Kentucky Senate Race Tightening ? Maybe Not

A newly released poll on the Kentucky Senate race may not be an accurate measure of what's actually going on in that race.

Last night Steven Taylor Alex Knapp posted the results of a Courier-Journal/WHAS11 Bluegrass Poll which purported to show that the Kentucky Senate race between Rand Paul and Jack Conway had tightened from a 15 point Paul lead to a statistical tie. As the comments to that post have noted, there have been several issues raised about the poll in the hours since it came out, and Allahpundit at Hot Air points out what may be the biggest problem, a bad sample:

The Survey USA poll that showed Paul up by 15 had a D/I/R sample of 47/10/42, which is in line with the 2008 Kentucky presidential exit poll sample of 47/15/38. Like I said up top, it stands to reason that Republican turnout will be better this year than it was two years ago. So what’s the sample in this new poll showing the race now within the margin of error? Why, it’s … 51/12/38. Once again, to believe Paul is ahead by only two, you have to believe that Democrats in Kentucky are going to turn out for Jack Conway in greater proportions than they did for Barack Obama. Ain’t happening, although it probably is true that the race has tightened since the poll that showed Paul up 15. Based on the spread here, figure it’s probably more in the neighborhood of eight points. Not a prohibitive lead, but comfortable.

Stuart Rothenberg, meanwhile, suggests that the initial poll showing Paul up by 15 was likely flawed as well:

When asked about the new Bluegrass Poll, which showed Republican Rand Paul’s lead shrinking from 15 points in an early September survey to a mere two points in a new survey, SurveyUSA pollster Jay Leve commented, “Whether that is a result of genuine traction for (Conway), second thoughts about his opponent, or a newly raised consciousness among voters who a month ago were not focused on the contest, I am not sure.”

Let me suggest a different interpretation: The first poll was way off. The race hasn’t closed all that much.

I’ve written often about the number of polls out there that don’t reflect reality, but it’s worth noting that news organizations that commission surveys never acknowledge that their data could be far from an accurate reflection of public opinion. That’s not surprising, of course, since doing so would discredit their own work.

But the uncertain nature of polling is one reason why my newsletter will never give its name to a survey. I don’t want to be in the position of having to defend data that seems intuitively ridiculous.

I suppose some people will believe that Paul held a 55 percent to 40 percent lead three weeks ago and that the race has closed to a razor-thin 49 percent to 47 percent now. But most veteran political observers will regard that as silly. Opinion doesn’t move that dramatically, especially since both Paul and Conway have been Senate nominees for months.

Rothenberg doesn’t address the sampling issue in the new poll, but it’s a fair point. The idea that Democrats in Kentucky are more enthused about voting for Jack Conway in 2010 than they were about voting for Barack Obama in 2008 just doesn’t make sense. As poll after poll has shown since the beginning of the summer, Republicans are far more enthusiastic, and far more likely to vote in November, than Democrats. While those numbers are likely to vary from state to state and race to race, a poll sample like the one in Kentucky, which suggests that Conway supporters are more enthusiastic to vote than Paul supporters, simply isn’t believable.

Let’s see a few more polls on this race before jumping to any conclusions. My guess is that we’ll find that the Bluegrass Poll is an outlier.

FILED UNDER: 2010 Election, US Politics, , , , , , ,
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug Mataconis held a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010 and contributed a staggering 16,483 posts before his retirement in January 2020. He passed far too young in July 2021.


  1. Michael says:

    No way does a super lib like Conway who supports Obamacare win in this environment in a redstate like Kentucky. Not going to to happen.

  2. Alex Knapp says:


    Beneson has 45-42, PPP has 49-42, CNN has 46-46. I don’t think the Bluegrass poll is THAT much of an outlier.

  3. The CNN poll measured Registered Voters, not Likely Voters, so comparing it to any of the other KY-Sen polls is inappropriate.

    The Beneson poll also appears to measure Registered Voters.

    I think the PPP poll is probably close to where the state of the race actually is. Paul leading outside the MoE but not the 15 point blowout from SUSA’s poll earlier this month.

  4. Alex Knapp says:

    According to Pollster, Beneson is Likely Voters.

  5. So it is…..I was looking at a link that said it was RV’s.

    Not sure what to say about it as I’ve never heard of Beneson. It appears to be an internal poll that was made public, though, which may or may not call into question its objectivity

  6. Not that it is a big deal, but Alex posted the poll, not me.

  7. Heh. I should’ve noticed that…..sorry

  8. Brummagem Joe says:

    This race is way too close to call which in itself is significant. The notion that Conway is some sort of unknown without cred is also bunk. He’s the AG of the state so has already won a statewide election. The fact that this race is obviously so close is a factor of Conway’s cred and the all too obvious nuttiness of Paul which is almost certainly causing some heart searching amongst even Republican leaning independants. One would be rather foolish I’d say to call this for either candidate.

  9. Dale Bruce says:

    To liberals if you believe in the 1st and 2nd amendments your nutty. To liberals if you believe in personal freedom and liberty your nutty. To liberals if you believe in the Bill of Rights and United States Constitution your nutty. I’m a democrat and I’m for Rand Paul. Most everybody I know is for Rand Paul, and most of the people I knoe are democrats. I”m voting for Rand Paul because he believes in the United States Constitution and the personal freedom it was written to protect. Vote Paul. Vote Freedom.

  10. Tano says:

    “The idea that Democrats in Kentucky are more enthused about voting for Jack Conway in 2010 than they were about voting for Barack Obama in 2008 just doesn’t make sense.”

    Maybe they are just a hell of a lot more scared of Rand Paul than they were of John McCain.

  11. Dale Bruce says:

    If Kentucky is scared of anybody its Jack Conway and his hate for Constitutional rights and personal freedom and personal liberty. I’ve lived in Kentucky all my life, the people of Kentucky believe in Constitutional rights and personal freedom thats why Rand Paul will win. To tell the truth this race isn’t even close, Paul is up by 10 and maybe even 15. Rand Paul will win because the people of Kentucky believe in constitutional rights and the personal freedom and the personal liberty it was written to protect. Liberals maybe scared of constitutional rights and freedom but most people in Kentucky are not.

  12. Tano says:

    “If Kentucky is scared of anybody its Jack Conway…”

    Is that why he won election as AG with over 60% of the vote?

  13. wr says:

    To conservatives, if you believe in the difference between “your” and “you’re” you’re nutty.

  14. Dale Bruce says:

    No thats why Rand Paul will win with over 60% of the vote. This race isn’t even close Paul is way ahead. These latest biased polls are meaningless. However, believe what you want. The only poll that counts is on Nov. 2 and that poll will say Paul 60% Conway 39%. Ha Ha these lastest biased polls were 51% Dem. 38% Rep. and Jack Conman Conway still is behind.

  15. Tano says:

    “No thats why Rand Paul will win with over 60% of the vote.”

    Earlier you said 10 points, maybe even 15. Now its 21? Or are you just math-challenged?

  16. Dale Bruce says:

    Liberal liars and control freak, gun grabbing, enviro nut, health nazis hate freedom, liberty, and choice unless it has to do with killing a unborn baby. I’m pro choice on abortion, but unlike the liberal hypocrites thats not the only liberty and right I believe in.

    Good to know about conservatives since i’m not conservative. Your mother didn’t seem to mind, when I said your going down, but it is good to know that you do.

  17. Dale Bruce says:

    I’m math challenged just like Jack Conway will be vote challenged on Nov. 2.