Kentucky’s Senate race: An unpopularity contest between McConnell and Grimes

A new analysis shows that while Kentucky voters dislike Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and challenger Alison Grimes in equal measure, Grimes’ supporters are more committed.

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In an effort to produce a “true” read of public opinion in some of the most hotly contested races this election season, more and more websites are creating poll “amalgamators” in an attempt to negate the errors and biases of individual polls.

Among the most closely watched of these races is the face-off in Kentucky between Republican Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and Democratic Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes, where the conventional wisdom shows McConnell is beginning to open a lead.

As of September 10, two of these sites, Real Clear Politics and HuffPost’s Pollster, both show McConnell up by 5 points (RCP +5.2, Pollster +5) on average.

But does this method give the full picture? In talking solely about who is ahead at a specific snapshot in time, we actually acquire only a limited view of what is happening behind the numbers.

Through a new platform called “Trendency,” which uses different algorithims and analytics than standard polling, we are able to track movement and opinions on a daily basis, rather than look at a small sample of voters at one moment in time. While public polling only allows voters to make a black or white choice between the available candidates, Trendency gives voters the opportunity to show their support for all candidates by allocating their percentage of support for each.

In Kentucky, Trendency also shows a tight race, but Grimes enjoys some slight advantages once we get underneath the numbers. Two indicators are the “commitment index” – which shows the percentage of voters likely to stay with a chosen candidate – and the “rejection index” – which shows the perecentage of voters who are very unlikely to support a specific candidate.

Based on the results from our September 4 report, 45.8 percent of voters indicate that there’s little to no chance they would vote for McConnell, and an indentical 45.8 percent of voters say the same of Grimes.

When it comes to the commitment index, however, Grimes has a slim advantage: 39 percent of voters demonstrate strong support for her while 37.3 percent show equally strong loyalty to McConnell.

Kentucky Senate race: Sen. Mitch McConnell versus Alison Grimes

Trendency report as of Sept. 4, 2014

mcconnell-grimesClose, ideologically-driven campaigns like the one in Kentucky often have low numbers of undecided voters and little movement from one candidate to the other. Campaigns must scratch and fight for any advantage they can get.

Our current reading of data indicates room to grow for both campaigns. The question remains – over the next seven weeks, how will the campaigns respond to this reality?

If the last few months is a prelude to what we can expect to come, the race will disintegrate into mud-slinging at its finest, but the data suggest that positive messaging may be more effective, since there is so litte space to maneuver on the negative side.

With Kentucky voters so equally polarized in their dislike of the two candidates, McConnell and Grimes might do better to articulate their vision for the state rather than to dwell on their opponents’ flaws.

Stefan Hankin is President of Lincoln Park Strategies, a public opinion research firm based in Washington, D.C. Follow: @LPStrategies