November 4, 2015


Matt Bevin is the next governor of Kentucky. He has President Obama to thank. (Chris Cillizza November 3, 2015, Washington Post)

Matt Bevin, the Republican nominee in the Kentucky governor's race, wasn't a very good candidate.  By all accounts, he was standoffish and ill at ease on the campaign trail, and inconsistent -- to put it nicely -- when it came to policy.  The Republican Governors Association, frustrated with Bevin and his campaign, pulled its advertising from the state.  Polling done in the runup to today's vote showed Bevin trailing state Attorney General Jack Conway (D).

And yet, Bevin won going away on Tuesday night. How? Two words: Barack Obama.

Obama is deeply unpopular in Kentucky. He won under 38 percent of the vote in the Bluegrass State in 2012 after taking 41 percent in 2008. In the 2012 Democratic primary, "uncommitted" took 42 percent of the vote against the unchallenged Obama. One Republican close to the Kentucky gubernatorial race said that polling done in the final days put Obama's unpopularity at 70 percent.

Matt Bevin's Kentucky Win Is the End of an Era--and That Should Scare Democrats Everywhere (Josh Kraushaar, 11/04/15, National Journal)

You can't trust the polls any­more. Nearly every pub­lic poll dur­ing the Ken­tucky gov­ernor's race, and even the private par­tis­an sur­veys we heard about, showed Con­way with a small, con­sist­ent ad­vant­age throughout the gen­er­al elec­tion. The fi­nal Bluegrass poll, con­duc­ted between Oct. 23-26 by the auto­mated poll­ster Sur­vey­USA, showed Con­way lead­ing Bev­in by five points, 45 per­cent to 40 per­cent. Bev­in ended up win­ning con­vin­cingly, 53-44. The poll showed Ken­tucky Demo­crats win­ning all but one of the statewide of­fices. In­stead, they came close to be­ing en­tirely shut out, with only state at­tor­ney gen­er­al can­did­ate Andy Be­s­hear and Sec­ret­ary of State Al­is­on Lun­der­gan Grimes barely pre­vail­ing.

Polling in Ken­tucky has had a par­tic­u­larly pre­cari­ous track re­cord lately. Just last year, pub­lic polling sug­ges­ted that Sen. Mitch Mc­Con­nell would face a much more com­pet­it­ive race against Grimes than he ac­tu­ally did. The Bluegrass poll showed Grimes lead­ing Mc­Con­nell in Septem­ber, and only trail­ing by five points in their fi­nal preelec­tion poll. The preelec­tion RCP polling av­er­age showed Mc­Con­nell lead­ing, but un­der the 50-per­cent mark con­sidered safe ter­rit­ory for a tar­geted in­cum­bent. Mc­Con­nell ended up win­ning with 56 per­cent of the vote, troun­cing Grimes by 16 points.  

This is not just a Ken­tucky phe­nomen­on. In the run-up to the 2014 midterms, many pun­dits fo­cused on track­ing the pleth­ora of Sen­ate polls missed the big pic­ture, and un­der­played how tox­ic the na­tion­al en­vir­on­ment was for Demo­crats last year.

Posted by at November 4, 2015 5:42 PM