Control of U.S. Senate Unclear From Last-Minute Polling

by Jeffrey M. Jones and David W. Moore

Democrats likely to gain seat in Arkansas; South Dakota, Missouri, and Colorado too close to call

GALLUP NEWS SERVICE

PRINCETON, NJ -- Polling conducted up to three days before the congressional elections shows the two major parties in an extremely tight contest for majority control of the United States Senate. Prior to the death on Oct. 25 of Democratic Sen. Paul Wellstone of Minnesota, the Democrats had 50 senators to the Republicans' 49, with Sen. James M. Jeffords of Vermont -- a Republican who turned independent last year -- voting with the Democrats on matters of Senate organization. Jeffords' defection from the GOP gave the Democrats majority control, but if the Republicans can pick up a net gain of one seat, the 50-50 split will effectively give them majority control. Vice President Dick Cheney is constitutionally designated the president of the Senate, and in a tie vote among the 100 senators, he would cast the tiebreaker in favor of his own party.

This year there are elections for 34 Senate seats, 14 that have been held by the Democrats and 20 by the Republicans. But leading into the last week of the campaign, just 6 of those seats appeared to be in play -- 3 each that belonged to the Republicans and to the Democrats. Polling by CNN/USA Today/Gallup in Arkansas suggests the Democrats have a good chance of gaining the seat there, as the Democratic challenger Mark Pryor leads incumbent Republican Sen. Tim Hutchinson by eight percentage points among likely voters. But in similar polling in Missouri, South Dakota, and Colorado, the CNN/USA Today/Gallup surveys of likely voters all show races that are too close to call, though Republicans have a numerical (if not a statistical) edge in all three. A special CNN/USA Today poll in New Hampshire also shows a dead heat, while the Minnesota Poll shows a "statistical tie" between the two major-party candidates in that state.

Here is a state-by-state analysis:

Arkansas

Republican Tim Hutchinson is defending the seat he won in 1996, when he became Arkansas' first elected Republican senator since 1879. Democratic state Attorney General Mark Pryor, his opponent, is the son of a former Arkansas governor and longtime U.S. senator. The CNN/USA Today/Gallup poll suggests that Pryor will pick up the seat for the Democrats, as he leads 51% to 43% among likely voters, with 6% undecided.

Colorado

Republican Sen. Wayne Allard is being challenged once again by his 1996 opponent, Democrat Tom Strickland. In 1996, Allard won by a 51% to 46% margin. The race will probably be closer this time. The CNN/USA Today/Gallup poll in Colorado shows the race essentially even, with Allard at 47% and Strickland at 45% among likely voters, with 8% undecided or supporting minor-party candidates.

Missouri

Democratic Sen. Jean Carnahan faces voters for the first time, having been appointed to fill the seat won posthumously by her husband in the 2000 election. Her opponent is Jim Talent, a former congressman and unsuccessful candidate for governor in 2000. The CNN/USA Today/Gallup poll shows Talent with a slight lead over Carnahan among likely voters, 48% to 44%, which is still within the poll's margin of error. Eight percent of likely voters in Missouri are still undecided. Carnahan's lack of experience has been an issue, and among the 16% of likely voters in this state who say "experience" is the most important issue to their vote, Talent leads by a nearly four-to-one margin.

South Dakota

Many believe the South Dakota race has become a personal contest between South Dakota's senior senator, Democratic Majority Leader Tom Daschle, and President George W. Bush. Bush is enormously popular in the state, as 73% of likely South Dakota voters approve of the president. The race pits incumbent Democratic Sen. Tim Johnson against South Dakota's sole U.S. House representative, John Thune. The CNN/USA Today/Gallup poll shows a slight lead for Thune, 48% to 45% among likely voters, with 7% undecided or voting for minor-party candidates. The three-point lead is within the poll's margin of error.

New Hampshire

Incumbent Republican Sen. Bob Smith was defeated in the party's primary by current U.S. Rep. John Sununu, son of the state's former governor and the elder George Bush's former chief of staff. Governor Jeanne Shaheen is the Democratic candidate. A poll conducted for CNN/USA Today by the University of New Hampshire Survey Research Center shows the race a toss-up, with Sununu at 46% and Shaheen at 45%. This does, however, represent a better showing for Sununu than has been the case in previous polling -- a poll conducted by the New Hampshire Survey Center earlier in the week showed Shaheen with a three-point edge.

Minnesota

The race for Minnesota senator was thrown into upheaval when incumbent Democrat Paul Wellstone was killed in a plane crash Oct. 25. The party tapped elder statesman Walter Mondale, who served as Minnesota senator from 1964-1976 before becoming vice president in 1977 and running unsuccessfully for president in 1984. The Republican candidate is Norm Coleman, former mayor of St. Paul and one-time Democrat. Two polls conducted over the weekend in Minnesota (the Star Tribune Minnesota Poll and a St. Paul Pioneer Press/Minnesota Public Radio Poll) suggest a very tight race, with one showing Mondale in the lead and the other Coleman.

Here is a look at other states where one candidate is thought to have a rather comfortable advantage but an upset is not beyond the realm of possibility. Gallup has not polled in these states; the estimates are based on publicly released polls in each state:

Georgia: Incumbent Democrat Max Cleland holds the advantage over Republican U.S. Rep. Saxby Chambliss.

Iowa: Analysts list incumbent Democrat Tom Harkin as the probable victor over his challenger, Republican U.S. Rep. Greg Ganske, but Harkin's re-election effort was complicated by a scandal in his campaign.

Louisiana: Incumbent Democrat Mary Landrieu should easily outdistance her three Republican challengers, but she needs to get 50% of the vote or face a runoff election against the second-place finisher.

New Jersey: Republican candidate Douglas Forrester looked like a strong bet to unseat Democratic incumbent Robert Torricelli, who abruptly ended his candidacy Sept. 30 due to concern about his ethics. Former U.S. Sen. Frank Lautenberg replaced Torricelli on the ballot and has maintained a lead over Forrester since entering the race.

North Carolina: Former Cabinet member and Red Cross President Elizabeth Dole is running for the Republicans against Erskine Bowles, former chief of staff for President Clinton. Dole is considered the front-runner but one recent poll suggested the race was tightening, as she seeks to keep the seat in Republican hands following the retirement of Jesse Helms.

Tennessee: Former Governor Lamar Alexander won a competitive Republican primary and has maintained a lead over Democratic candidate, U.S. Rep. Bob Clement, in an open-seat race to replace retiring Republican Sen. Fred Thompson.

Texas: Republican state Attorney General John Cornyn looks like he will hold off a challenge from former Dallas mayor Ron Kirk in the race to fill retiring Republican Phil Gramm's seat, although observers have not ruled out the possibility of a Kirk win.

Survey Methods

Arkansas results are based on telephone interviews with -- 616 -- likely voters in Arkansas, aged 18+, conducted Oct. 30-Nov. 2, 2002. For results based on the total sample of likely voters, one can say with 95% confidence that the margin of sampling error is ±4 percentage points. Based on past voting history in Arkansas, turnout is assumed to be 40%.

Colorado results are based on telephone interviews with -- 619 -- likely voters in Colorado, aged 18+, conducted Oct. 30-Nov. 2, 2002. For results based on the total sample of likely voters, one can say with 95% confidence that the margin of sampling error is ±4 percentage points. Based on past voting history in Colorado, turnout is assumed to be 45%.

Missouri results are based on telephone interviews with -- 604 -- likely voters in Missouri, aged 18+, conducted Oct. 30-Nov. 2, 2002. For results based on the total sample of likely voters, one can say with 95% confidence that the margin of sampling error is ±4 percentage points. Based on past voting history in Missouri, turnout is assumed to be 40%.

South Dakota results are based on telephone interviews with -- 685 -- likely voters in South Dakota, aged 18+, conducted Oct. 30-Nov. 2, 2002. For results based on the total sample of likely voters, one can say with 95% confidence that the margin of sampling error is ±4 percentage points. Based on past voting history in South Dakota, turnout is assumed to be 55%.

"Likely voters" are those deemed most likely to vote in the November 2002 midterm elections, according to a series of questions measuring current voting intentions and past voting behavior.

In addition to sampling error, question wording and practical difficulties in conducting surveys can introduce error or bias into the findings of public opinion polls.

ARKANSAS

If the elections for Senator were being held today, which candidate would you vote for in your state -- [ROTATED: Mark Pryor, the Democrat (or) Tim Hutchinson, the Republican]?

As of today, do you lean more toward -- [ROTATED: Mark Pryor, the Democrat (or) Tim Hutchinson, the Republican]?

 

Pryor
(Dem)

Hutchinson
(Rep)

Undecided/
Other

%

%

%

Likely Voters

2002 Oct 30-Nov 2

51

43

6

Registered Voters

2002 Oct 30-Nov 2 ^

52

41

7



If the elections for governor were being held today, which candidate would you vote for in your state -- [ROTATED: Jimmie Lou Fisher, the Democrat (or) Mike Huckabee, the Republican]?

As of today, do you lean more toward -- [ROTATED: Jimmie Lou Fisher, the Democrat (or) Mike Huckabee, the Republican]?

 

Fisher
(Dem)

Huckabee
(Rep)

Undecided/
Other

%

%

%

Likely Voters

2002 Oct 30-Nov 2

40

55

5

Registered Voters

2002 Oct 30-Nov 2 ^

40

56

4



^ Based on 792 registered voters, maximum margin of error ±4 percentage points

COLORADO

If the elections for Senator were being held today, which candidate would you vote for in your state -- [ROTATED: Tom Strickland, the Democrat (or) Wayne Allard, the Republican]?

As of today, do you lean more toward -- [ROTATED: Tom Strickland, the Democrat (or) Wayne Allard, the Republican]?

 

Strickland
(Dem)

Allard
(Rep)

Undecided/
Other

%

%

%

Likely Voters

2002 Oct 30-Nov 2

45

47

8

Registered Voters

2002 Oct 30-Nov 2 ^

46

45

9



If the elections for governor were being held today, which candidate would you vote for in your state -- [ROTATED: Rollie Heath, the Democrat (or) Bill Owens, the Republican]?

As of today, do you lean more toward -- [ROTATED: Rollie Heath, the Democrat (or) Bill Owens, the Republican]?

 

Heath
(Dem)

Owens
(Rep)

Undecided/
Other

%

%

%

Likely Voters

2002 Oct 30-Nov 2

32

62

6

Registered Voters

2002 Oct 30-Nov 2 ^

33

62

5



^ Based on 807 registered voters, maximum margin of error ±4 percentage points

MISSOURI

If the elections for Senator were being held today, which candidate would you vote for in your state -- [ROTATED: Jean Carnahan, the Democrat (or) Jim Talent, the Republican]?

As of today, do you lean more toward -- [ROTATED: Jean Carnahan, the Democrat (or) Jim Talent, the Republican]?

 

Carnahan
(Dem)

Talent
(Rep)

Undecided/
Other

%

%

%

Likely Voters

2002 Oct 30-Nov 2

44

48

8

Registered Voters

2002 Oct 30-Nov 2 ^

46

45

9



^ Based on 834 registered voters, maximum margin of error ±4 percentage points

SOUTH DAKOTA

If the elections for Senator were being held today, which candidate would you vote for in your state -- [ROTATED: Tim Johnson, the Democrat, John Thune, the Republican] (or) Kurt Evans, the Libertarian?

As of today, do you lean more toward -- [ROTATED: Tim Johnson, the Democrat, John Thune, the Republican] (or) Kurt Evans, the Libertarian?

 

Johnson
(Dem)

Thune
(Rep)

Evans
(Lib)

Undecided/
Other

%

%

%

%

Likely Voters

2002 Oct 30-Nov 2

45

48

2

5

Registered Voters

2002 Oct 30-Nov 2 ^

46

47

2

5



If the elections for governor were being held today, which candidate would you vote for in your state -- [ROTATED: Jim Abbott, the Democrat (or) Mike Rounds, the Republican]?

As of today, do you lean more toward -- [ROTATED: Jim Abbott, the Democrat (or) Mike Rounds, the Republican]?

 

Abbott
(Dem)

Rounds
(Rep)

Undecided/
Other

%

%

%

Likely Voters

2002 Oct 30-Nov 2

40

54

6

Registered Voters

2002 Oct 30-Nov 2 ^

42

52

6



^ Based on 860 registered voters, maximum margin of error ±4 percentage points

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