcoming gubernatorial election. That being said, it’s still close enough that campaign events might “matter” enough to sway the election one way or another.

[FN1] I arrived at these figures by multiplying the total proportion of the sample in a particular sub-category by the proportion of voters for the particular candidate (or “undecided”) and then adding the categories together. For example, the 2.5% of Republican Curtis supporters is arrived at by multiplying his 1% by the 17% of strong Republicans, adding 9% of the 14% weak Republicans, and 8% of the 13% Republican leaners, for a total of about 2.5%

Comments on July’s Bluegrass Poll on the Kentucky Gubernatorial Race

Here are the cross-tabulation results between partisanship and support for the three-way Kentucky gubernatorial election between Matt Bevin (R), Jack Conway (D), and Drew Curtis (I) as per late July’s Bluegrass Poll. This shows results among likely voters only with a margin of error of 3.8%.

  Matt Bevin (R) Jack Conway (D) Drew Curtis (I) Undecided Composition of Likely Voters
Strong Republican 90% 5% 4% 2% 15%


71% 11% 5% 12% 12%
Independent-lean-Republican 54% 11% 12% 23% 16%

Pure Independent

34% 27% 20% 18% 11%
Independent-lean-Democrat 15% 62% 12% 11% 14%
Democrat 7% 78% 4% 11% 18%
Strong Democrat 1% 94% 2% 3% 14%


38% 43% 8% 11% 100%

There are a couple of interesting patterns here:

  • It is noteworthy that Conway’s support among Democrats is higher than Bevin’s support among Republicans. Conway is also drawing slightly more support from Republicans than Bevin is from Democrats.
  • The nearly 4% margin of error means that Bevin’s support could be anywhere from 34%-42% and Conway’s support could be anywhere from 39%-47%. So this is essentially a “statistical tie.” That being said, the small but consistent lead that Conway has enjoyed all year should make us more confident in the reality of Conway’s small lead in public support among likely voters.
  • It is noteworthy that the Republican-leaning-Independents are more undecided than the Democratic-leaning-Independents. This again speaks to Matt Bevin’s weakness with those who would otherwise be inclined to vote for a Republican candidate.
  • That being said, Conway should not be pleased that he is not drawing more support from the Democratic-leaning-Independents.
  • It’s interesting that Drew Curtis is drawing roughly equal support form both Republicans as well as Democrats.

At this point in time I’d say that there is weak-to-moderate evidence that Jack Conway enjoys a small but steady lead over Matt Bevin among likely Kentucky voters. Given that campaign events tend to make a bigger difference in state and local elections (as compared to presidential elections), there is still potential for either candidate to potentially pull into a more confident lead as the campaign heats up this fall.

Research suggests that Kentucky GOP may lose votes for nominating Matt Bevin

A recent research article by Andrew Hall entitled “What Happens When Extremists Win Primaries?” asked whether parties who nominate more extreme candidates in a primary face a penalty in the general election. To test this question, he examined U.S. House elections from 1980 to 2010 and found that the party that nominates a more ideologically extreme candidate over an ideological moderate tends to lose, on average, somewhere between 9%-13% of the vote in the general election. This reduces the chance of winning the seat by anywhere from 35%-54%. The take-away from this research article is that parties stand to benefit from nominating more moderate candidates and take big risks when they nominate more ideologically extreme candidates.

Political scientists often argue that partisan and economic “fundamentals” matter more than campaign events or candidate characteristics when it comes to predicting the outcome of political elections. Thus, whether Republicans nominate Jeb Bush or Rand Paul, it will end up mattering only a little in terms of the final outcome of the election. This effect, however, is most strongly the case when it comes to nation-wide presidential elections. The further one goes “down the ballot,” the less the “fundamentals” tend to matter and the more campaign events and candidate characteristics come into play.

In the case of gubernatorial elections, I would argue that they’re roughly equivalent to U.S. House congressional elections in terms of the relative effect of “fundamentals” vs. campaign events and candidate characteristics. Thus, I don’t think it unreasonable to assume that, all other things being equal, the effect that Professor Hall found for U.S. House elections would generally apply to state-wide gubernatorial elections as well.

This suggests that the Kentucky Republican party did themselves no favors by nominating Tea Party ideologue Matt Bevin over establishment Republican James Comer on in the May 19th Republican gubernatorial primary. It may have potentially cost them up to 10% of the two-party vote come November, giving a respectable advantage to Democratic candidate Jack Conway.

2014 Danville City Commission and other Boyle County candidates

Here are the candidates running for Danville City Commission and other local elections this fall. 

2014 Danville mayoral candidates: Mike Perros and Paige Stevens

2014 Danville City Commission candidates: Rick Serres, Denise Terry, Kent Mann, J.H. Atkins, Buck Graham, and Kevin Caudill

Boyle Judge-Executive: Lynn Harmon (R) and Harold McKinney (D)

Boyle Sheriff: Marty Elliott (D) (uncontested)

Boyle Jailer: Barry Harmon (D) (uncontested)

Boyle County Clerk: Trille Bottom (D) (uncontested)

Boyle County Attorney: Richard Campbell (D) (uncontested)

Boyle County Coroner: Don Hamner (R) (uncontested)

PVA Administrator: Eddie Tamme (D) (uncontested)

To view Magistrate, Constable, and other elections, they can be found here:

Note: as of Sep 10th, this information is currently available through the Kentucky Secretary of State’s website available here. I will admit, though, that it took some amount of digging to find it. I might suggest to our state and local officials that it may be profitable to consider ways to make this information more readily available to interested parties. 

Note: a previous version of this post incorrectly reported the name of the Coroner and PVA Administrator candidates. We regret the error.

Campaign Advice for Mitch McConnell and Alison Lundergan Grimes

[ Note: this essay is cross-posted on Huffington Post and the Commonwealth Duel Blog ]

There’s no shortage of campaign strategy advice in this year’s Kentucky Senate race. In that spirit, I’ll add my own two cents.

If I were advising the McConnell campaign, I would say…

Don’t screw up.

You’re the incumbent and incumbents already enjoy somewhere between a 5%-10% advantage right off the bat, although this does tend to fade over time so it’s not going to be worth as much as it was in the past when you first ran for reelection. Also, the economic and political “fundamentals” are on your side, which is why all the numbers geeks are giving you anywhere between a 78% and 99%+ chance of winning (see here, here, andhere). So basically, just make sure to keep up with the fundraising and campaigning, give your conservative Republican base a reason to turn out to vote for you by railing on Obama and by talking up the strong possibility of a GOP Senate takeover.

And don’t screw up.

If I were advising the Grimes campaign, I would say…

You and I both know that you have an uphill battle to fight. You’re a Democratic challenger in a red state where the sitting Democratic president is very unpopular. But then, your incumbent opponent is also very unpopular in your state, but that tends to matter less than the economic and political fundamentals which are currently giving you a 1-in-5 chance, at best. You’ll need a strong campaign combined with some luck to come out on top this year.

Right now it seems that one of your key strategies is trying to appeal to women, presumably in an attempt to entice Republican women over to your team (seehere, here, and here, e.g.). While it makes for a great media narrative and may possibly work, there are strong reasons to think that this may not be the most effective strategy. To put it bluntly, women simply don’t tend to be swing voters. Oodles of political science research has shown that, after controlling for partisanship, there’s not much of a difference between men and women in their voting patterns. In other words, women are just as reliably partisan as men. The fault lines of American politics do not tend to fall around gender, but rather partisanship and ideology. Thus, there are likely not very many Republican women who are going to “defect” in this high-profile partisan election.

So who are more likely targets where you could concentrate your efforts? I took the liberty of doing some number crunching on an exit poll of Kentucky voters from the 2008 Kentucky Senate election where McConnell narrowly beat Bruce Lunsford 53%-47%. In that election, only about 14% of Republicans voted for Lunsford, and they made up only 5% of all voters total. Further analysis shows that these Republican defectors tended to be a little younger than their loyal partisan counterparts (about 22% of Republican defectors were under age 30 compared to 15% of Republicans who stayed in the fold). They also tended to be poorer (46% of Republican defectors made less than $50K/year compared to 33% of loyal Republicans) and more ideologically moderate (56% of those Republican defectors identified as moderate and 34% as conservative, while those who stuck with McConnell were 37% moderate and 70% conservative).

Perhaps most importantly, there was ZERO difference when it came to gender. 50.7% of Republicans who voted for Lunsford were women compared to 50.4% who voted for McConnell – a statistically indistinguishable amount. This suggests that women are very likely not the persuadable demographic among Republican partisans. Instead, it seems to be younger, poorer, more moderate Republicans.

On the other hand, nearly a quarter of self-identified Democrats switched sides and voted for Mitch McConnell in 2008. They made up a full 11% of all voters in that election. What did these Democrats look like? They were more ideologically conservative (34% of Democratic McConnell voters said they were conservative compared to only 15% of Democratic Lunsford voters), more likely to be white (95% of Democratic defectors were white compared to 72% of loyal Democrats), and more likely to approve of George Bush (34% compared to 10%). They were also slightly more likely to be men, making up 48% of Democrats who voted for McConnell compared to 41% of Democrats who voted for Lunsford. There were also no differences when it came to age, education levels, income, or religiosity. This suggests that in 2008, Lunsford lost Democratic partisans who looked a lot like Republicans – conservative white men who were more approving of President Bush. This suggests that you might have success keeping your Democratic partisans “in the fold” by veering toward the middle and appealing to cultural conservatives in Kentucky as much as possible.

That presents a tough choice: appeal to younger, more moderate Republicans who might be persuaded to defect or appeal to conservative white Democrats who may be likely to switch sides. Given that there were more than twice as many voters in the latter category (11% of all voters) than the former (5% of all voters) in 2008, it stands to reason that veering toward the middle and trying to retain moderate Democratic partisans may be the option with the higher pay-off. That being said, you don’t want to veer too far toward the middle or you might risk alienating your loyal liberal base so much that they don’t care enough to turn out to vote on Election Day. Trying to balance that tightrope walk will be a delicate endeavor indeed.

One thing is for certain, at least: there is little evidence from the 2008 Kentucky Senate election that Republican women were a persuadable demographic in that campaign. It’s possible that the 2014 Senate campaign will be different, but given how consistent and predictable American voting patterns are, I wouldn’t bet on it. Perhaps consider altering the approach slightly. Forget about “peeling off” Republican women and instead focus on loyal Democratic women (to make sure they show up to vote on Election Day) and moderate or conservative-leaning Democratic women (to encourage them to stay in the fold).

Support for the fairness ordinance and education levels

It was brought to my attention that in the City Commission meeting of June 9, Mayor Hunstad raised a concern about the representativeness of our January public issues survey showing that approximately three-fourths of respondents were supportive of a fairness ordinance. He argued that since around two-thirds of respondents had a college education or higher, the survey results are not a valid approximation of the community. Indeed, the U.S. Census reports that only about 26% of Danville residents have a college education or higher. This is indeed an important concern to consider in terms of interpreting the results, but it would skew the estimation of support for a fairness ordinance only if support for a fairness ordinances substantially differs by level of education.

In our survey, here is the breakdown on support for a fairness ordinance by level of education:

  Support Oppose
High school 70.2% 29.8%
College 75.9% 24.1%
Post grad 85.7% 14.3%
Total 76.0% 24.0%

As expected, those with post-graduate degrees are about 15% more supportive of a fairness ordinance. However, those with only high school levels of education who completed the survey were still more than 70% supportive of a fairness ordinance. This implies that the results would not change substantially even if there were more respondents in the survey with less than a college education.

Thus, in the absence of more accurate evidence to the contrary (which is always welcome – more evidence is better than less evidence!), there is little basis to support the argument that the survey results are wildly inaccurate on this question.

Can voters remove a sitting mayor from office in Danville?

Today’s Advocate-Messenger reports that a petition is circulating demanding that Danville Mayor Hunstad resign following his comments toward the LGBT community at the June 9 commission meeting.

Without taking a position one way or another on the merits of such a petition, I’m just going to take a wild guess that he’s not going to accept the petition’s invitation to resign. In that event, is there anything that the petition’s supporters could do to force the resignation of the mayor, or any other city elected official for that matter?

In a word, no. Danville is a third class city under Kentucky law, and KRS 83A.040.9 clearly states:

Except in cities of the first class, any elected officer, in case of misconduct, incapacity, or willful neglect in the performance of the duties of his office, may be removed from office by a unanimous vote of the members of the legislative body exclusive of any member to be removed, who shall not vote in the deliberation of his removal. No elected officer shall be removed without having been given the right to a full public hearing. The officer, if removed, shall have the right to appeal to the Circuit Court of the county and the appeal shall be on the record. No officer so removed shall be eligible to fill the office vacated before the expiration of the term to which originally elected.

In other words, the only way that Mayor Hunstad could be forcibly removed from office is if the other four sitting commissioners vote to remove him. My strong hunch is that there is little desire or motivation for such a move by the other four sitting commissioners. That is very likely a non-starter, unless perhaps the petition is able to gather the signatures of a critical mass of Danville voters – perhaps a third or so of Danville eligible voters (3,000+ signatures, give or take). I would also put that in the “highly unlikely” category.

Note: I’m not an attorney so it’s possible that I misinterpreted the KRS statute or am unaware of a separate provision that would permit such a recall procedure. If such is the case, I welcome any corrections.